Art In The Everyday by 31

Art In The Everyday: Pink Pearl Eraser


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.


Above image: An Eberhard Faber eraser ad from Life Magazine, 1957


Above image: An Eberhard Faber Mongol Pencil ad from Life Magazine, 1957

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

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31 Comments

Alexander

When I was a boy (I am 50 now), we used to put these pink erasers in the oven for a while, in essence baking out the humidity. After they had cooled off, we would stick a toothpick in the center and attach a sail. They would make great sail boats for the bath tub.

K

When I was in 5th grade, my friends and I started an eraser-shavings collection. We would erase erase erase, and then sweep the precious shavings into tins to add to the big bin of them we had. Why? Beats me, but it sure was fun. And pink pearls made great shavings.

Chrissy @MABSOOTa

I LOVE this idea for a column! Especially including the vintage adverts and inspired art. This idea of ephemera-as-kitch is so central to the creative need to collect seemingly innocuous items.

I was always a fan of this behind-the-scenes type stuff, probably thanks to those Mr. Rogers segments where he’d take you in a factory on the choo-choo.

Karisa

Fabulous new series idea! I love looking at everyday objects in new ways and nothing beats a brand new eraser (with a fresh sketchbook or two) for fall!

Jenn

I love this post and I’m excited about your new Ephemera Obsession series. The Pink Peal eraser really was the perfect place to start.

Danielle

I always loved that first day of elementary school when they’d give us a fresh new notebook, a freshly sharpened pencil and pristine pink eraser. That was the best, although it was all downhill from there!

Juliet

Thank you for this. I still have a vintage Eberhard Faber “Pink Pearl no. 101″ Eraser box that belonged to my father. Probably dates to the 50s. It still has 9 of the 12 erasers still in the box, never used. It was really fun reading about the origin and the company. I’m looking forward to more “Ephemera Obsession” posts.

Emily Gumpel

Max, you made me want to buy a ton of these erasers!

Jemma

I am currently in love with the coloured upholstery skewers I have been using. Funny how something so small and functional can be beautiful. Incidentally, did you ever show photos of your new office? I remember the search for the ideal lights/rugs/cushions but I was looking forward to seeing the finished photos. Did I miss them or did they not appear yet?

liza jane

I’m an elementary art teacher and pink pearl erasers are like gold! I hoard them and am constantly watching my stash. I get very upset when someone stabs one in to little pieces. They are the best!

addalee

I’m in love with the concept of “ephemera obession”… Thank you for this column! I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Plein Jane

@Juliet: What a wonderful thing to have!

And, Max, I love your writing and can’t wait for the next intallment. When I was a child, I lived with my grandmother, who was a county librarian. I’ve always been drawn to library “stuff” — bookplates, card catalogs, cloth covers, reading carrels. It’s interesting what becomes emotional for us — even more so when we know about its history.

Joan O'Connor

What a fabulous story! I loved it all, and it made me smile right out loud sitting here at my computer. Please write more of these pieces, and keep them just as detailed. Luscious!

Bonnie

Love this post. I am still nostalgic about the feel, smell, and grace of the Pink Pearl Eraser. (at age 55!)

JaanL

What great memories you have brought back to me. Not only of my new pink pearl, but of the greatest teacher I had, Mrs. Payne. Writing wasn’ t the same if you didn’t have a Pink Pearl on your desk. Thanks

Amy

I was lucky enough to find a full box of Pink Pearl erasers at a garage sale, still soft and usable! I covet them.

Jennette

This was fascinating! I love the new series and am looking forward to your next Ephemera Obsession. Thank you for featuring Lisa Congdon’s 20×200 print.

hillary

I do love Pink Pearl and now I want a White Pearl and a Black Pearl. A little Pearl Family.

Jojo

I love the Pink Pearl for the feelings of nostalgia it evokes and will always have a few around, but while it is a perfectly serviceable eraser the Black Pearl’s performance is lightyears beyond it.

valeriewabisabi

I had the dilemma of removing contact paper adhesive from a vintage wooden file box. I was able to rub it off with my finger, but as my finger started to blister I realized I must try something else. Thinking something rubbery might work, the Pink Pearl eraser came to mind. That little gem worked like a charm and saved my fingertips!

Kari Johnson

Thanks for this lovely article! It reminds me that even the smallest thing that I take for granted has a history and passionate people behind it. And now I must go and buy a fresh pack of Pink Pearl erasers–and pencils! How I wish I was within reach of my old elementary school supply closet, with its boxes of fresh pencils, pens like the teacher had, and that eraser aroma!

Brittany B

I have used all sorts of erasers in my career as an artist, and I always come back to the Pearl series! They just can’t be beat! The design, quality, and sensual experience they give are why the will always be my number one choice!

Mary

Alas, I went looking for my Pink Pearl today after not using it for awhile and found that it had gone hard on me. What to do, what to do. I finally hit on the idea of sandpaper and a little time spent rubbing the PP on all sides (sans the logo side of course) brought it back to life. Thanks to my Pink Pearl, the universe is in balance once again!

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