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Really Getting the Lead Out

Sean, Standley Lake Library

Librarians everywhere hear many of the same complaints. Two of my favorites involve pencils. The first is: “Why do libraries buy such little pencils? And why do they suck?” (The answer: they’re made in China). The second complaint goes like this: “Why doesn’t your pencil sharpener actually sharpen anything? This feels like I’m trying to skin carrots with a flint knife.”

They have a point—certainly more of a point than you’ll find on our stubby pencils. At Standley Lake, our electric pencil sharpener somehow makes pencils duller than they were before. The hand crank sharpeners of my youth were far more effective, but that was in the Reagan era when pencils were American and eager to be honed to a fine, fighting tip.

If you’re one of those people in search of the perfect pencil point, fret no more! David Rees, formerly a nationally-known political cartoonist, now has a business based on artisanal pencil sharpening. Yes, you read that right. Much like how the skilled blacksmiths of old forged weapons of exquisite design from hammered steel, Rees will sell you a pencil sharpened lovingly by his own hand, and all for the low, low price of $35.

Is this guy serious? Looking at pictures of him at work on his website, you’d assume it’s all an elaborate hoax concocted by The Onion. But somehow Rees has sold almost 2,000 pencils over the last year!

P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” It might be time to revise that number up.

But do I want one of these pencils? Absolutely! In fact, I wish I’d had one back on Feburary 8th, 1990. I bet I wouldn’t have scored a 12 on my ACT if I’d tackled the Scantron with a $35, hand-sharpened pencil. Such a formidable weapon must be good for an additional 10 points just in terms of its psychological value.

But I probably would have applied too much pressure and broke the tip on the first question, ruining all that craft.

David Rees has a book on the subject, incidentally, called How to Sharpen Pencils. We don’t own it, but you can order it through Prospector.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to design a new type of pool cue. I just need $10,000 and a 3D printer to get started. Anyone want to help me out?