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Archive for the ‘things we love’ Category

01_AB

Calligrapher Alan Blackman has an unparalled passion for letters — both typographically and philatelically speaking.

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Letters to Myself: The Calligraphic First Day Covers of Alan A. Blackman at the SF Public Library exhibits truly stunning work created by Blackman over the course of thirty six years.

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Simply put: this is a beautiful exhibition: incredible calligraphy, wonderful philately, and ingenious design. I had the great good fortune of having the gallery (somewhat) all to myself when I stopped by to see the show; I  felt that I was able to spend time one-on-one with each of Blackman’s creations, free of distractions.

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Alongside the displayed artwork, a video interview (linked below) with Mr. Blackman describes his work at the Rincon Annex postal counter, a P.O. near and dear to my heart. He also references “two shops selling stamps for collectors near my place of employment” — I’m hoping that’s a reference to US Stamp and Supply Company, another place dear to my heart (which closed up shop in SF last year.)

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“For colored writing I used gouache in tubes or water-soluble colored pencils. I later learned how to grind a set of colored Japanese stick inks on individual ink stones: one stone for reds, one for blues, one for greens, etc.”

–Alan Blackman, courtesy of the SFPL Book Arts and Special Collections “What’s Happening On the Sixth Floor” blog

06_AB

There have been some delightful interviews and reviews of this exhibit over the past couple of months, most notably by the good folks over at Social Correspondence and the SF Chronicle. And while I feel that I could spend hours writing up how inspiring (and inspired) this show is, I find that putting the exhibition into words is much harder than I thought it would be, simply by virtue of the fact that it is so overwhelmingly thoughtful.

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In interviews, Blackman is modest about his work; he says that he was initially surprised by people’s positive reactions to his decorated envelopes. Presenting them at a monthly meeting of San Francisco’s Friends of Calligraphy, he remarks: “I was so shy and sheepish, I thought something as personal as this would not appeal to anyone else. I brought what I had of my collection at the time, very sheepish, thinking that nobody could possibly be interested.”

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“To my astonishment, everyone was fascinated beyond my wildest expectations. It seems like there might be a law here… something like the more personal your work, the more people admire it, but I don’t know if that’s universally true.”

–Alan Blackman,  courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library’s YouTube channel

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What more can I tell you? Do yourself a huge favor and stop by the Koret Gallery at the Main Branch of SFPL. Exhibition runs thru October 13th, 2015. More details can be found here.

–JH

add’l resources:

What’s On the Sixth Floor? (SFPL Book Arts and Special Collections blog)

video interview with Alan Blackman (many of the above quotes are pulled from this video)

Alan Blackman Calligraphy (Mr. Blackman’s website)

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01_grand newsstand_01

So: SF Zine Fest has come and gone for another year. Always a whirlwind extravaganza, always an amazing visual feast. There’s something for everyone, and this year was no different. I present for you: a small wrap up of delicious items!

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But first: LOOK AT THAT CROWD! It was like that all. darn. day. There was never an ebb and flow, just a steady stream of attendees who were revved up and ready to look at zines, small press books, and a variety of DIY goodies…

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…which I was more than happy to have at my little slice of table! As you can see from the photo above, I had a selection of Red Handed Rubber, as well as issues of Red Letter Day 1-4. I had also put together copies of “Posted”, “Hello! My Name Is Mail Art!”, and “Penmanship” — y’know: the usual postal and letter writing bling.

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I was sharing a table with Miz Happenstance, who had created two new AMAZING stamp sheets for her “Herstorical Women of Oakland” artistamp series (shown above)…

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…as well as these “Cat Superpowers” badges, which were like CATNIP (see what I did there?) for zinesters of all ages (and a BARGAIN at five bucks!)

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You may remember my write up of The Grand Newsstand from last week’s post; well, lucky me! Courtney was just to my right, vending lovely zines from locals.

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And how clever is this?!?! The Newsstand crew had designed a SFZF 2015 bingo card! I can’t think of a better way to run around and meet people — a prize is always a good motivator.

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Clint Marsh of Wonderella Publishing is putting out a wonderful new item: Fiddler’s Green. The masthead proclaims that this beauty is a “peculiar parish magazine” and I’d definitely agree — if you define peculiar as a beautiful, high production value publication with wonderfully written articles. (Take a look at that copper foil stamping on issue #2!)

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Clint’s tablemate Andrew Reichart (Argawarga Press) had these little gems (above), which were irresistible. I brought home three and promptly devoured them before bedtime. (Which maybe wasn’t the best idea, as I had strangely tinged dreams all night long.)

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And of course I took a moment to check in with Hope of Gutwrench Press. Her blank journals with postcard covers were literally flying off the table; she had fantastic examples of her “Keep Writing” project for people to look at. I was reminded of how much I love her aesthetic and her lovely self.

It was a crazy-busy day and the time seemed to run away. In a jiffy, Miz Happenstance and I had called it a day and were off to our favorite Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood! Believe me: there are very few things better than Japanese comfort food and an ice cold Sapporo at the end of a long work day. We’d definitely earned it!

More news to come — I’ll be participating in another fun event at the end of the month, here in San Francisco! Details following soon and RLD readers will be the first to know — I promise!

–JH

PS: I was interviewed by San Francisco’s online local mag Hoodline about SF Zine Fest, mail art, and what zines in general have to do with sending wacky stuff through the mail — take a look!

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01_biz card

So.

Two weeks ago, Miz In Cahoots and I were wandering around the Embarcadero, after a far-too-long hiatus from hanging out. Ice cream had been consumed, the bay had been viewed, and gossip had been swapped. Heading back to the subway station, I thought that life couldn’t possibly get any better.

I was wrong.

At Market and Steuart, I was stopped in my tracks by a Most Wonderful Place.

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the work of Roman Madov and Angi Brzycki

Have you visited The Grand Newstand? Have you heard about this project? If not, you should, because it’s AMAZING.

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Courtney contemplates the difficult question of “favorite zine”…

We met Courtney Riddle (one of the mistress-minds behind The Grand Newsstand kiosk) who explained to us that the newsstand stocked zines, small press editions, and the occasional artistic project (prints, broadsides, home wares) — housed in one of the vintage-ish newsstand kiosks lining Market Street. The two of us were immediately enchanted.

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the work of Evah Fan…

If you’re looking for gift to give a budding zine maker or an inspired per-zine to read on your daily commute…

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…this is your kind of kiosk!! It was wonderful to see a variety of artists I know and love hanging out right there on Market Street. In a city strapped for art space and DIY culture, it was such a joy to bask in the ambiance at the Newsstand.

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the work of Awkward Ladies Club (just in time for Burning Man!!!)

So: what are you waiting for?!?! The Newsstand is (usually) open six days a week; check out their hours on tumblr. Stop by, support small press, and get an eyeful of this quintessentially San Francisco endeavour.

–JH

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pop up_01

front view of the “Kinderboekenweek 2012” stamps…

How lucky am I?! A few weeks ago, I got to hold one of these amazing “Kinderboekenweek 2012” postage stamps in my hand! One part postage, one part pop-up, these philatelic gems were conceived and designed by Hans and Sabine Bockting of the graphic design firm Bockting Ontwerpers. The charming animal illustrations were created by children’s book illustrator Fleur van der Weel.

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back view (underside) of the “Kinderboekenweek 2012” stamps…

Taking place every October in The Netherlands, “Kinderboekenweek” (Children’s Book Week) has a roster of events, reading programs, and a Kinderboekenbal (think: giant party for little kids who like to read books.) Every year, there is a different theme.

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postage stamp, “popped up” and seen from the back…

ANYHOW: back to the stamps! How do they work? Well, you simply pull the arrowed tab at the bottom of each stamp (shown above on the “front view” photo…) and the top layer slides forward to reveal a second animal AND create a pop-up of the front layer animal!

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postage stamp, “popped up” and seen from the front…

PostNL claims that this is “the world’s first pop-up stamp.” While I’ve heard about a wide variety of unusual stamps (Swiss embroidered stamps, stamps incorporating braille characters, and postage with traces of meteorite dust to name a few) it’s the first time I’ve seen or heard about a stamp that so perfectly combines paper engineering and philately.

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Each stamp can be punched out of the sheet, affixed to your parcel, and sent through the mail. According to the PostNL website: “the designation on these stamps is Nederland 5, which means that they are for letterbox packets weighing up to 500 grams destined for addresses within the Netherlands.” Dang — mailable only in The Netherlands!

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Want to see this pop-up postage in action? The video interview below with Fleur van der Weel shows the pop-up parts in action! (video is in Dutch.)

Have any other RLD readers out there seen or sent mail using these beauties? If “yes”, tell me more!

Happy making and mailing —

–JH

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KWP_03

I can’t quite remember when Hope Amico of Gutwrench Press first found her way to my mailbox. However, I do remember that feeling of “holy cow! What is this beautiful printed thing here in my hand?!” The postcard was a little dinged up (that’s what happens when you send soft printmaking paper through the cruel machinery of the postal system) but the scritches and scratchings only added to the mystery of the card itself.

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Through a handful of addresses and cities, Hope and I have always managed to keep in touch postally. Her artists books and prints are a world unto themselves: beautifully printed, lovingly bound together, thoughtfully written. Her “Keep Writing Postcards” project is a natural extension of fine art works, a call-and-response with friends and strangers, using the medium of the post office.

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Oakland-based gallery E.M. Wolfman is exhibiting “To Get A Letter, Send A Letter: Selections From the Keep Writing Postcards Project” through the month of August. Graciously, Hope took a bit of time to answer some questions for Red Letter Day readers about her process, what the “Keep Writing Postcards” project means to her, and the future of the project itself.

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Jennie Hinchcliff: In general terms, can you describe for RLD readers what the “Keep Writing Postcards” project is all about?

Hope Amico: It started as a way to keep in touch with friends as I moved away and began college. I started printing one postcard a month, using the handset type and presses at my university, mailing about 60 to friends on a mailing list. Within the first year I began collaborating with friends on the cards and began offering subscriptions to strangers. By the time I was finishing up school, it had evolved into the thing it is today: each month I letterpress print a folded card, consisting of two postcards. One postcard is something I’ve designed, illustrating a story or a quotation that I like. The other half has instructions for the recipient, usually somehow related to my design. Recipients fill out their half and mail it back to me. I post it online and sometimes share them in gallery shows.

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JH: Describe an average month (from start to finish) for “Keep Writing Postcards” (i.e. what’s your working process like?)

HA: Ideally, on the first of the month, all the cards for that month are in the mail.  Usually they make it to the post box a few days later and sometimes get mailed as late as the middle of the month.  I spend a few days working out an idea, drawing, scanning, searching clip art, writing text and revising.

Then I spend about 2 days towards the end of the month making plates and printing.  I trim the cards, bring them to my home studio and spend a few hours listening to radio shows while scoring and folding, taping and stamping.  At some point I remember to print mailing labels from my subscriber list spreadsheet.  Sometimes this takes a minute; sometimes, on bad computer days, it can take hours, during which I reconsider the time-saving measure of printing labels. (ed note: HA! indeed…)

The last step is best.  I write at least “hello” and sign my name on all the cards, writing longer notes every few cards.  Sometimes I bring a stack with me if I am going out to eat alone.  Then I drop them in the mail box and start again.

all the tools

JH:How do you decide on each month’s theme?

HA: I have a list in my journal of potential ideas. Some months there is an event or holiday I would like to highlight or work with but sometimes I have a technique I want to work with.   I try to mix it up so that some months ask for a story, followed maybe by a fill-in-the blank image or sentence and then maybe a drawing-friendly idea.  That’s the ideal.

But sometimes I plan a few months ahead only to think of something more appealing to me at the last minute.  I like the month to month variety but sometimes I print everything in silver for two months in a row.   I want to plan two months ahead but I also like having a thoughtful but open enough prompt that many people want to respond. There is a balance between offering enough guidelines and specifics to inspire and be clear while leaving room for all the creative answers.

And some months I just want a break or want to give everyone a break or have an idea for a card without a response so I print that. Everyone needs a break from obligations to keep them fun, right?

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JH: Each of the postcards that you send out are beautifully letterpressed and oftentimes incorporate an image you’ve collaborated on with another artist. Can you talk a little bit about the nature of collaboration, both in the postcards you’ve created and the works you’re receiving from participants?

HA: When I started the project, the first year was just a single postcards that I printed.  Then I thought I’d try a year of collaborating with a different artist friend each month.  A few of my friends are printers and they sent me 150 cards partially printed  leaving the rest for me.  Those were fun but took a lot of coordination.  If someone was late, then I was behind schedule. And some of my friends are not printers at all and had wild ideas about what to make.  Collaborating every month was fun but not practical.

bicycle postcard

I wanted a way to hear back from people, so that it wasn’t just my story being told but my part of a story, my point of view.  So I began these cards with a tear-off response card, allowing people to choose to participate but the project continues even if some people never send cards back.  But sometimes, when they do, it adds something unexpected.   One month, I drew a map of my neighborhood in New Orleans, as I remembered it, and asked recipients to send me back a map of anything. One of my favorite responses was from my best friend and former neighbor who drew the same neighborhood from their perspective.  It was lovely.

Having a card with my address already printed and a question to be answered meant I would hear back from people, sometimes people I would not expect to write back.  My best penpals do not necessarily send the most postcards, but my little (now 30 year old and married) cousin had an amazing streak of responding to every single card.  It often surprises me who I hear from the most often.

all the tools

JH: Did you find that it was an easy transition to think about the work you were receiving at your mailbox in relation to a gallery show? Did “Keep Writing Postcards” start out with the intention of an eventual exhibition?

HA: This started out as a personal project but I was spending so much time on it while in school for my printmaking degree,  I realized that it was worth getting credit at school.  But I was so protective of it I didn’t share it much until its 3rd year, entering my final year at school. By that point, I knew I wanted it to be part of my senior show, that I wanted to spend all my time making postcards.  This is when I started printing the cards in the form they are now, an interactive piece with responses to share.  So, from that point I knew they would be shared.

When I graduated and moved to Oakland, I knew I wanted to have another show and share the work again.  I also work in other forms, but this project is definitely what is most dear to me — it is the one that is easiest for me to be excited about and to share and explain. I like creating environments in which people want to sit and read the cards, where it is clear that you can handle the art work and participate.  I like that intersection of function and involvement in a gallery space. I want it to feel like home, so I have included a lamp, a desk, a writing utensil and even a tape player with headphones to listen to music written especially for the show (another kind of collaboration!)

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JH: I’m super excited to see the show at E.M. Wolfman! What sorts of additional activities will there be, in relation to the show itself? How long will the show be running?

HA: The show is up through the end of August. There is a box with this month’s postcard so gallery-goers can participate. I am taking the responses from this card (about neighborhoods) and making a map for people to give themselves a self-guided tour at the end of the show.  I want to do this every few months: have a mail box stationed at a certain place, asking for input from whoever comes by.
Also, every Saturday in July from 1-3 pm I will be there writing letters. You can join me. There are postcards and stationery for sale and I think I’ll bring a few other fun surprises to share. On July 22nd, I’ll be giving a brief talk about the project too during the Post A Letter Social Activity Club event at E.M. Wolfmann.

for more information:

“Postcard Artist Trusts the Message Will Be Delivered”, SF Gate, July 1st, 2015 (Evan Karp, author)

— Hope will be vending her lovely wares (including subscriptions to the “Keep Writing Postcards Project” at this year’s SF Zine Fest, September 6th at the SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park.

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01_UnderwoodTags_via snfranciscomemories.com

As many of you know, June 23rd is World Typewriter Day. This is a day in which we celebrate those weighty machines which give us great joy by clicking, clacking, and “ding!”ing. It’s a day to swap out old typewriter ribbons for new ones and oil our carriage levers!

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(above message reads: “What do you think of this machine? It is in operation every day. –Al)

Let’s take a step back and look at a larger picture: this year is also the 100 year anniversary of San Francisco’s Pan Pacific International Expo (PPIE, for short.) In 1915, the Expo was a wonderment to behold — San Francisco’s first big “event” after the devastation of 1906’s earthquake and fire. Countries from around the globe (as well as states across the US) sent emissaries, exhibits, and artwork of their best and brightest. Practically speaking, the PPIE commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and celebrated SF’s phoenix-like rebuilding of the city.

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I have always been fascinated with the PPIE; in the San Francisco of today, you can still find remnants of the Expo – if you look carefully. The Palace of Fine Arts still stands, but there are also many hidden bits (artwork and architecture) tucked away around the bay area.

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(typed message reads: “Westward Ho! Over the Rockies we go: on our way to the Golden Gate we will see deserts, prairies,cowboys, ranches, mountains, canyons, and the wonders of the west; the Orient, the Occident, the South Seas, the Arctic — all the world will be there. Meet us in the Palace of Liberal Arts, Court of the Universe, San Francisco.”)

But there’s one mystery that I’ve been working to solve, something that no one ever seems to discuss. It’s a question of the massive Underwood typewriter, which was shown with much fanfare at the PPIE.

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“Writing daily at the Underwood exhibit”, the Underwood Typewriter Company debuted an enormous 14 ton typewriter at the Expo’s Palace of Liberal Arts. At twenty one feet wide and 18 feet high, this particular Underwood was a feat of engineering. A grown adult could sit on one of its keys; photos from the Expo show attendees dwarfed by the gigantic contraption. Plans for the giant machine took a full year to develop; it was another year before the behemoth was constructed.

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(typed message reads: “Bulletin by United Press: Liverpool, May 7th — the Cunard liner Lusitania with a heavy passenger list of Americans, was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast this afternoon. Small boats rushed from Queenstown to Old Head of Kinsale off which point the liner was torpedoed.”)

Daily news headlines were typed out on a nine-by-twelve-foot piece of paper; the typewriter itself required a 100-foot-long ribbon. “Printer’s Ink” magazine (Volume 91, April 1st, 1915) tells us that “it is run by power generated by three single one horse-power motors.” A regular sized Underwood in front of the larger showpiece was used in the typing of daily newsworthy headlines. A breaking news feature on May 7th, 1915, announced to fair-goers the sinking of the Lusitania by German submarines (as seen in the photo above.)

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So here’s the mystery: a 14 ton typewriter with keys the size of car tires and taller than an adult elephant – where does something like that end up? I’ve long wondered. That’s the beauty of the internet: if you search diligently, you can usually piece together clues.

Giant Underwood Typewriter, Underwood Garden Pier Exhibit Atlantic City

After the PPIE wrapped up on December 4th, 1915, many of the Expo’s artifacts were sold at public auction. Parts of buildings were floated downriver to other bay area cities; artwork and furniture found their way into private collections. The Underwood Typewriter Company sold their 14 ton, award-winning typewriter to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. Taken apart and loaded into two boxcars, the colossal machine traveled from one side of the country to the other.

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The excellent oz Typewriter blog has a first-rate write up of Jack Dempsey’s (that’s right – the boxer!) connection with the enormous typer, once it arrived in Atlantic City. As far as I can tell (via internet sleuthing), the Underwood resided in Atlantic City for twenty-or-so years. (Internet) Rumor has it that hired dancers pranced across the keys, typing out messages for onlookers.

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In 1939, the World’s Fair opened in NYC. It seems that Underwood’s typer found a new home in the “Business Systems and Insurance Building” – a far cry from its glory days at the PPIE. Bill Cotter, in his book “The 1939-1940 World’s Fair” (Arcadia Press) states that “the exhibits inside were unlikely to attract many repeat visitors for they consisted of displays on banking, life insurance companies, calculators, safes, and other office equipment. The most popular displays were a 14 ton typewriter, the largest in the world, and IBM’s Gallery of Art and Science.”

11_1939_history by zim_01

(typed message reads: “Hey Folks: Welcome to the World’s Fair of 1940 in New York. –Henry D. Gibso… –> the young lady in photo has her foot at the ready, hovering above the letter “N”.)

At this point in my searching, the trail of the 14 ton typer goes cold. I’ve found vague references to World War II and implications that the Underwood Master Typewriter was sold to the US Army for scrap metal. Is this really truly what happened? Is there any way to ever possibly know?

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With all of our collective (internet) knowledge, I have no doubt that the “Whereabouts of the 14 Ton Typewriter” will one day be solved — beyond a question of a doubt. For now, I’ll keep hoping for the day that mankind manages to perfect time travel.  Then I’ll be able to find my way among the promenades and pathways of 1915’s PPIE, heading towards the Palace of Liberal Arts and a typewriter that dreams are made of.

–JH

Some great resources in relation to this write up:

KQED’s “Forum With Michael Krasney” – an interview with PPIE historians and author Laura Ackerly (Jewel City, published by Heyday Books)

Excellent photos of the Underwood exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair (blog: History by Zim)

Learn interesting facts and unusual aspects related to typewriters! oz Typewriter (blog)

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CWPE_05

There is a magical wonderland of a place that you may or may not have heard of, in the heart of New York City. Miz Happenstance and I were lucky enough to get in on the action when we visited NYC two weeks (or so) ago.

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CW Pencil Enterprise is a place which, I’m convinced, could only exist in NYC (or Tokyo.) Upon entering the lovely little store, one is immediately transported to a time when the smell of pencil shavings meant practicing one’s cursive writing and hand-crank pencil sharpeners were a staple in every classroom.

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Temptation is all around: beautifully arranged glasses filled with all manner pencils line the shelves…

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And a lovely cork board displays available models (why yes, they do have the famed Palamino Blackwing!)…

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There is also a wonderful selection of journals, erasers, and pencil sharpeners from companies far and wide. Japan, Switzerland, Germany, the UK, Argentina…pencils from across the globe are yours for the purchasing!

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The icing on the cake? CW Pencil Enterprise can customize pencils for you! Starting at two dollars per, there is a range of colors to choose from (see the above photo.) And guess what? No minimum order! So whether you want to order one for yourself or one hundred for the holiday season — CW can help you out. The extremely helpful staff is generous with their pencil knowledge, but beware: mechanical pencils have no place here!

Sharpen, sharpen, sharpen —

–JH

CW Pencil Enterprise feature in the New York Times

a fun interview with Caroline Weaver (CW Pencil Enterprise owner) via Pencil Revolution

how are pencils made? the History Channel shows us!

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