Friday, May 18, 2007

Berol Cranks

Nobody is marketing pencil sharpeners these days. They’re simply selling them. But a classic brand – a relic of the machine age – came right out of our back room this past weekend. The machine in question: a Berol® Giant® Apsco® pencil sharpener. (Why does the unit label read “Sanford” in the picture? See below.)

It’s not the Apsco Dexter Model B, mind you – that’s a much older item. Nor is it the kind with the see-through celluloid holder for pencil shavings and graphite dust (which I always thought wouldn’t last very long).

No, I think ours is the better-known AP806 – a model which is still in production under a different name: “Sanford Giant.”

These machines are no longer on the Berol website because the Berol brand is owned by Sanford, the world’s largest writing instrument manufacturer. Along with the Berol brand, Sanford also own Parker, Waterman, Rotring, PaperMate and Karisma, among others.

Talk about your long-term brand: what became the Eagle Pencil Company was originally founded in 1856 in Germany by Daniel Berolzheimer. The company opened a pencil shop on John Street in New York City and a manufacturing operation at Yonkers, NY. At this point (I think), the firm was called Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Co. Berolzheimer’s son Henry took over the business.

Five successful years later, Henry purchased the city's first iron-framed building. This factory, which produced pencils, pens, pen holders and erasers, took a whole city block covering East 13th and East 14th Streets. The company’s showroom was on Broadway.

In the custom of the day, sales agents were established in France, Germany, Russia, Austria, Norway and Cuba. To supply the wood slats, the company’s Cedar Mills were established in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. It’s now the California Cedar Products Company, CalCedar, which has a fine corporate history. Berol itself kept growing (and acquiring other pencil companies) for more than 100 years.

The Berol Corporation was formed in 1969, merging nine different office supply companies from North America and the UK.

In 1986, Empire bought Berol, creating an office supply superpower swimming in pencils. The new corporate entity was then called Empire-Berol. In 1995, the European part was acquired by Sanford Corporation in the UK. In the US, Sanford is part of Newell Rubbermaid. Confused yet? Don’t be: brands migrate even when the products remain the same for decades. Especially a device that keeps on working, year after year.

Our unit is a real machine – you can see as soon as you take it apart. On the faceplate, there’s a six-hole guide that accepts all popular pencil sizes. Inside (even after all this time), there is a shiny micromated cutterhead, “twin planetary cylindrical cutters with spiral cutting edges,” that would do a tool & die company proud.

The body is metal and the barrel is gray-painted plastic. It is about 4”x 4” including the crank. We’ve had it at least 30 years, maybe more; and it’s been attached to the bookshelf in the back room since 1984. (It’s pictured in a 1953 catalogue from the American Pencil Sharpener Company – APSCO – in Chicago, IL…obviously one of the companies that Berol swept up.)

The names have merged and separated and merged again: APSCO, Sanford, Eagle and Berol: still cranking after all these years.

But I’m here to tell you, the quality behind the original name has continued to deliver on its promise, quietly and modestly, for longer than I’ve been alive. Now that’s a brand!

Interested in pencils and their brands? Check when you have an opportunity.

1 comment:

Chloe Riley said...

I'm writing a story on hand crank pencil sharpeners...Do you have any idea where I might find a more comprehensive history of APSCO?