civil war pencils

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jharold587

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I want to have ACW correct pencils to distribute in my chaplain impression. I have read in Sanitary Commission documents that the pencils were cut in half to make them go farther.
I have not located what a period correct pencil should look like. I know it is not yellow and does not have an eraser. I have found a sutler who sells pencils, but as some of their wares do not meet authencity standards I am not inclined to go with them. It also has their name on it. If I just cut off the erasers of modern #2 pencils and dip them in paint remover am I getting close to what I want? I have also been told, but can find no documentation that appropriate pencils should look more like modern carpenter pencils. Any direction will be appreciated.
Harold Harker
 
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I want to have ACW correct pencils to distribute in my chaplain impression. I have read in Sanitary Commission documents that the pencils were cut in half to make them go farther.
I have not located what a period correct pencil should look like. I know it is not yellow and does not have an eraser. I have found a sutler who sells pencils, but as some of their wares do not meet authencity standards I am not inclined to go with them. It also has their name on it. If I just cut off the erasers of modern #2 pencils and dip them in paint remover am I getting close to what I want? I have also been told, but can find no documentation that appropriate pencils should look more like modern carpenter pencils. Any direction will be appreciated.
Harold Harker
Many sutlers sell cedar pencils that will do. The principal difference between these and actual pencils of the time is that most period pencils had squared leads (like modern carpenter pencils). This is not something you'd notice unless you look closely at the base. The cedar casing was also manufactured in two halves glued together, which sometimes came apart.

A wide variety of pencils were available, domestic and imported (England and Germany). Faber set up a factory in the north early in the war. In addition to black pencils, colored pencils were available, and the government procured combined red and blue pencils for office workers in Washington. Pencils could also be varnished and stamped.

Lord's Encyclopedia (Vol. IV, p. 211) has a photograph of a pencil retrieved from a blockade runner; it's about the same dimension as pencils used today (6.75" long), but split down the middle.

Sharpen the pencil with a knife -- manual pencil sharpeners were fairly uncommon; mechanical ones came into use later.

For yourself, you might want to think eventually about acquiring a mechanical pencil of the time. You can still find these in antique shops, though getting the right size lead presents problems.

Here's a typical sutler offering (scroll down near the bottom of the page): http://fcsutler.com/fchavers.asp

For contemporary discussions of pencil manufacture:

See page 33 of “The Churchman’s Companion” (1855)
http://books.google.com/books?id=ZigEAAAAQAAJ&dq=pencils%20manufacture%20cedar&pg=RA1-PA34#v=onepage&q=pencils%20manufacture%20cedar&f=false

Page 252 of Vol. 3, “The Illustrated Magazine of Art” (1854)
http://books.google.com/books?id=TYAAAAAAYAAJ&dq=pencils%20manufacture%20cedar&pg=PA251#v=onepage&q=pencils%20manufacture%20cedar&f=false

Hope this helps!
 
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Spoken by a bona-fide pencil pusher. And yes, sharpen with a pocket knife only.
Just to maintain my reputation for nib-nazi-ism and pencil pedantry, you'd probably use a penknife since they weren't needed so much for quills anymore. But, in a pinch you could make do with one of the longer ink erasers, also sometimes called "ink knives."

:smile:

 

KLSDAD

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re mechanical pencils of the time........ I have an old one but no idea how old it is....any suggestions?
 
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re mechanical pencils of the time........ I have an old one but no idea how old it is....any suggestions?
A couple of ideas. First, you can go onto Google Patents and do an advanced search for "pencil case" with an "patent filed" upper date of, say, 1870. The patent application with have a drawing, a discussion of the workings, and references to other patents you can look up.
http://www.google.com/advanced_patent_search

You can also go directly to pen collectors' websites, which often have discussions of pencils, e.g.: http://www.vintagepens.com/index.shtml (where I managed to get some leads and helpful hints regarding mine) and http://www.pendemonium.com.

Used judiciously, e-Bay can be useful. See if someone is selling what you have and read what they have to say about it. As a general rule I've found sellers in the UK to be more honest about the age of items than US sellers. They have more history and are less impressed with any given date, while we tend to push everything back to the Civil War.

If there's a manufacturer's name on the item you job is easier. If not, some general rules apply. Screw driven pencils with full length leads date, I'm pretty sure, no earlier than the early 20th century. 19th century pencils have shorter leads with a limited screw mechanism that needs to be pushed out of the case to be used. I realize this may sound confusing, but you'll see what I mean once you take a look at some of the sites.

Many different brands and styles of pencils were manufactured, using a variety of materials. Some gutta percha or vulcanized rubber cases look like plastic and seem fairly modern.

Hope this helps. Enjoy.
 

kealbo54

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Spoken by a bona-fide pencil pusher. And yes, sharpen with a pocket knife only.
This is an ancient thread,but I feel the need to weigh in.I am aspecial artist(my impression),and pencil sharpeners similar to the small hand-held ones we have today,were in fact readily avaliable.Google 19th century pencil sharpeners.I have researched this up and down.As a matter of fact I almost bought a Foster patented one off e-bay,but at the time it was too rich for my blood.As a matter of fact.W K Foster sold a bunch to the U S Army in the late 1850's.So it might not be as uncommon as you think for someone to use something other than a pocket knife.I will continue my search for one.Hopefully not pass another one up,if it comes along
1857_Pencil_Sharpener_small.jpg
 

johan_steele

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A year or so ago I ran across what was later identified as an 1850's period pencil sharpener. It was simply two small rasp files set at a right angle in a simple wood case. It was so simple and amazingly effective. I've thought of trying to duplicate it, but couldn't do it in an affordable way.
 
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23rdYahoos

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MORE THAN YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE PENCIL:

Sometime before 1565 (some sources say as early as 1500), an enormous deposit of graphite was discovered on the approach to Grey Knotts from the hamlet of Seathwaite in Borrowdale parish, Cumbria, England. This particular deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid, and it could easily be sawn into sticks. Chemistry was in its infancy and the substance was thought to be a form of lead. Consequently, it was called plumbago (Latin for "lead ore"). The black core of pencils is still referred to as lead, even though it never contained the element lead.

William Munroe, a cabinetmaker in Concord, Massachusetts, made the first American wood pencils in 1812.

Munroe's method of making pencils was painstakingly slow, and in the neighboring town of Acton, a pencil mill owner named Ebenezer Wood set out to automate the process. He constructed the first of the hexagon- and octagon-shaped wooden casings. A juniper or incense-cedar plank with several long parallel grooves is cut to fashion a "slat," and graphite/clay strings are inserted into the grooves. Another grooved plank is glued on top, and the whole assembly is then cut into individual pencils, which are then varnished or painted.

The majority of pencils made in the US are painted yellow. This tradition began in 1890 when the L. & C. Hardtmuth Company of Austria-Hungary introduced their Koh-I-Noor brand, named after the famous diamond. It was intended to be the world's best and most expensive pencil, and at a time when most pencils were either painted in dark colors or not at all.

Although lead has not been used for writing since antiquity, lead poisoning from pencils was not uncommon. Until the middle of the 20th century the paint used for the outer coating could contain high concentrations of lead and this could be ingested when the pencil was sucked or chewed.
 
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John Hartwell

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I've seen some pencil making tools from the 1830s (Henry David Thoreau worked at the trade for a time, and these were associated with an exhibit on his life). Basically, a 'dowell' was split in half, a square channel routed out of the center, and filled with a square graphite rod, and then the halves were glued back together. Except for the square lead, you could make a passable reproduction by shaving off the colored surface of a modern pencil, and into a rounded shape, of course.

By the way, soldiers complained about the Sanitary Commission's half-pencils -- they also gave out only half a sheet of paper at a time, and men often had to go back repeatedly in order to finish a letter. Officers, of course, got as much as they wanted, whenever they wanted.

Cheers!

jno
 

Republican Blues

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kealbo54

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GUYS! There are period pencils to be had at many sutler sites! I have a coupla dozen of them.They work fine for me.Unpainted,un-printed,no eraser.Now Idont believe they are made with the old method,but hey.
 
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johan_steele

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GUYS! There are period pencils to be had at many sutler sites! I have a coupla dozen of them.They work fine for me.Unpainted,un-printed,no eraser.Now Idont believe they are made with the old method,but hey.
The box in post 14 retails for nothing, Sutlers simply cut off the eraser & scrape off the writing ten sell them at ridiculous prices. Republican Blues method is cheaper.
 

M E Wolf

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Before erasers -- bread crust was used with older forms of 'lead pencils.'

Many times though, a line across the word would be used so don't panic if a mistake is done.

M. E. Wolf
 

kealbo54

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The box in post 14 retails for nothing, Sutlers simply cut off the eraser & scrape off the writing ten sell them at ridiculous prices. Republican Blues method is cheaper.
Well Hell,why do I even try?Maybe I should shop for all my reenacting needs at Wal*Mart.Oh thats right,I was mistakenly trying to earn the respect of the people more experienced than myself.Is there an approved vendor where I might get writing and drawing materials that everyone is ok with?I have been all over the web working on trying to get my craft as believable and accurate as p[ossible.
 
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James B White

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Well Hell,why do I even try?Maybe I should shop for all my reenacting needs at Wal*Mart.Oh thats right,I was mistakenly trying to earn the respect of the people more experienced than myself.Is there an approved vendor where I might get writing and drawing materials that everyone is ok with?I have been all over the web working on trying to get my craft as believable and accurate as p[ossible.
I don't know of any modern vendors who sell pencils with square leads, other than oversize modern carpenter's pencils. Anyone know? That would be the next step up in accuracy.

So this is one case where spending more doesn't result in a better impression. If the goal is accuracy rather than how much one spends or what modern vendor one buys from, I don't see that it matters whether something comes from Walmart or a vendor with a prestigious reputation. I agree with Johan Steele--when some reproductions are hard to find and expensive, one might as well save money where one can.

If the modern pencils are hexagonal, they easily sand down to round while one sands off the lettering.

For the truly obsessive, I've found that after sanding and sawing off a Walmart pencil, one can draw a square around the circular end of the lead that's visible at the unsharpened end, using an X-acto knife or needle. The indentation combined with the graphic dragged into it, gives the illusion of a square lead at the back. If one then sharpens the point with a pocket knife, so it's not perfectly even where the wood meets the lead, the result is virtually indistinguishable from a square-lead pencil.

Walmart sells good hemp twine too, in the jewelry/craft department.
 

Republican Blues

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Well Hell,why do I even try?Maybe I should shop for all my reenacting needs at Wal*Mart.Oh thats right,I was mistakenly trying to earn the respect of the people more experienced than myself.Is there an approved vendor where I might get writing and drawing materials that everyone is ok with?I have been all over the web working on trying to get my craft as believable and accurate as p[ossible.
Im really serious about authenticity,as is Johan.... trust me... buying the natural pencils aat wallyworld, office depot, or staples is not farbing out, its finding what is the closest. No worries mate, you got my respect!
 
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