It’s fitting that I chose the Pink Pearl eraser to kick off our Ephemera Obsession series, a weekly column that seeks art in everyday objects, past and present. Although I chose the classic eraser based solely on its timeless beauty and schoolhouse ubiquity, my research led me directly to my present — the Design*Sponge offices in Greenpoint’s Pencil Factory, the one-time home of the Pink Pearl.
Despite being a mainstay in contemporary pencil cases and art boxes, the Pink Pearl has quite a long history. The eraser was originally produced by the Eberhard Faber Company, a pencil manufacturer with its roots in eighteenth-century Bavaria. The Faber family went into the pencil business in the 1760s when Kaspar Faber began to manufacture lead pencils in the small town of Stein. The company subsequently expanded and was passed down among four generations of Fabers until John Eberhard Faber became the owner in the late nineteenth century. Although John Eberhard (who typically went by his middle name) had aspirations of going into law, he was tasked with the duty of expanding the company abroad. As a result, he moved to New York City and opened America’s first lead pencil factory in 1861. When his East River factory burned to the ground that same year, he picked up and moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn — the current site of the Design*Sponge offices.
Read more after the jump . . .
The exact date of the Pink Pearl’s origin seems to have evaporated, along with much of the company’s other history. However, it is known that the eraser derived its name from the Pearl Pencil that Eberhard Faber was producing for the F. W. Woolworth company. The erasers featured pumice, a volcanic ash from Italy that gave them their abrasive quality, along with their distinctive color and smell. Because of the eraser’s trademark pink color and surprisingly soft texture, Faber decided to name it the Pink Pearl. Fun fact: In addition to creating the world’s most famous eraser, Eberhard Faber is also responsible for putting the Pink Pearl on the tops of its pencils — the first company ever to do so.
Over the course of the twentieth century, the ownership of Eberhard Faber and, subsequently, the Pink Pearl eraser changed hands several times. In 1900, Kaspar Faber’s great great granddaughter married a cadet of the Counts of Castell, and the company was merged with the A. W. Castell enterprise to become Faber-Castell. In 1994, Newell Rubbermaid acquired Faber-Castell, which owned Eberhard Faber at the time. In 2000, Newell Rubbermaid acquired Gillette’s stationery division, which included Paper Mate, the company that now oversees production of the Pink Pearl eraser. In recent years, Paper Mate has produced a number of other “Pearl” erasers including the White Pearl, a colorless alternative to the Pink Pearl, and Black Pearl, a pebble-shaped ergonomic black eraser.
There’s something comforting about the Pink Pearl, with its textured yet smooth finish, rubbery smell and happy color. Rubbing one of them against a piece of paper produces not just tiny bits of pink dust, but also strong feelings of childhood nostalgia. I don’t think anybody captured the magic of using a pink eraser better than children’s author Beverly Cleary in one of her defining works, Ramona Quimby, Age 8:
After the family’s rush to brush teeth, Mr. Quimby said to his daughters, “Hold out your hands,” and into each waiting pair he dropped a new pink eraser. “Just for luck,” he said, “not because I expect you to make mistakes.”
“Thank you,” said the girls. Even a small present was appreciated, because presents of any kind had been scarce while the family tried to save money so Mr. Quimby could return to school. Ramona, who liked to draw as much as her father, especially treasured the new eraser, smooth, pearly pink, smelling softly of rubber, and just right for erasing pencil lines.
A number of artists and designers working today have also turned to the Pink Pearl to explore ideas about childhood, nostalgia and fantasy. Here are a few wonderful items:
Above image: Pink Pearl Tumbler from CircaCeramics on Etsy
Above image: Pink Pearl Eraser USB Flash Drive
Above image: Pink Pearl Greeting Card from Print & Tonic on Etsy
Above image: Lisa Congdon’s photograph of her vintage eraser collection from 20×200