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Stretching his hand out to catch the stars, he forgets the flowers at his feet. (Jeremy Bentham) Wisdom from a pencil — now really? “A…

Stretching his hand out to catch the stars, he forgets the flowers at his feet. (Jeremy Bentham)

Wisdom from a pencil — now really?

“A most rigid system of discipline prevails. Not a pencil can be taken by an operative without being missed, and the understood rule is, that if one is missed from a room, every person in the room must be discharged unless it is found.

“Some months ago an employee in the crucible factory strolled into the pencil factory, where he had no right to go, and not being aware of the ‘counting board’ and the various checks, supposed a pencil could not be missed out of a million; so he quietly took one. But it was missed, and upon investigation somebody who noticed his presence at the time reported it.

“He returned the pencil but was discharged, and although he begged for re-instatement, the rule that no discharged employee can be taken back excluded him.”

This excerpt is from an article, written in Scribner’s magazine, Volume XV, April 1878, No. 6.

Who’d have dreamt the lowly pencil, today tossed aside like an old shoe, was once the king of writing instruments, a king with a security system, which made today’s airport security seem like child’s play.

Graphite production was a zealously guarded monopoly and was the magic element, the “lead” making pencils possible.

According to the unidentified writer, “graphite is not fusible at any temperature, and the persons who suppose the pencil leads are cast would not do so if they knew that the material cannot be melted, and that no substance known surpasses it into resisting heat.”

The concluding sentence of this eight-page, century-old article reveals bigger and better was already in the works: “The Dixon manufactory, the largest in America, if not in the world, is producing 80,000 pencils a day — nearly one-third of the present consumption in the country — and aims at nothing less than the whole world for a market.”

Little did we know the pencil was on the way out, when during the Second World War, it became a preaching medium.

Pencils issued by the Ottawa bureaucracy apparently aimed at cutting the loss of pencils going home behind hair-covered ears with a jaded message printed on the pencil: “Misuse is abuse!” 

A sound message indeed, although checking history’s rearview mirror the message was on the wrong end of the stick. It should have been printed on the golden fountain pens issued to the higher echelons of the government, while retaining the stringent pencil-factory security rules.

Imagine Canadian voters and taxpayers having the same clout a single nickel pencil once had: “Lift a single pencil, or a looney, and you’re outa here!”

A taxpayers’ Nirvana, the unachievable dream, eh?

Ah, well, perhaps one day the pencil may equal the horse. The car knocked the horse off its perch as the king of transportation, and the horse immediately became a status symbol?

Walk softly for a dream is buried here. (People’s Cemetery, Charlottetown, PEI)

A tip of the hat to pencils still hanging in there over a century after their mass production incarnation in 1662 in Nuremberg, Germany.

Fans of the pencil still think it beats all the other writing instruments. It’s lightweight, portable, doesn’t leak and stain shirts and blouses or give off radiation, isn’t subject to power surges, writes in zero gravity, upside down, under water, writes every time without fuss and bother, is easily erased, can be sharpened to your style and taste, is good chewing, and still safe to chew, while contemplating, it costs pennies to buy and gets good mileage in writing.

As to becoming a status symbol, well it’s making moves alright although I’m uncertain if the current move qualifies as a status symbol, or what.

The National Post’s Mary Vallis reported in the August 2, 2007 issue that an Edmonton company, Honor Industries, is offering grieving families the chance to fuse their loved one’s ashes into a pencil an artist can use to sketch a portrait of the deceased.

Portrait packages, she reports, begin at $5,000. Oh, and not to worry, prototypes of the pencil were created using the remains of a cat named Murphy who belonged to the company’s public relations manager.

The humble pencil, one alone, it’s claimed, can trace the route of a 56-kilometre marathon, seems to have a new lease on … well a new lease anyway.

Good fall hunting!

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