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Sweet Potato
09-20-2006, 05:49 PM
How did people sharpen pencils during the civil war? Did they have pencil sharpeners in their field desks. I just use my pocket knife, but they must have had something better.

vmescher
09-20-2006, 06:08 PM
How did people sharpen pencils during the civil war? Did they have pencil sharpeners in their field desks. I just use my pocket knife, but they must have had something better.

I've researched pencils for an article I wrote in 1002. To sharpen them pocket knives and pen knives were used. Pen knives were originally to cut quills but worked well for pencils. After whittling a rough point with a knife, the point could be sharpened or pointed by rubbing it on a piece of sandpaper. This took extra time and would also weaken the point, so most of the time, the point was just left rough.

The first pencil sharpener was patented in France in 1847 and in the US, the first patent for a sharpener was issued in 1868. The US sharpener resembled the small handheld plastic sharpeners we have today. In 1889 a desktop sharpener was introduced but kind the pencil was attached to a collar and a disc of sandpaper rotated around the pencil to sharpen it. It was not until 1897 that the whittling sharpener, that we know today, was patented in the US.

Rob
09-20-2006, 06:13 PM
A pocket knife works, but I have a piece of a broken file about three inches long and an inch wide which works a lot better.

NC1862
09-20-2006, 06:34 PM
I've always used a pocket knife with satisfactory results.

Sweet Potato
09-21-2006, 09:38 AM
Thank you!

RJSamp
09-21-2006, 10:09 AM
works great for me.....they had a lot of whittlers.....and sharpening a pencil is a lot like whittling....

BobSullivanPress
09-21-2006, 04:02 PM
Here's an image of a mid-19th century pencil sharpener. Can't say for certain if it dates to the Civil War, based on Virginia's information. The slot contains a blade, and you grasp the top part and turn it over the end of a pencil.

Bill McIntosh owns this one.

http://www.sullivanpress.com/images/MuseumImages/sharpener.jpg

And that's a rubber eraser next to it.

Jim Mayo
09-21-2006, 04:21 PM
How did people sharpen pencils during the civil war?


Are you talking about soldiers or civilians. A common pencil which could be obtained by the CW soldier was made of lead. They are commonly found in camps and anyplace else they stayed for any length of time. Here is a picture of two different designs. The straight one is more common.

Rob
09-21-2006, 06:06 PM
You could also try one of these:

http://jas-townsend.com/product_info.php?cPath=27&products_id=382

Commonly used by artists of the time such as David Hunter Strother, they are very hard and it takes a good deal of writing to wear them down.

I sharpen both ends, and then use a length of hemp cord to hang it from one of my coat buttons so that it is always available.

Mark Wadsworth
09-21-2006, 08:45 PM
I use my pocket knife on my pencels. It's easy to do I have done it when I needed to since I was eight years old.

BobSullivanPress
09-22-2006, 08:32 AM
Jim, this is not a personal attack at you, and thanks for showing examples of lead pencils that have been found.

However, pencils made of lead were about as commonly used as quill pens by the time of the Civil War. The pencil making business took off in the 1830s with the ability to manufacture pencils with graphite clay (still used) as the inside of a pencil. One of the more notable pencil manufacturers was the Thoreau family of New England, and their success allowed their son, Henry David, to sit around at Walden Pond writing instead of working for a living. See this link for his pencil making prowess...

http://www.uh.edu/admin/engines/epi339.htm

The reason that lead pencils are found in campsites and wooden ones are not is simple. Wood rots. Lead doesn't. Again, I'm not being nasty here, but we could also draw a conclusion, based on strictly archeological evidence, that labels were rare things to find on bottles, because every time a bottle is found there's no label on it.

And that James Townsend mechanical pencil: That's a Porte-Crayon, and even in the 18th century, it was considered an artist's tool, and not really a mechanical pencil. This is the type of pencil that artists use to make pencil sketches. It used a relatively thick stick of graphite so that thick, thin, and shaded areas can be drawn.

By the way, if you've ever tried to write with a lead pencil, i.e. made of lead, the line is very light. That's one of the reasons that graphite was so preferred over lead as a writing medium.

Rob Weaver
09-22-2006, 09:03 AM
You'll also find that a lead pencil will poke through light paper, and takes some getting used to in order to write anything that will be legible afterwards.
What did that French patent pencil sharpener look like? (The American item may have looked just like it, and be a suitable substitute.)
I ran into a similar conundrum a few years ago when I wanted to know how they opened cans. We've all been told that soldiers opened them with knives and bayonets. I wouldn't recommend the later (except for oil cans) and the former dulls your knife. I seriously doubt that Mrs. Volunteer Soldier back home was ruining her kitchen knives by opening cans with them. Took me a long time researching 19th c. kitchen implements to find the answer.
Although a soldier may have sharpened his pencils with a penknife (which is dandy if you're careful and patient), how did his son do it back home in school?

Rob
09-22-2006, 12:53 PM
And that James Townsend mechanical pencil: That's a Porte-Crayon, and even in the 18th century, it was considered an artist's tool, and not really a mechanical pencil. This is the type of pencil that artists use to make pencil sketches. It used a relatively thick stick of graphite so that thick, thin, and shaded areas can be drawn.

By the way, if you've ever tried to write with a lead pencil, i.e. made of lead, the line is very light. That's one of the reasons that graphite was so preferred over lead as a writing medium.

Yes. Porte-crayon. I couldn't think of the name at the time I posted.

I've sharpened both ends to a point, as stated above. The line it produces is almost as dark as a number 2 pencil, and darker than a number 3. If anyone wishes, I could send you a hand-written note as proof. Best of all, it won't get broken while sitting in the bottom of a haversack.

Jim Mayo
09-22-2006, 08:21 PM
Jim, this is not a personal attack at you, and thanks for showing examples of lead pencils that have been found.

However, pencils made of lead were about as commonly used as quill pens by the time of the Civil War. The pencil making business took off in the 1830s with the ability to manufacture pencils with graphite clay (still used) as the inside of a pencil. One of the more notable pencil manufacturers was the Thoreau family of New England, and their success allowed their son, Henry David, to sit around at Walden Pond writing instead of working for a living. See this link for his pencil making prowess...

http://www.uh.edu/admin/engines/epi339.htm

The reason that lead pencils are found in campsites and wooden ones are not is simple. Wood rots. Lead doesn't. Again, I'm not being nasty here, but we could also draw a conclusion, based on strictly archeological evidence, that labels were rare things to find on bottles, because every time a bottle is found there's no label on it.



No offense taken. I just wanted to show that there were alternatives and was not at all suggesting that wooden pencils were not used.

However, I don't think that is the same as suggesting that there were no labels on bottles because bottles are not dug with labels. Only a professional archelogist would arrive at that conclusion.

vmescher
09-26-2006, 08:43 AM
[QUOTE=
What did that French patent pencil sharpener look like? (The American item may have looked just like it, and be a suitable substitute.)
I ran into a similar conundrum a few years ago when I wanted to know how they opened cans. We've all been told that soldiers opened them with knives and bayonets. I wouldn't recommend the later (except for oil cans) and the former dulls your knife. I seriously doubt that Mrs. Volunteer Soldier back home was ruining her kitchen knives by opening cans with them. Took me a long time researching 19th c. kitchen implements to find the answer.
Although a soldier may have sharpened his pencils with a penknife (which is dandy if you're careful and patient), how did his son do it back home in school?[/QUOTE]

I've not found images of the first French patent by Bernard Lassimone in 1828 (#2444) or for another one by Therry de Estwaux who invented the first manual sharpener in 1847.

If you go to the site http://www.officemuseum.com/pencil_sharpeners.htm you will find a great number of images of pencil sharpeners. The earliest image they have of a manufactured sharpeners is one from 1869 (patent # 90,289).

In all the research I've done on pencils and sharpeners there has been no indication that they sharpened the points (pre-1865) any other way except by whittling or abrading them, whether a soldier or schoolboy.

I've also researched can openers and in cookbooks, I've seen the instructions for opening cans to use a chisel and hammer. Could you share your research and documentation on what you learned on how cans were opened? I would like to add it to my files. In _The American Cookbook_ (1854) there was an image of sardine opener but that may have been a British import since it predates the first patent of an American can opener by Ezra Warner in 1858. There were several can knives shown and listed in the 1865 _Illustrated Catalogue of American Hardware of the Russell & Erwine Manufacturing Company_ but they did not resemble can openers but looked like curved knives.

Pvt Schnapps
09-26-2006, 09:11 AM
I would have to agree with earlier posters who suggest the use of pen knives. In my overview of expenditures from the War Department's Contingent Fund for the FY ending June 30, 1864 (appended to the 2006 "School of the Clerk," recently reposted on the AC Forum) I found exactly one pencil sharpener, purchased by the Surgeon General's office for 15 cents. By contrast, the various headquarters offices purchased a total of more than 330 pen-knives, though I estimate that fewer than 20 clerks still used quills. The WD also purchased in excess of 550 "erasers" that, if of the "ink knife" style, could conceivably also have been used to point pencils.

hanktrent
09-26-2006, 10:46 AM
I haven't studied this, but maybe others have.

It occurs to me that a pencil sharpener based on modern designs, either the single-blade type or the rotary, produces a cone-shaped point.

Sharpening a pencil with a pocket knife naturally produces a flat point unless you work to make it perfectly round. But with a flat point, a pencil will write like a pen, with wide and narrow lines, which might be desirable in an era in which that was considered normal. Today, most felt tip and ballpoint pens write a single thickness, so it's natural for pencils to be the same way.

Has anyone looked at enough period pencil writing to notice if there typically were thick and thin lines? Were they taking advantage of knife sharpening to mimic pen points?

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

Pvt Schnapps
09-26-2006, 10:59 AM
I haven't studied this, but maybe others have.

It occurs to me that a pencil sharpener based on modern designs, either the single-blade type or the rotary, produces a cone-shaped point.

Sharpening a pencil with a pocket knife naturally produces a flat point unless you work to make it perfectly round. But with a flat point, a pencil will write like a pen, with wide and narrow lines, which might be desirable in an era in which that was considered normal. Today, most felt tip and ballpoint pens write a single thickness, so it's natural for pencils to be the same way.

Has anyone looked at enough period pencil writing to notice if there typically were thick and thin lines? Were they taking advantage of knife sharpening to mimic pen points?

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

I think that's a great observation, but I suspect that the idea was to get enough of a point to write with, without necessarily trying to mimic a pen.

And in practice, not every bit of pen work demonstrates wide variance in lines. I've seen stuff in the order book for the 16th Michigan that looked like it was done with a broad-headed calligraphy nib (maybe quill -- it was '61) followed by writing that could almost have been done with a roller ball.

In any case, here's an undated, probably late war, Confederate morning report from the Roy Bird Cook collection that looks very much like it was done in pencil, so you can judge for yourself: http://www.libraries.wvu.edu/Roy_Cook_JPG/1561_02.03.08p/imagepages/2311.html

To me it looks like sort of yes and sort of no...

TimKindred
09-26-2006, 12:11 PM
I would have to agree with earlier posters who suggest the use of pen knives. In my overview of expenditures from the War Department's Contingent Fund for the FY ending June 30, 1864 (appended to the 2006 "School of the Clerk," recently reposted on the AC Forum) I found exactly one pencil sharpener, purchased by the Surgeon General's office for 15 cents. By contrast, the various headquarters offices purchased a total of more than 330 pen-knives, though I estimate that fewer than 20 clerks still used quills. The WD also purchased in excess of 550 "erasers" that, if of the "ink knife" style, could conceivably also have been used to point pencils.


Mike,

I think that your observation on the "ink erasers" is dead-on. These are constantly being offered for sale on ebay as "CW scalpels" and CW bleeders" and other falderal. Now, in fairness, some surgeons DID use the ink eraser as a lancer or small scalpel. They did so because in many cases, they were required to purchase and/or provide their own instruments, especially in medical school. The Ink eraser was much cheaper than a scalpel, and made a handy tool when given a good edge.

However, it was still made to be an eraser, and was a darned common item, so common that it's often not even mentioned much, or when it is, is misidentified by current readers who mistake it for the rubber variety.

Personally, I think an excellent subject for an article would be a description of the various tools and devices available and used for writing in our period. Pens, handles, erasers, blotters, wafers, the ubiquitous "red tape", etc. All defined and given illustrative examples might be just the ticket for the blooming writer.

Respects,

Robert A Mosher
09-26-2006, 12:40 PM
Virginia -

Somewhere I may have what I found about the canopeners - they were simple wooden handled 'bayonet' type canopeners and according to one source the Union Army actually ordered some 50,000 for the Army during the war. I tracked down a simple model with an unpainted wooden handle and what appeared to be an iron (not steel) 'bayonet' on it (no other utensils attached like a cork screw) for our company cook gear.

Re sharpening pencils - the Boston Journal's Army Correspondent Charles Carleton Coffin was repeatedly described using a pencil and a leather covered notebook in the field as he followed the army. Doing the same, I have found that the penknife is a good solution since it is a handier size than the pocket knife I also carry - I can keep the penknife in a waistcoat pocket and pull it out more quickly and easily. I also don't have to think about what I last used the pocket knife for or what I may use it for next.

Robert A. Mosher

vmescher
09-26-2006, 12:56 PM
Personally, I think an excellent subject for an article would be a description of the various tools and devices available and used for writing in our period. Pens, handles, erasers, blotters, wafers, the ubiquitous "red tape", etc. All defined and given illustrative examples might be just the ticket for the blooming writer.



I did an comprehensive article on pencils, erasers, and sharpeners that appeared in the August/September 2002 issue of the _Citizens' Companion_ . Maybe at some time I'll expand on the original article and put it up on our web page. I would like to include the various paper sizes also. Stationery supplies and handwriting of the period are interesting subjects.

Rob
09-26-2006, 12:59 PM
Mike,

I think that your observation on the "ink erasers" is dead-on. These are constantly being offered for sale on ebay as "CW scalpels" and CW bleeders" and other falderal. Now, in fairness, some surgeons DID use the ink eraser as a lancer or small scalpel. They did so because in many cases, they were required to purchase and/or provide their own instruments, especially in medical school. The Ink eraser was much cheaper than a scalpel, and made a handy tool when given a good edge.

However, it was still made to be an eraser, and was a darned common item, so common that it's often not even mentioned much, or when it is, is misidentified by current readers who mistake it for the rubber variety.

Personally, I think an excellent subject for an article would be a description of the various tools and devices available and used for writing in our period. Pens, handles, erasers, blotters, wafers, the ubiquitous "red tape", etc. All defined and given illustrative examples might be just the ticket for the blooming writer.

Respects,

Tim, and all,

I own a handful of these ink erasers. Some of them still have their sheaths, which are made of pressed paper, much like some of the eyeglass cases of the time. I can personally vouch for the fact that these are quite sharp enough to do surgery with, having inadvertently performed some "surgery" on my hand with them.

For a good description of writers' tools, see Schnapps' School of the Clerk. With his kind permission, I can send you (or anyone else who might be interested) a copy, if you'll drop me a line with your e-mail address. (Large file - 1.3 MB)

I've also got several photos of inkwells and ink erasers I can share, if anyone is interested.

Pvt Schnapps
09-26-2006, 03:15 PM
Tim, and all,

I own a handful of these ink erasers. Some of them still have their sheaths, which are made of pressed paper, much like some of the eyeglass cases of the time. I can personally vouch for the fact that these are quite sharp enough to do surgery with, having inadvertently performed some "surgery" on my hand with them.

For a good description of writers' tools, see Schnapps' School of the Clerk. With his kind permission, I can send you (or anyone else who might be interested) a copy, if you'll drop me a line with your e-mail address. (Large file - 1.3 MB)

I've also got several photos of inkwells and ink erasers I can share, if anyone is interested.

I'm having a weird sense of deja vu here, thinking I'd already responded to this. Anyway, here's the thread on the AC Forum with the "School":
http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/forum/showthread.php?t=6461, and Rob you certainly have my permission to send it. It needs (and will eventually get) another rewrite, as well as to be broken down into smaller, more digestible chunks, but between Chapter VIII and Appendix 4, it's got most of what I know about material culture.

A friend of mine recently lent me a 1943 WD book on Company Administration, which included suggested supplies for the company desk. Interestingly enough, there were no penknives or pencil sharpeners but there was still a steel eraser. There were basically the same as the "ink knife" variety used nearly a century before, and would certainly do the job.

Greg Renault
10-04-2006, 03:07 PM
Attached is a pic of some steel erasers, with the cases that Rob mentioned. I also have several of these, and regularly use them when in the field. In my opinion, every reenacting clerk should have one; after all, if you write with pen and ink, you need an eraser.

Note these steel erasers have a rounded top and flat bottom to the blade. This is the most common design I come across. The rounded portions of the top and bottom portion of the blade erase quite well, but the flat, bottom portion of the blade does not, because it cannot bear on the paper. Notice that it is rather knifelike; I find that it works well to either slice paper, or sharpen pencils. I cannot imagine what else that portion of a sharp clerical tool would be used for.

Greg Renault