“It started with my first Caran d’Ache set when I was about six,” says the “amateur pencil collector” Caroline Weaver (first picture), who has turned her obsession into a niche New York store.
A fine art graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins and Goldsmiths colleges, Ohio-native Weaver discovered a whole new world of pencils while travelling in Europe. “I wanted to create a place where people could try pencils produced in old family-run factories,” she says, “and learn the difference between a Japanese brass bullet pencil and a Czech Triograph.”
CW Pencil Enterprise began life online in November 2014, before opening in the bustling Lower East Side shortly after. The small space stocks over 250 pencil varieties, all neatly displayed in glass jars and labelled by country of origin. From Japan, for example, there is the thick, triangular Kita-boshi ($1) and the dark-graphite Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni ($2.50), “the holy grail of Japanese pencils that writes like a dream”.
“My goal was to create a meticulously organised space that didn’t feel too precious,” she says. “I want people to feel free to scribble and experiment.” As a result, the midcentury-inspired store – with its black-and-white chequerboard floor and vintage advertising posters – features a writing desk for sampling the everyday HB models or vintage finds, such as “the earliest version of the legendary Eberhard Faber Mongol [$30] we’ve ever found”. Each item is enriched by Weaver’s palpable passion; she delights in expounding on a pencil’s provenance and graphite qualities, as well as its optimal use – from sketching to novel writing to crossword puzzling.
Among the store’s more unusual offerings are the Portuguese Viarco pencils ($10) scented with indigenous floral notes – lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, peony and fig leaf. Rare wood Caran d’Ache pencils with silver tips in an exquisite walnut box ($275) are displayed next to volumes ($60) of Tombow coloured pencils, which are organised by rainforest, woodland and seascape hues. Design-led accoutrements are artfully arranged on stark white tables. “All of the accessories here are better versions of everyday things,” explains Weaver of an inventory that includes stunning-yet-spare Japanese legal pads ($12) by Craft Design Technology and brass pencil cases ($67) by Midori. In fact, Weaver is almost as serious about sharpeners – “never electric; I prefer small, sculptural ones” – as she is about pencils. A weighty gold-plated and chrome sharpener ($500, second picture) by Spanish maker El Casco uses “intricate internal mechanisms, not unlike a fine watch”.
So who pops in for a pencil or two? “Local architects, writers and calligraphers,” says Weaver, but the shop is also attracting a broader global clientele. “In general, analogue tools are making a comeback. Our customers are returning to the simplicity of the pencil because it is both practical and sentimental.” And occasionally personal: a Kingsley hot foil stamp machine from the 1960s is used to personalise products, including the recent commission of a marriage proposal written in gold lettering on a bright red pencil. At CW Pencil Enterprise, the pencil itself is an art form.