Beautiful Vintage Print Ads and the History Behind Design Elements of Pencils

 “…. and here’s a message to every designer, artist, architect, engineer – every man who uses pencil as an instrument of creation. Your pencil if your genii.”wdswrthhwlnd-1909-kin (1)

Today I am excited to discuss the beautiful world of pencil designs and some inspiring brands that dictated the pencil construct for years to come.

Many of the stationery items we have grown up with have a rich history and beautiful design stories behind them. The first highlighter, STABILO BOSS is fat and flat because its designer lost his head in a meeting and stamped his fist on a clay prototype.  For some of us, that Eberhard Faber eraser belonging to our great-grandfather, or that brown Natur eraser with pen marks or doodles drawn on it, marks an era when design tools could be romanticized.

In this digital world of touchscreens and backspaces, we are more starved than ever for objects that meet form and function and give us something more real and tangible.  That is why typewriters, pencils, fountain pens of yesteryears are so close to our hearts.

Browse through these beautiful vintage ads and catalogues, and no matter where you are, you will be inspired to  surround yourself with all things vintage and stationery.


In the 18th and 19th century, leads that were used in pencils were drawn from slabs of graphite and cut into square shapes. These square leads were then framed in a wooden body. But soon they gave way to round designs in an attempt to create pencils on a mass scale.

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Did you know, pencils were primarily designed to be left-handed? The tradition continued until the late 19th century.


The lead marking were in “HHHHHH” and had a clear lacquer finish. These design elements were later altered by A. W Faber in his attempt to catch up to the new trends ruling the design tools industry.


The Koh-I-Noor pencil designs which were introduced in 1980s inspired future constructs for years to come. One of the ubiquitous design elements of painting the pencil in yellow was imitated by many manufacturers. The old vintage pencils were finished in clear lacquer and showcased the refined quality and the uniformity of the wooden body around the lead. Having a color to pencil’s wooden skin was a fairly new concept back then. These pencils when introduced were considered bourgeoisie than the clear lacquered finished pencils.


Thanks to Dennis B. Smith of Leadholder (  for allowing us a peep into the beautiful vintage advertisements and its long copy. These beautifully worded vintage ads make for such engaging reads.

“Lowly knight of the drawing boards? …..With deft pencil strokes guided by genius he brings to life nebulous dreams and offers them as gift to mankind.”

These instruments of mass creation still continue to rule the world, writing stories, illustrating thoughts and filling the blank sheets of the paper with their magical black world.

Consultant and Editor Jim Davis on Creative writing for Brands

When I started Blank Paper Project, one of my biggest goals was to celebrate and showcase independent artists, illustrators and writers from all over the world and create a platform for all the stationery-aficionados like myself. So whenever I stumbled upon a creative person from my circle or beyond from the big World Wide Web, I wanted to instantly share the stuff he/she created with rest of the world. So when my clicks got me to the totalcontent website, the first thing I noticed was this beautiful orange notebook with a double-decked bus stamp on it.slide1-lg

 totalcontent is a UK-based company that helps agencies and companies with cross-disciplinary writing services, and help set tone of voice for their business. They offer creative copy solutions to assist clients for designing a brand identity; from creating a website, a well-crafted snappy name to anything that would bring words to their aid.

Jim K Davies, the writer, editor and consultant at totalcontent shares his creative journey, and his stationery collection with us. Thank you so much Jim for joining us for these series.

Tell us what inspired you to start totalcontent?

I started out as a design journalist, writing about design for magazines and newspapers in the UK and US. Through this I made a lot of friends and contacts in the design world, who’d ask me to help them out with words. Before long, the commercial writing took over, so I set up totalcontent with my wife Deborah [Kings], who mainly looks after the business side. Working as totalcontent gives us the flexibility to bring in other talented people on projects when necessary. We like to come across slightly playful and for the enjoyment we get from writing to shine through.

Which brands do you think have it right with deciding the tonality of their brands?

It goes in cycles — I guess it depends on the people and structure in place at the time. Ten years ago, in the UK at least, Orange and Innocent were held up as the champions of brand tone of voice, but now they’ve gone off the boil. Currently, there are some smaller brands like Hiut Denim and Peppersmith whose written personality is great. Though they’re very different, they don’t try too hard and have their own particular charm.

I must say the poem about a certain Mrs McCave had me in splits. Do you have more of these gems to share?


I really enjoy nonsense poetry and wordplay. I think it shares something with copywriting in that it has to be concise, keep the audience engaged and find a twist. Though Dr Seuss was nominally writing for kids, his verbal dexterity is a delight to all:

How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?”

John Hegley is great too:

My doggie don’t wear glasses
so they’re lying when they say
a dog looks like its owner
aren’t they?”

 And of course, the late, great Spike Milligan:

“ ‘Farewell,’ said the man who was drowning.
Said the man with the disease, ‘goodbye’.
So the man who was drowning, drownded
And the man with the disease past away.
But apart from that,
And a fire in my flat,
It’s been a very nice day.”

What do you feel when you stare at a blank page, before your words shape on the whiteness of the document? 

I don’t usually have the luxury to feel anything. I have deadlines to meet!

If someone issues a search warrant for your work station, what are they likely to stumble into?

A plastic orange nose that holds my reading glasses when I’m not using them, a Mondrian mouse mat, a silver iPod Classic, a tub of gum, a collection of Stabilo fibre pens of many colours, my late father’s Parker 75, an Artemide Toledo desk light, and of course my trusty 27-inch 2010 iMac. Deborah’s desk is directly opposite and is mirror image of mine, although she doesn’t have a plastic orange nose or nearly as many pens.

Which journal are you using currently?

I’m currently using a Leuchtturm1917 Whitelines notebook , which combines with an app to upload written notes to Evernote. I have to admit I’ve only done this once to check if it worked. Leuchtturm1917 is my favourite notebook at the moment (orange A5 squared). But I still have a soft spot for Rhodia and Quo Vadis Habana too, partly because they satisfy my craving for anything orange, but mainly because they are really well made and pleasing to write on. Browsing in stationers in Europe is most definitely one of my guilty pleasures — especially France and Italy.

About the beautiful bus-stamped notebook, it was a random purchase at the local Sainsbury’s supermarket a couple of years ago. I was attracted to it simply because it’s orange and on sale for about £2. There were a couple of different designs (a car also, I think), and the notebooks came in purple too. But I have to say, it was really disappointing. The paper was thin, so even a fibre tip showed through and the writing splayed. So after eight pages I gave up with it. There’s no information on it, but it says Fountain on the back.


Follow totalcontent on Twitter and be privy to their stationery-obsessed conversations, and awesome links sharing.

Project Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal

We wake up next to our cats, in pile of books, with a job to go to, to having a mentor who believes in us, to getting that sandwich from our colleague when we are starving during a 4 pm slump. But in our rush to achieve the next best thing we often forget that we have to identify those people who enrich our lives and be grateful to them.

And since being grateful is a verb as much as it is a sentiment, creating a gratitude journal is a good way to give our memories a little jog. Also by making list we can plan to show our appreciation, big or small.

I know I’m not alone in believing that gratitude list help us grow as a person. So I am stopping here to give you the details about this project: share your gratitude list on your blog with a photo, on Facebook, Instagram Twitter, Pinterest, Vine or your preferred social network. If you’re doing this with friends let your pal snap a photo of something they are thankful for. It can be as simple as a taking a picture of a note written on a notepad that says “I am thankful I have a friend who loves books as much as I do”.  List people you are grateful to in your favourite journal; list them on a graph paper, list them on Microsoft Word, list them on your blogs. It is a simple exercise and you can use any medium you fancy.

So pull out that list; get super creative; show off your favourite notebook, journal diary, handmade paper, designs, sketches, graphical illustrations, photography in the background. Then take some pictures of the #GratitudeList and show us the final result using the tag #MyGratitudeList. Let’s get the whole creative community in spirit of gratitude (since we have millions of names in our head of people we hate). So I will go first.

Here is my Gratitude List:
1. Talkative Taxi Drivers – We know so much about a new city just by talking with you guys
2. My cat – By the merit of  just existing
3. Mother – For putting a smile on my face every time
4. Nurse – I do not remember your name but you gave me the strength when I was so low
5. Woody Allen – Helped me get out of the Writer’s Block every time
6. Anand Gandhi – For directing the movie Ship of Theseus that changed my life. This is a movie that I can watch every day and learn something new, each time. Dear readers, if you wish to watch the movie too, click on the link here:
7. Mentors – For believing in me and my writing and for fighting against the prejudices of people who suffer from creative myopia.
8. Kanye West – For making the best music records of the century
9. Shines – For giving the best gifts any vintage loving girl would want
10. Random Jogger – For helping me through a situation which can only be termed as a Divine Intervention
11. Diverse City I live in – It’s a melting pot of cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds. Something I wish for all cities all over the world
12. J. D Salingher – For teaching me that the only religious thing a person can do is to act. To perform every action knowing God is watching and to execute it to perfection
13. Friends – For being so socially retarded, foul-mouthed, and entertaining me with your cocky quips

Indie Album Highlight: Dog Is Dead


I don’t know who told us that we are creative, but somebody did. Somebody along the way convinced us of it or we convinced ourselves that we were the creative folk. And along the way we started fitting bits and pieces in our lives that could be pigeonholed as creative.

Deep inside somewhere we knew that our lives were a redundant loop of nothingness. So we glorified our existence with “awesome Vimeo” we stumbled upon, or a great book we read. We romantised albums and then self-congratulated ourselves for picking these gems. We followed blogs, new music albums, watched movies and spoke at length over multitude of topics that competed on what would reflect us as curator of creative gems. The fact that we did not create anything for years, that is so remarkable as music or ad campaign that we like, did not disturb us.

But then there were millions like us, so we had millions of things to talk about.

Like this album.

Dog is Dead is as certain, as real, as expected album as a journey of any creative person. It has aspirations that are elusive and vivid and yet fits perfectly in a mould. Mould that is comfortable and safe.

But it’s from this very mould that the album sounds so brilliant.

The perfectly hammered lyrics, very alternate pop tune, crisp drum beats, an expected chord change – Dog is Dead has the comfort of an album that you can comfortably ignore and yet in essence alter your consciousness with its tune. Music that makes you feel that responsibilities are miles away.  Music that encroaches on your soul and yet never leaves its mark. Just like the days lived filling out our 9 to 7 jobs, watching plays and fighting over who is the best guitarist and then engaging in massive link-sharing with our friends.

Considering that we are going to continue to live our mediocre lives, there is little consolation in the fact that we can always gate-crash on creations of writers and poets, from albums, to plays, to books and enrich our lives, nevertheless.



Wes Anderson of Stationery Items

Wes Anderson’s blend of vintage and offbeat accessories, hand-painted portraits from his movies have held us spellbound for a decade now. If Wes Anderson movies were a stationery item it would be Field Notes. They bring back the “vanishing subgenre of agricultural memo books”. Margot would be writing her play scripts on these notebooks, where Suzy of Moonrise Kingdom would be writing her notes from the collection of her stolen library books.

Field Notes carry a seductive lure of faraway times and fill our souls with adventures from Wes Anderson movies. I am for one always drawn for things that have a certain vintage aesthetics to it. So when I scribbled my notes on Field Notes pages, everything around me turned ornate, muted warm coloured world of 60s. To put it rightly it is the feeling you would get if you blend Wes Anderson’s visually warm movie direction with Hemingway’s writing.


You must have spotted Field Notes notebook on Discovery Channel. Field Notes notes are meandering meditations on all small events of our lives – to do lists that never gets done, budget calculations (when we realise creativity does not pay us a damn) , random quotes, witty dry humoured notes, observations and opinions, escape plans, list of people we plan to put in our will etc.

I am in love with Field Notes’ co-founder Aaron Draplin collection of Vintage Memo Books he has been “rescuing” from obscurity. He talks about Field Notes’ pedigree in this film: 

The stories behind each memo book is so beautiful and the covers makes us so nostalgic even if we are not Americans. This is the beauty of these books.

Stationery treats for eyes and spirit

To say that I’m a fan of Present & Correct’s stationery compositions is a massive understatement. I’ve been following the website for years now and am always impressed with their vintage stationery collections from old stamps to pick’n’mix treats of odds and ends. Even the presentation of the items on the site is minimalist and creative. It is almost an archival stationery!


The collection is a beautiful series of 100% recycled, letterpressed stationery, pencils sets, Red Riding Hood stamps, aluminium trays, book cases etc. What I love most about their collection is the minimalism, sterility and a creative restraint. These items contain just enough design and pattern that is not screaming for attention.

Reading the quirky product descriptions “Don’t worry, the General doesn’t mind. 12 pencils in a neat card wrap, the lead is indicated as being ‘hard’. Lovely condition for display or use” will keep you hooked to the site for hours. You have been warned.


 New Postal Style is a book full of ideas. Envelope ideas. Many different experiments into what an envelope is, with pictures, diagrams and measures for making each design. There are 50 designs in total. Perfect for pen pals and mail enthusiasts.


Each product from the Present & Correct encapsulates everything that is thoughtful, eloquent, silent and stately. Like if you had a dream about stationery world, Present & Correct would be your dream within a dream.

I was not a big fan of geometry lessons back in school but I was fascinated by the instruments the compass box packed. Drawing random patterns from the set, trying to do a different DIY Crafty stuff with them. To bring your geometric memories to life here is a  set of notebooks inspired by 80′s Geometric set.