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A.W. Faber's Polygrade Lead-Pencils

A.W. Faber, Stein, Germany

production date
origin
available degrees
1837 to (1910)
Germany
7 originally: BB, B, F, HB, H, HH, HHH
12 ultimately: BBBB, BBB, BB, B, F, HB, H, HH, HHH, HHHH, HHHHH, HHHHHH
see also F. Weber & Co. circa 1890s, p 149
A.W. Faber Pencils ad, circa 1899
A.W. Faber Pencils ad, circa 1900
Frost & Adams Co. catalog, 1905, p 184
Wadsworth Howland & Co. catalog, 1909, p 117
Introduced by the German A.W. Faber company in 1837, the Polygrade was the first pencil available in a range of consistent degrees of lead hardness.  This was A.W. Faber’s highest quality drawing pencil prior to 1906 when the now familiar green Castell was introduced.




The box of pencils above is from the mid-nineteenth century (update 2010 April:  I have since noticed the most recent “medal” as depicted on the right side of the box top contains MDCCCLL = 1900). I'm not sure how many varieties of the Ploygrade pencils were available at this time, but there were probably many. Some had ivory ends. They were all very expensive, as is suggested by the overwrought box. I'm not actually confident that the particular type of pencil above was used by draftsmen. The Polygrade shown below with the hexagonal section would have been more practical for use on an inclined drawing table. Nevertheless, these pencils illustrate the beginnings of a consistent system of lead hardness grading. The lead in the above pencils, by the way, is square in section. Square leads were the standard in the 18th and into the 19th centuries because they were sawn from virgin slabs of graphite. For a time, after the Conté process of "baking" leads from a "dough" was developed, square leads continued to be made as it was easier for pencil makers using traditional methods to integrate them with the wood case. Eventually, by the end of the 19th century square leads were made obsolete by the machinery of mass production. Note also that these pencils are "left-handed." For some reason left-handed imprints were the norm until the late 19th century. Some makers hung on to the tradition longer than others, for instance Staedtler pencils continued to be left-handed into the 1960's.

Note the early style of lead degree marking, "HHHHHH," and the clear lacquer finish. Both of these traits would be abandoned in the design or the Castell drawing pencil which was A.W. Faber's attempt to catch up to the trends introduced before the turn of the century with L&C Hardtmuth's Koh-I-Noor pencil.

The earliest Ploygrade pencils were available in degrees ranging only from BB to HHH.


This late early 20th century example of a Polygrade pencil has a more practical hexagonal section and a right-handed imprint.
A.W. Faber Siberian Polygrade HB

A.W. Faber Siberian Polygrade Pencils

A.W. Faber, Stein, Germany

production date
origin
available degrees
1861 to (1910)
Germany
12 (c 1874): 4B–B, HB, F, H–6H
14 (c 1890): 6B–B, HB, F, H–6H
16 (c 1904): 6B–B, HB, F, H–8H
see also Gurly Manual catalog, 1874, p 211
F. Weber & Co. catalog, 1890s, p 149
Frost & Adams Co. catalog, 1905, p 181
Tower Manufacturing Co., 1908, p 308
Wadsworth Howland & Co. catalog, 1909, p 117
A.W. Faber Siberian Graphite Refillable Drawing Pencil
A.W. Faber Siberian Graphite Lead
A.W. Faber Siberian Polygrade HB
A.W. Faber Siberian Polygrade HB
A.W. Faber Siberian Polygrade HB

A.W. Faber Siberian Polygrade HB
Detail of A.W. Faber Siberian Graphite Polygrade pencil. These are pre-industrial products. The press used to imprint the pencils was no doubt operated by a skilled craftsman who could make the subtle adjustments necessary to get a crisp imprint as conditions such as the density of a batch of wood or the humidity changed. The quality of the cedar used in these pencils is amazing. Each slat would have been hand selected to be flawless and of consistent color.