“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Venus in India

The post is not about the famous sculpture, Venus de Milo; nor is it about the book by Charles Devereaux. It is about Venus Pencils, which was suddenly brought back from the past while reading another blog.

This post is for 'NRI Girl'. I was inspired to do a ride back in time because of her post, ‘Pencil Memories’ - http://hephzibahisrael.blogspot.com/2010/11/pencil-memories.html

Two of my three sisters who were elder to me by 13 and 4 years, studied Zoology at their graduate level; one of them to the PG level. Now when I look back, I realize that they didn’t have any interest in the subject of Zoology per se. On the other hand, when I wanted to take up 2nd group for my Pre-degree (no ambition for ‘medicine’ – I was intrigued by Zoology), they vehemently opposed and derided me saying ‘you cannot draw a single record!’ They said it so triumphantly and finally that I wilted - so did my dreams of becoming a wildlife biologist. I felt they were saying the truth. Looking through their ‘Phylum – Chordata’ I would shiver- I could never draw like them. Though under strict orders NEVER TOUCH MY RECORD BOOK!, I used to peep into their record sheets, marveling at the intricate, delicate drawings of strange creatures and beautiful plants with romantic but unpronounceable names.

It is so easy to kill children, isn’t it? More so, in our younger days when the words of the elders were final. Like, when I wanted to study English Literature for my graduate class, they scoffed – ‘What? English? What you going to be? School teacher? Ha!’

The drawings, delicate. On their tables was this special box of pencils that they guarded fiercely. The metal box said, ‘Venus Pencils Made in England’. Young readers cannot imagine the kind of awe we had in the 1960s for things foreign. Though I used to pour for hours over ‘LIFE’ and ‘National Geographic’, I secretly believed that such places and people never existed – it was kind of a Maya, an illusion, I had thought.

But the Venus pencils. That green, crackled design on the skin! Some would come topped with erasers. Some had white plastic caps. As a small boy, I played with the empty metal pencil boxes – they were my buses. I was never ever to TOUCH the pencils, they are soooo expensive! When no one else was around, I used to gaze fixedly at the partly nude Venus de Milo. Probably I had a fixation on mammary glands…

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After leaving a comment at NRI Girl’s blog, I google Venus Pencils.

Those who would like read a brief history of Venus Pencils – go on.

The Company was founded in Hoboken, New Jersey in the United States in 1861 by Edward Weissenborn who had learned the art of pencil making in Switzerland and realised that t was a great future in the U.S.A. for quality pencils, many of which had hitherto been imported from Germany.
In 1865 the Company became the American Lead Pencil Co. and was the first firm in the U.S.A. to manufacture a complete range of graded lead pencils. Edward Weissenborn designed and built all of his own machinery and took out over 28 Patents for pencil making machinery.
The Reckford family acquired the Company in 1885, Reckford's previously having pioneered the importation of German pencils.
In 1905 the Venus de Milo statue in the Louvre was adopted as the Company's Trade mark. This required a certain amount of behind the scenes manoeuvring as the French Government had always forbidden the photographing and commercial use of Michelangelo's work of art. About this time the distinctive crackle finish was adopted. This unique design came about quite by accident but has remained a feature immediately recognised the world over and is undoubtedly the envy of other pencil makers who have searched incessantly for some similar distinctive feature.
By 1895 Venus Brand pencils were already being used in Great Britain and in 1906 a London Sales Office was opened in Farringdon Road, with a view to selling more Goods within the British Empire, direct sales from the U.S.A. being restricted due to Tariff Barriers.
Manufacture of Venus pencils in the U.K. started in 1910 at the newly acquired factory in Lower Clapton Road in East London, the London Sales Office also being relocated to that site. From 1915 to 1918 the plant and workforce were employed on the production of munitions and pencil production recommenced at the end of the First World War. In this same year the British Company was incorporated as Alpco Pencil Company and so remained until 1933, when the name was wisely changed to Venus Pencil Co. to ensure that Overseas buyers were aware that the goods being sold to them were entirely British made.
1946 saw Venus commence to produce the newly invented Ball Point Pens.
The British Company continued to expand and, up to 1958, it remained in the ownership of the Reckford family. However the male adult family members had all deceased in the late 1950's leaving their shares in trust to their widows and children and this led to the sale of the entire Company Worldwide to a cosmetic corporation - Charles of the Ritz. This was an unsuccessful ownership and in *9Venus was acquired by Laird & Co. of New York.
Negotiations with the Greater London Council and the King's Lynn Borough Council in 1966 led to the move from London in June 1967 to a greenfield site and a purpose built factory on the Hardwick Industrial estate.
Production of Fibre Tips and Markers were transferred from Birmingham in the Summer of 1971. The takeover by Eagle Pencils at that time saw the move of pencil production to Tottenham early in 1972 to free space for the move of the Injection Moulding equipment from Birmingham.
The move of the Margros Art and Craft materials production equipment from Woking to King's Lynn in 1973 meant that work space again became very limited and an extension to the original building was opened in early 1974 becoming the Finishe...

(source: http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/venus-pencil-co-england-the-golfer-pencilholder )

In 1956, the American Lead Pencil Company officially changed their name to the Venus Pen and Pencil Corporation, thus turning their fifty-one-year-old product into the company name. After some acquirements the company name was changed to Venus-Esterbrook in 1967. In 1973, the company was bought out by Faber-Castell and their name was changed for the last time to the Faber-Castell Corporation. This ended use of the Venus name and trademark.

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_Pencils)

****************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 21-11-2010


  1. I like pencils because, for some reason, my handwriting is always neater and more legible when I write with a pencil. Give me a pen and I will write you a scrawl. Seriously, there is something that makes writing with a pencil more real than writing with a pen.

    Mothers of school-going children know all about pencils; how they keep getting lost, chewed, misplaced, stolen, taken off by a bully, whatever. What they never get is worn down to a stub. They seem to get sucked into some black hole before they get half way used.

    As a child, I used pencils manufactured by V Perumal Chetty and Sons. I recall their aroma when sharpened. Those pencils used to go on and on and on. When the pencils got too small to get a decent grip on, they would get lodged in the pair of compasses in the box of instruments you use for geometry – in a new avatar. These days, pencils never last that long. Maybe it is shoddy manufacture, maybe nobody cares, but these days, pencil points keep breaking after you reach a third of the way down the length. The make, brand or company doesn't matter: I've tried all sorts. My current crop of pencils are Steadtler and Faber-Castell, but no matter who make them, the points break off as you sharpen them, right in the sharpener, once they become shorter.

    I know what I am talking about, okay? I've just spent some ten minutes trying to sharpen a pencil. I have three Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 2Bs in front of me, of varying lengths, the shortest being three inches and a half (yes, I measured them). Not one of them will take a point. I sharpen them, and the points keep breaking off.

    As a punster friend told me, ‘The whole thing about pencils is that... forget it, it’s pointless!’

  2. If nostalgia could be called a disease,the only other disease which is worse than it is a state in which you don’t have anything to be nostalgic about.
    I had seen the pencil story at NRI girl.It brought back many pleasant and painful memories to me as well.I was so fond of the pencil boxes,but could never get one.I remember Venus pencils,but Perumal Chetty was popular at our times.Our needs and dreams were minimal.We realize the value of things,only if we don't have them.

  3. All about pencils?

    enjoyed reading it. tried to add something to the topic but my pencil days seems to have blanked out from my mind.

    i too used to be hooked on to LIFE and TIME magazines in my middle school, high school and graduate days. we couldnt help being anglophilles, could we:-) ? i've made an earnest effort to cure myself of that disease.dunno if i've succeeded fully.

  4. "Though I used to pour for hours over ‘LIFE’ and ‘National Geographic’, I secretly believed that such places and people never existed..."

    I think I still have that feeling with me. Loved the post :)

  5. Wow, you brought back so many memories of my childhood. I remember using these pencils, more than that the Nataraj and Camilin :-)

    Thanks for sharing the story behind Venus. And talking about people and places described in NG and Life, I even to this day wonder in awe if they really exist on this planet or is it somewhere in outer space!

  6. Natraj Natraj all the way. I remember when we were required to draw buildings and other designs during the first year engineering course, we were supposed to use lot of different pencils – HB, 2B and similar ones. Each has different purposes. Used to hate them then. Confession : Never heard of Venus pencils. Thank you for the info.

  7. @Mr.Jeeves: Sir, It was pure delight to read your comment. That aroma! No wonder we used to chew the top end down to the lead. And when your tongue touches the lead, there is this icy feel for a moment...

    Do you remember 'Violet Pencils'? which you wet-ted with your tongue? I've forgotten what we used it for!

    That pun was a riot!

  8. @Doc: Perumal Chetty? Doc, how so rustic! Venus was 'Made in England' you know! :D

    I think i will now write something about our pens. President, Doctor, G D Naidu, Wilson, Pilot, Hero ( the cynosure of all eyes) Scheaffer, Parker... some other day.

  9. @KPJ: Am an Anglophile myself, though only for the language - not for the people, not for their history, not for their attitude, not for their sickly skin - a bit for their humor, of course!

    LIFE! What a magazine it was! I still have a few copies from the 60s - the most prized is the issue on the passing away of Hemingway!

  10. @Arun: Never let that sense of wonder and mystery fade away! That is what makes the world so exciting! Otherwise it is such a drag, isn't it?

  11. @Insignia: i know you know that all is a mystery! That's why you write so good! :)

  12. @Sreejith: Nataraj? Thats for kids! :)

  13. Thank you Balachandran V for opening up more memories on pencils.

    I'd just stopped by to get your latest updates and to see a post with reference to my post, was a pleasant surprise.

    Haven't heard of Venus pencils, now I have!

    Thank you and happy memories.

    ~ NRIGirl

  14. I wonder if the pencils triggered the topic or Venus triggered the topic- in relation to the phone call you made to me on Sunday night.
    It was a gentle stroll down the memory lane. I remember the times when the Venus pencils, the Nataraj pencils, were eagerly bought from the Valavi & Co, the Educational Supplies and the Premier Paper mart. The ones with the piece of eraser attached at the end. Then the violet copy pencils.
    "Too much of lousy nostalgia ", I wonder if this will be derided by some..
    A informative throw back!!

  15. As soon as my husband saw the image he chuckled ...wow Venus pencil!I had to read out the whole post to him while he was exercising.We both loved it .
    Do you remember half red and half blue pencils that the teachers used for correction work ?

  16. @Anil: The egg came first - it was the pencil that triggered the chain of thoughts. Of course, thinking of Venus would invariably take us to 'Venus in India'. The caption, I thought, would attract the likes of you! ;D

    Btw, the book is available for free download. And I have read it, reliving the excitement of yesteryears!

  17. @Kavitha: Glad you both liked it! I remember that red and blue pencil so well! It was a bit thick, wasn't it? As a little boy, I could never comprehend the mystery of two colours in one pencil!

  18. @NRIGirl: Thank you for stopping by; and thank you for the inspiration. As you can see, many of us have our own beautiful memories about such a seemingly insignificant thing as a pencil!

  19. I dont remember Venus pencils..maybe its gotta do with guys and mammary glands after all! All I remember are Natraj pencils.

  20. @Sujata: Quite likely because it was before your time. By 1973, Venus pencils had stopped production - it became part of Faber-Castell.

    There were other pencils too, like Kohinoor ( yellow), Camlin.

    I was a little boy/ young adolescent when I last saw a Venus pencil box. I was yet to be a 'guy'. But like any male child, I would have had my curiosities.

  21. Thanks for sharing this info. I'd heard of Venus pencils because some of the old-timer cartoonists like Don Flowers used this brand of pencil. I was wondering if they still existed, but this post cleared that up.


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