In the mid 1700s making a pencil was difficult business.
Making a few pencils involved smelting graphite, sulphur, and antimony, sawing the resulting graphite into pieces, and finally fitting them inside handmade wooden cases. Kasper Faber, founder of the A.W. Faber company, perfected this arduous pencil making process in Stein, Germany in the 1760s, but it would be his descendants who would help create the object we now think of as a pencil, and build an empire in the process.
Kasper’s great-great-grandson Eberhard Faber was the one who moved the company to New York in 1850. After a fire destroyed his shop in Manhattan in 1872, Eberhard hopped on a ferry - then a standard way of commuting between Brooklyn and New York, now returning in the form of the East River Ferry - and set up shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Over the next 40 years Eberhard set up what is now known as the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District.
While credited with many pencil innovations such as the adoption of rubber erasers, and “protective metal tip covers” for the pencils, what Eberhard Faber really did best was borrow, copy, and steal good pencil ideas.
When shown the first usage of a circular saw in pencil production Faber promptly copied the idea. When Hymen Lipman attached an eraser to the end of a pencil, Faber followed suit - and was later sued in the supreme court, though the case was dismissed. When the Austrian Company L. & C. Hardtmuth colored their pencil yellow to suggest an “Asian” origin of the pencil (Siberia being where the best Graphite came from) Faber quickly did the same and labeled his pencil “The Mongol” to push the point home. Eberhard Faber quickly became the world’s largest pencil producer.
The Eberhard Faber Pencil company did make a great and singular contribution to the worlds pencils. Among the varieties of the Mongol pencil, were the world’s first pencils with colored tips. These colored Mongols would become the world’s most popular colored pencils.
The large Pencil Factory building at 47-61 Greenpoint is the most well known and takes up most of the north side of Greenpoint block between Franklin and West. It was constructed between 1923-24 and was the final and largest building in the complex of buildings. It was Faber’s last and largest architectural work, and they celebrated it by incorporating giant pencils, and stars - an element of their logo - into the building. At the turn of the century the company was considered one of Brooklyn’s most important companies employing hundreds of workers, many of whom were women.
The Eberhard Faber Pencil company continued to make pencils in Greenpoint until 1956, when they sold the buildings and moved operations to Pennsylvania. Today the complex of buildings known as the Pencil Factory hosts luxury condominiums, work space as a bar - Red Star - and one kitty-corner that goes by the name Pencil Factory, though that was not actually a part of the complex.
Today many artists and illustrators occupy the 47-61 Greenpoint building and pencil in hand, are the inheritors of the Eberhard Faber Pencil Companies once vast Greenpoint empire.
The other Eberhard Faber Pencil Company buildings wrap around the block and include 58-70 Kent St., 59-63 Kent St., 72-74 Kent St., 76 Kent St. 98 West St., and 100 - 106 West Street.