Not sure if this is really a GQ but we’ll try it here. Today’s Writer’s Almanac had the following:
On this day in 1858, Hymen Lipman of Philadelphia patented the first pencil to have an attached eraser. The eraser-tipped pencil is still something of an American phenomenon; most European pencils are still eraserless.
Can this be true? With an eraser on the pencil being so handy, so logical, could it be the case that Europeans are willing to forego this and instead search all over the house for an eraser? Or do Europeans not make mistakes? EuroDopers, please explain.
Erasers do come in some mechanical pencils (usually imported from cheap sources) but yes, they are rarely found at the end of pencils.
Why? Dunnow, because. I never found American erasers any good anyway, it’s one of the small items I used to bring over (don’t like the sharpeners either, give me my trusty all-steel one any day). They’re very hard and don’t erase very well, Milan’s work better (I like their miga de pan model). And I “don’t search all over the house”: when I was in school I had a little bag where my pens, eraser, pencils and sharpener lived, and now the ones at home live in a small vase and those at work in a little bag similar to those I would take to school. Basic model from one of those firms which make marketing items.
I have found that the material now used for pencil-tip erasers degrades so quickly, that they are no longer useful by the time I buy the pencil at a retail store. Which means a pencil with an eraser is no better than one without. I buy a separate eraser, made of better quality material, and keep it handy.
The alternative is to buy much more expensive pencils, which is less cost-effective than using cheaper pencils and a detached eraser.
In the UK, promotional pencils found in attraction gift shops, bearing slogans such as “I Heart World of Cheese” tend to have erasers on the end. Most mechanical pencils I’ve used do as well - the little plug which stops up the tube where you load the leads tends be an eraser.
I’ve found something similar, that pencil erasers do not actually erase these days. Far from being degraded, they are some sort of ultrahard rubber that builds up a layer of graphite on its tip and then smears it all over the paper.
Yeah, I’ve always found it ironic that the pencil part of a pencil will last for decades without degrading, but the eraser is usually fossilized long before the first time I try to use it. Too bad all our scientists are wasting their time looking for cures for cancer and such. Nobody is working on the *real *problems of the world!
It’s an engineering conundrum. An eraser on the end of the pencil needs to be same (or similar) diameter as the pencil itself, and short enough that it won’t break off when you use it. So the size of the eraser is severely limited. If you use a soft eraser, it will erase well, but it’ll be used up or broken off long before the pencil is used up. If you use a very hard eraser, it won’t erase very well.
I grew up in Japan, and pencils there don’t have erasers either. I still carry a good eraser rather (and have several at home and office) than put up with the poor quality one on American pencils.
Before I buy a box of a dozen pencils, now, I open the box and test the eraser for freshness before I buy. Good ones usually perform fairly decently.
An interesting factoid about Rubber. When the material from the tropical tree came back to England as a curiosity, no useful purpose was found for it except to “rub out” pencil marks, so it was called Rubber – and still is.
And erasers are still called “rubbers” in England. When the English visit the U.S. hilarity ensues.
True story: English family visits NYC. They pass by an adult sex toy store. Sign in the window: “We have rubbers of all shapes and sizes.” Little girl says, “Oh, I want one in the shape of the Statue of LIberty!”
You can get pencils with erasers in any store in Sweden, but the ones (sparingly) handed out to us kids in elementary school by our teachers 40 years ago didn’t have them. Instead, we also got an eraser, about as useful as a piece of brick, and a plastic pencil shaft, so that the pencil could be used down to the last inch.
Pencils must have been really expensive back then…
I’ve always hated conventional graphite-core wooden pencils anyway. I placed a high value on sharp lines and small-but clear writing, and those pencils got too dull too quickly, necessitating frequent sharpening - and each time you broke the tip, you had no choice but to resharpen. In high school (back in the '80s), I switched over to mechanical pencils and never had to worry about sharpening again.
In college, I discovered that there were kickass quality erasers available, like this one. It contains an eraser as long and narrow as a pencil, and exposes just enough to use while providing good solid support for the rest of it so it doesn’t flop all over the place. And the compound that made up the eraser was great: it erased well, and wasn’t full of the same coarse abrasive as conventional pencil-top pink erasers that tended to shred your paper.
Staedtler is the manufacturer of the eraser I linked to. it may be of interest to note that Staedler is a long-lived German company; on their Wikipedia page, the first image is of conventional wooden pencils - with no eraser on top.
I appreciate the information. I personally find that as a whole, erasers don’t work very well, separate or included, with the exception of that Staedter Machine Elf linked to, and the only one of those I ever had I lost. So I’d rather have a pencil with an eraser, since it may not work well but at least it’s handy.
“In 1827, Joseph Dixon” (of Marblehead, Mass.) “began his” (pencil factory) “business in Salem, Massachusetts and, with his son, was involved with the Tantiusques graphite mine in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Dixon discovered the merits of graphite as a stove polish and an additive in lubricants, foundry facings, brake linings, oil-less bearings, and non-corrosive paints.”
I can’t believe that he waited 31 years to attach the eraser (with a green crimper). Maybe he didn’t patent it.
In Australia we can get both - pencils with or without erasers. I always choose without for the reasons others have commented - the quality of the eraser. As I have a stationery fetish (as do many others, I gather) I carry a variety of pencils, erasers and a sharpener - and a variety of the newest and greatest - erasable pens. They have ‘erasers’ on the end, but are friction erasers and don’t wear out.