The Ugly Monster
Published in

The Ugly Monster

Hobby | Collectables

So, my dad owns a pencil company now

Now that’s a title you don’t see every day.

Most people have some sort of hobby or interest that they focus on. We all need something to help us unplug from life, and scrolling through your Facebook feed can only give you so much satisfaction. Some people join a sport, take up a craft, or become collectors and researchers of a specific thing. For me, it’s comic books and the wacky shenanigans that happen on the page and behind the scenes. As for my dad, he has spent the last twenty years collecting and cataloguing antique pens and pencils.

Yes, pens and pencils.

It turns out there’s a large community of enthusiasts for fountain pens and old mechanical pencils. They collect, create, and investigate everything there is to know about writing utensils. And believe me when I say that there is a deep rabbit hole of information and drama in the long history of pencil making. It’s so complicated that I can’t summarize everything in a neat little paragraph on Medium.

This is an old picture of his collection. It’s gotten a lot bigger since then.

My dad, Jonathan Veley, is a major figure in the “Leadhead” community; he has written several books on the topic and maintained a blog for over a decade. He literally has an entire room filled with his pen and pencil collection than spans from floor to ceiling (that is not a joke). He’s so well known, in fact, that one day in April he was asked if he was interested in taking all of the pencil manufacturer Autopoint’s equipment they left behind in their rental space.

Allow me to explain.

The Autopoint pencil company was a major player in the mechanical pencil world for most of the 20th century with many fans even to this day. I say “was” because as of this year, they don’t exist anymore. When I asked my dad what happened, he explained that the company simply failed to adapt. The company had been floundering ever since the 70s, even after they moved to Jamestown, WI where they basically operated like it was still the 50s. They kept using the same old equipment and used the same old business model.

This frustrated a lot of their fans, including my dad, who kept telling them that they needed to adapt to the modern day if they wanted to survive. However, the higher-ups pretty much shut out all criticism and continued forward like that meme of the dog sipping coffee in the burning house. When my dad tried to contact Autopoint for his book on the company, just to get a statement about how they’re doing and what their plans were for the future, he got radio silence. Eventually, my dad gave up and titled the eleventh chapter of his book “Unlikely Survival”. He meant it as a compliment, that the company had made it to the present day, but the unintended double meaning was accurate. Yeah, everyone but Autopoint saw the writing on the walls.

Now back to our story.

This whole saga started around 2013 when Autopoint had a change in ownership, the period my dad was trying to interview them about. They were still selling their pencils for around three to six dollars a pop, mostly for advertising giveaways or sold wholesale, branded with other company’s names. As my dad said: “they were too good to be cheap and too cheap to be good.” Not much is known about what was happening behind the scenes but the rumors that leaked out were not good.

One of the machines used to make Autopoint pencils.

Around two years ago, they made the brilliant decision to not pay their rent for the space they were manufacturing their pencils in. No, we don’t know why. Eventually, their landlord got fed up with them and gave them until April of this year to move out everything or their equipment would be sold off. April came and Autopoint utilized their winning customer service tactic of ignoring calls and pretending that everything was fine. Why? Even now I am baffled.

Leftover materials that were left behind.

The landlords, thoroughly done with everything, took it upon themselves to find someone who would be interested in buying it all. And wouldn’t you know it, they found a prominent member of the pencil community from Ohio who wrote an entire book about the Autopoint company. They gave my dad a call and basically said “hey, you want all this stuff these guys left behind?”

And that is how we got here.

Different models that have yet to be worked on.

It took several long trips to Wisconsin but my dad somehow managed to bring every last piece of material, machinery, and documentation. Considering the volume and value of what he got, I’m seriously dumbfounded. He got their machines that look like they’re fifty years old, the pieces of pencils that just needed to be put together, and even all the rejects that only need a little buffing to be good again. Why Autopoint didn’t even bother to move all their stuff in to a storage facility is beyond me. Oh well, their loss.

For the last few weeks, my dad has been hard at work figuring out how Autopoint did what they did and making it better. He’s using a laser engraver to etch different things onto the pencil’s body then using a manual press to put on the clip and top it off with an eraser (which is intentionally difficult to put on). Along with a wide variety of different patterns he’s made available to customers, he can also do custom orders on request. And outside of some colors not cooperating with the process and the occasional pencil catching on fire, things are going swimmingly.

When it came to naming his new business, my dad has decided to merge it with the pencil lead company he bought some time ago. (Yes, he has a lead company too. I’ve stopped questioning things and so should you.) Since it was originally called “Legendary Lead Company”, the new name for the formerly known Autopoint company is now *drumroll please* Legendary Pencil Company!

Both he and I are amazed that no one has come up with that one yet.

I finally got to see my dad’s new workshop yesterday where he showed me the process and allowed me to test out some of his products. The pencils write smoothly, and I absolutely love the patterns that he’s come up with. My favorites are a tie between Celtic and Pompeian because I used to be a Greek mythology nerd and I’ve always thought Celtic knots were cool. He’s also working on engraving ballpoint pens and after seeing some of the prototypes, I’ve urged him to do so. The Cityscape pattern on a black ballpoint pen just oozes “boss man” vibes. I felt powerful just holding one. He also has slimmer models for those with tinier hands, but he is still trying to find a supplier for erasers in that size. If any of you know anyone who can help, hit up my dad or me.

One of the many lessons on the road to success.

As exciting as everything was, I did have to ask my dad what the most difficult part of this whole adventure was. After a beleaguered sigh, he explained that trying to reinvent the brand was a challenge. Autopoint did the most damage upon itself which left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. That’s why he’s using his new brand name and his new processes for decorating the barrels, and he is optimistic. After all, he’s a trusted member of the community who’s been around for years. Fellow collectors even trust him with guarding their finds at a convention. They know he’s a man of his word so there’s a good chance that all will be well.

From what I’ve observed and having visited the workshop myself, I can say that the pencils my dad is making are a fantastic gift for anyone. While I have gone on about pencil enthusiasts and the history behind this new company, I assure you that the pencils my dad is making are not just for his fans and those chasing the nostalgia for the Autopoint they once knew. These are solid pencils (and soon to be pens) that are perfect for enthusiasts, fans of sudoku or crossword puzzles, or fans of all things retro. I can attest that all pencils are made with care by my dad since he’s doing everything himself. Plus, it’s a pencil that was made here in the USA!

Picture of a happy hobbyist in his second home.

If you would like to purchase your own pencil, visit www.legendarypencilcompany.com.

(My dad would like you guys to know that the following images are an inside joke in the pen and pencil community. They are not meant to be derogatory.)

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store