The auction of an assortment of pencils may not have the same headline-grabbing cachet as the sale of a Rembrandt or Chippendale, but the KB Collection ofPencils, which goes on sale at Salisbury-based Woolley & Wallis on January 22, should rouse excitement among collectors as it offers more than 460 graphite-filled treasures dating from 1822 to 1930.
The collection, compiled by silver-dealer Kenneth Bull – author of a book on the subject in collaboration with Dr David Shepherd – was showcased at Masterpiece London in 2012 and offers a fascinating insight into the evolution of the mechanical pencil. Several lots herald from America, others were made by jewellers such as Cartier, Mappin & Webb and Tiffany & Co, and of the English creations, most were designed and manufactured by Sampson Mordan, which filed the first metal pencil patent in Great Britain in 1822.
“Bull was fascinated by the variety of pencils that were used – especially the novelty ones by Mordan,” says Rupert Slingsby, associate director and head of the silver department at Woolley & Wallis. “These attract the most interest at auction – collectors want marked Mordan examples.” Lot 397 is one such find. Estimated at £2,000 to £3,000, it is a very rare Victorian silver-and-enamel pencil in the shape of a sentry box depicting a soldier from the 17th Lancers. The reverse is inscribed: “A.P.K’s compliments ‘Royalty’ 28 Aug 1895.”
“The pencil that has attracted the most interest for America is the Tiffany Metropolitan Life Tower Pencil,” says Slingsby. “I have been unable to find another example, and I believe it is extremely rare. The fact that it is by Tiffany & Co also helps it hugely.” Estimated at £1,000 to £1,500, the pencil is modelled on the landmark skyscraper at One Madison Avenue in Manhattan, which from 1909 to 1913 was the tallest building in the world.
The trove should appeal to a variety of collectors – including history buffs. “Lot 93, the Nelson’s Column pencil, is a rare gold example in full working condition. The fact that it's still in a case has helped to preserve it over the years, and the condition and detail are particularly good,” Slingsby says. The early Victorian Everpoint pencil, modelled on the famed column in Trafalgar Square, is estimated at £1,500 to £2,000.
The entire collection is a magnificent menagerie of design, from a silver pencil in the form of a Sphinx (lot 76, estimated at £1,000 to £1,500) to a small gold frog (lot 210, estimated at £1,000 to £1,500), and a French gold and enamel by Cartier in the shape of a quill (lot 424, estimated at £1,500 to £2,000).