Swiss art supplies in the morning

Today’s morning name: Caran d’Ache. A Swiss art supplies company specializing in pencils. With a complex linguistic and social history behind its name. There will be cartoons as well. (No food, sex, music, or plants, but you can’t have everything. On the other hand, there will be clowns and some chemistry / materials science.)


(#1) The box for a 40-color selection of pencils, proudly flying the Swiss flag

From Wikipedia:

Located in Geneva since its inception in 1915, the Maison is committed to creating and developing writing and drawing instruments combining the finest materials with the most advanced, innovative skills – including some that are extremely rare, such as the exceptional art of authentic Chinese lacquer done by hand in the ancestral manner.

Caran d’Ache comes from the word  “karandash” that is the Russian term for “pencil” and in turn comes from the Turkish root “kara tash” which refers to black stone – the origins of graphite.

This natural material found in the mountains of Switzerland gave rise to the first Swiss pencil factory set up in Geneva in 1915 [under the name Fabrique Genevoise de Crayons]. Nine years later, in the hands of its founder, the visionary Arnold Schweitzer [1885 – 1947], it took the name of the famous illustrator [who] became known as Caran d’Ache [Emmanuel Poiré — more below].

(To my mind, the founder’s name — Arnold + Schweitzer ‘Swisser’ — could hardly be more perfect. Meanwhile, the company is the object of considerable national pride. And, yes, I know about Albert Schweitzer — who was. however, Alsatian, penehelvetian but not actually Swiss.)


(#2) The factory in the early days

The company now sells colored pencils, graphite pencils, pastels, fiber-tipped pens, paint, pens, and mechanical pencils. But colored pencils for drawing are the main focus of the business. Two more colored pen assortments:


(#3) Gift box set: 80 “museum” aquarelles assortment  ($518) — soft extra-fine lead, ultra-high pigment concentration, water-soluble, in a wooden gift box


(#4) The Pablo: a 120-color assortment of regular drawing pencils ($382.95) in a metal box

A moment of chemistry / materials science. From Wikipedia:

Graphite, archaically referred to as plumbago, is a crystalline allotrope of carbon, a semimetal, a native element mineral, and a form of coal. Graphite is the most stable form of carbon under standard conditions.

Graphite occurs in metamorphic rocks as a result of the reduction of sedimentary carbon compounds during metamorphism. It also occurs in igneous rocks and in meteorites.

… According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), world production of natural graphite in 2016 was 1,200,000 tonnes, of which the … major exporters [were China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and North Korea]. Graphite is not mined in the United States, but U.S. production of synthetic graphite in 2010 was [substantial]

… Natural graphite is mostly consumed for refractories [heat-resistant substances], batteries, steelmaking, expanded graphite, brake linings, foundry facings and lubricants [like WD-40].

…The ability to leave marks on paper and other objects gave graphite its name, given in 1789 by German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner. It stems from graphein, meaning to write or draw in Ancient Greek.

From the 16th century, all pencils were made with leads of English natural graphite, but modern pencil lead is most commonly a mix of powdered graphite and clay; it was invented by Nicolas-Jacques Conté in 1795. It is chemically unrelated to the metal lead, whose ores had a similar appearance

The cartoon connection. From Wikipedia:

Caran d’Ache was the [playful] pseudonym of the 19th century French satirist and political cartoonist Emmanuel Poiré (6 November 1858 – 25 February 1909). “Caran d’Ache” comes from the Russian word karandash (карандаш), meaning pencil. While his first work glorified the Napoleonic era, he went on to create “stories without words” and as a contributor to newspapers such as the Le Figaro, he is sometimes hailed as one of the precursors of comic strips. The Swiss art products company Caran d’Ache is named after him.


(#4) [Wikipedia caption] Caran d’Ache’s most famous cartoon. The Dreyfus Affair divided the whole of French society. Here, Caran d’Ache depicts a fictional family dinner. At the top, somebody remarks “Let’s not discuss the Dreyfus Affair!”. At the bottom, the family is fighting and the caption reads, “They discussed it.”

(The Dreyfusards were (lower-case) republican, anti-clerical, and anti-anti-Semitic. Also, in this case, squarely on the side of justice, truth, and the French way of life. The miracle is that they eventually prevailed: after years of false imprisonment, Dreyfus was vindicated and restored to his military rank — and served the country he loved with distinction in World War I, dying in 1935, just before the second wave of unimaginable horror in Europe. The writer Emile Zola — J’Accuse…! — is one of the heros of this story, which played a major role in my coming to political consciousness in my early teen years.)

карандаш.  When I took Russian as an undergraduate, this word figured prominently in drills (a pedagogical genre that tends to be oriented towards the schoolroom, the pen of my aunt and all that). At the time, I knew about Caran d’Ache drawing pencils and thought that the word was originally French and had been borrowed into Russian (as a number of words were in the 18th and 19th centuries). But no, quite to the contrary.

Clowning around. From Wikipedia:


(#5) 1989 USSR stamp commemorating Karandash

Mikhail Nikolayevich Rumyantsev (10 December 1901 – 31 March 1983), better known under his stage name Karandash (Russian: Каранда́ш which means pencil), was a famous Soviet clown. He was a People’s Artist of the USSR and a Hero of Socialist Labour, and was the teacher of the famous Russian clowns Oleg Popov and Yuri Nikulin.

Note the dog and pony show.

2 Responses to “Swiss art supplies in the morning”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    From the quoted Wikipedia article on graphite: It stems from graphein, meaning to write or draw in Ancient Greek.

    I have been known to use graphite to write in other languages, and in fact rarely if ever in Ancient Greek.

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