The Mystery of the Pencil Sharpener

vrDrew

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Jan 31, 2010
1,317
11,872
Midlife, Midwest
My mother died in July of last year. She had been sick for some time, and while she was not of very advanced years, it was of an age when we (as children) start to be familiar with dealing with the effects of our late parents.

I've been going through her possessions for some months now, and today came across an artefact that puzzles me. So much so that it truly creates more questions than it answers.

It's a pencil sharpener. More specifically, its a Caran D'Ache No. 455 Pencil Sharpening Machine.



When you are going through a late parent's possessions, one quickly develops a hard and practical carapace. You cannot afford sentimentality (or at least too much sentimentality) when it comes to the objects our late loved one collected. Without going all Marie Kondo, you soon learn to quickly consign most stuff to the junk pile or the charity shop.

But something about this pencil sharpener caught my eye. Its physical heft, for one. And the "made in Switzerland" stamped into its exquisitely cast body. A quick search: £102.30 on Amazon.

I have no idea why my mother would have possibly wanted a hundred fifty dollar pencil sharpener. Mom was no artist. She wasn't a retired engineer. She wasn't a schoolteacher. She sometimes wrote notes in pencil. But she also wrote notes with ballpoint pens, with felt-tip markers. With the roller-ball pens I purposely left at her house, by her telephones and writing desks.

I felt pangs of guilt and conscience. I recall one visit when I methodically went through her piles of dried-out ballpoint pens, throwing away the useless ones. I remember carefully sorting (and sharpening) the stacks of pencils she kept in a dented coffee mug by her kitchen telephone. But I also remember using the sort of plastic handheld sharpener you can buy for a dollar or two at OfficeMax or the school supplies aisle of any discount store.

Why had my dear mother gone out and purchased this ridiculously over-engineered contraption?

I speculate on possible scenarios: My mother walks into the local stationery shop, and asks for "the best pencil sharpener" they have in stock. Never imagining that a three-figure pencil sharpener is even possible, she neglects to ask the price. And when a figure of over a hundred pounds shows up on the credit card slip, she is too proud or too stubborn to question or decline the purchase.

Mother bore her illness pretty well. She rarely complained. She was undyingly cheerful and upbeat. She kept actively and mobile, social and gregarious to the end. Those of us who knew her best (and I'm talking about me alone here) saw the cracks. The hints of mania and falsehood in some of her laughter. I noted some of her spending habits seemed a little excessive. But an elderly, dying woman spending money on art, or plants for her garden, or even sweater ands and coats? I figured it was her money, she can do as she wanted.

I'm still no closer to knowing what led mom to buy the pencil sharpener. I won't take it down to the charity shop. It won't end up at the garbage dump. I won't try selling it on e-Bay. I certainly won't be mailing it off for my brother to use.

I'll keep it for myself. And every time I sharpen a pencil, I'll think of my mom. And the mysteries of life and love and loss.
 

yaxomoxay

macrumors 68040
Mar 3, 2010
3,752
25,158
Texas
You can create a cool story with this.
Why are you assuming that she bought it? What if it was a childhood present by someone that saw potential in her? What if it was part of a dream come true, whatever it was? What if...
 

Scepticalscribe

macrumors Sandy Bridge
Jul 29, 2008
46,578
31,280
The Far Horizon
My mother died in July of last year. She had been sick for some time, and while she was not of very advanced years, it was of an age when we (as children) start to be familiar with dealing with the effects of our late parents.

I've been going through her possessions for some months now, and today came across an artefact that puzzles me. So much so that it truly creates more questions than it answers.

It's a pencil sharpener. More specifically, its a Caran D'Ache No. 455 Pencil Sharpening Machine.



When you are going through a late parent's possessions, one quickly develops a hard and practical carapace. You cannot afford sentimentality (or at least too much sentimentality) when it comes to the objects our late loved one collected. Without going all Marie Kondo, you soon learn to quickly consign most stuff to the junk pile or the charity shop.

But something about this pencil sharpener caught my eye. Its physical heft, for one. And the "made in Switzerland" stamped into its exquisitely cast body. A quick search: £102.30 on Amazon.

I have no idea why my mother would have possibly wanted a hundred fifty dollar pencil sharpener. Mom was no artist. She wasn't a retired engineer. She wasn't a schoolteacher. She sometimes wrote notes in pencil. But she also wrote notes with ballpoint pens, with felt-tip markers. With the roller-ball pens I purposely left at her house, by her telephones and writing desks.

I felt pangs of guilt and conscience. I recall one visit when I methodically went through her piles of dried-out ballpoint pens, throwing away the useless ones. I remember carefully sorting (and sharpening) the stacks of pencils she kept in a dented coffee mug by her kitchen telephone. But I also remember using the sort of plastic handheld sharpener you can buy for a dollar or two at OfficeMax or the school supplies aisle of any discount store.

Why had my dear mother gone out and purchased this ridiculously over-engineered contraption?

I speculate on possible scenarios: My mother walks into the local stationery shop, and asks for "the best pencil sharpener" they have in stock. Never imagining that a three-figure pencil sharpener is even possible, she neglects to ask the price. And when a figure of over a hundred pounds shows up on the credit card slip, she is too proud or too stubborn to question or decline the purchase.

Mother bore her illness pretty well. She rarely complained. She was undyingly cheerful and upbeat. She kept actively and mobile, social and gregarious to the end. Those of us who knew her best (and I'm talking about me alone here) saw the cracks. The hints of mania and falsehood in some of her laughter. I noted some of her spending habits seemed a little excessive. But an elderly, dying woman spending money on art, or plants for her garden, or even sweater ands and coats? I figured it was her money, she can do as she wanted.

I'm still no closer to knowing what led mom to buy the pencil sharpener. I won't take it down to the charity shop. It won't end up at the garbage dump. I won't try selling it on e-Bay. I certainly won't be mailing it off for my brother to use.

I'll keep it for myself. And every time I sharpen a pencil, I'll think of my mom. And the mysteries of life and love and loss.

What a lovely, warm and life affirming post.

Having lost my own mum just before Christmas, I can empathise and sympathise completely.

And yes, make much use of the pencil sharpener and treasure the thoughts and memories of our mum as you do so.
 

Apple fanboy

macrumors Nehalem
Feb 21, 2012
33,290
22,898
Behind the Lens, UK
My mother died in July of last year. She had been sick for some time, and while she was not of very advanced years, it was of an age when we (as children) start to be familiar with dealing with the effects of our late parents.

I've been going through her possessions for some months now, and today came across an artefact that puzzles me. So much so that it truly creates more questions than it answers.

It's a pencil sharpener. More specifically, its a Caran D'Ache No. 455 Pencil Sharpening Machine.



When you are going through a late parent's possessions, one quickly develops a hard and practical carapace. You cannot afford sentimentality (or at least too much sentimentality) when it comes to the objects our late loved one collected. Without going all Marie Kondo, you soon learn to quickly consign most stuff to the junk pile or the charity shop.

But something about this pencil sharpener caught my eye. Its physical heft, for one. And the "made in Switzerland" stamped into its exquisitely cast body. A quick search: £102.30 on Amazon.

I have no idea why my mother would have possibly wanted a hundred fifty dollar pencil sharpener. Mom was no artist. She wasn't a retired engineer. She wasn't a schoolteacher. She sometimes wrote notes in pencil. But she also wrote notes with ballpoint pens, with felt-tip markers. With the roller-ball pens I purposely left at her house, by her telephones and writing desks.

I felt pangs of guilt and conscience. I recall one visit when I methodically went through her piles of dried-out ballpoint pens, throwing away the useless ones. I remember carefully sorting (and sharpening) the stacks of pencils she kept in a dented coffee mug by her kitchen telephone. But I also remember using the sort of plastic handheld sharpener you can buy for a dollar or two at OfficeMax or the school supplies aisle of any discount store.

Why had my dear mother gone out and purchased this ridiculously over-engineered contraption?

I speculate on possible scenarios: My mother walks into the local stationery shop, and asks for "the best pencil sharpener" they have in stock. Never imagining that a three-figure pencil sharpener is even possible, she neglects to ask the price. And when a figure of over a hundred pounds shows up on the credit card slip, she is too proud or too stubborn to question or decline the purchase.

Mother bore her illness pretty well. She rarely complained. She was undyingly cheerful and upbeat. She kept actively and mobile, social and gregarious to the end. Those of us who knew her best (and I'm talking about me alone here) saw the cracks. The hints of mania and falsehood in some of her laughter. I noted some of her spending habits seemed a little excessive. But an elderly, dying woman spending money on art, or plants for her garden, or even sweater ands and coats? I figured it was her money, she can do as she wanted.

I'm still no closer to knowing what led mom to buy the pencil sharpener. I won't take it down to the charity shop. It won't end up at the garbage dump. I won't try selling it on e-Bay. I certainly won't be mailing it off for my brother to use.

I'll keep it for myself. And every time I sharpen a pencil, I'll think of my mom. And the mysteries of life and love and loss.
Sorry for your loss. I’m also at a loss as to why your mother had such an item. Could it have been a gift? You mentioned it was Swiss made. Does it have a serial number? If so perhaps you could speak to the manufacturer about its history?
Either way enjoy using it and remember your mother well when you do.
 

Scepticalscribe

macrumors Sandy Bridge
Jul 29, 2008
46,578
31,280
The Far Horizon
Caran D'Ache - the company - manufacture - or produce - quite beautiful fountain pens; before I switched to Mont Blanc, I had two of their pens, as these were the pens I used, and I found them excellent.

However, the name of the company contains a (cross-lingual) pun in that the pen company took its name from the nom-de-plume of a famous French cartoonist of the late 19th century (check out his cartoons of the Dreyfus affair/crisis, some of them are excellent, and one - a pair of cartoons depicting a dinner party - is justly famous).

In turn, the French Cartoonist himself, (Caran D'Ache) had taken his nom-de-plume as a cartoonist from the Russian noun - or word - for pencil, which is "karandash".

So, it should come as small surprise that the pen manufacturer Caran D'Ache, should have crafted such an elegant and exquisite pencil sharpener, as pencils were in the very (literal) DNA of the company.
 
Last edited:

jerwin

macrumors 68020
Jun 13, 2015
2,475
4,455
did your mum sew? Specialized coloured pencils are used to mark cloth, and a high precision pencil sharpener may make dealing with them easier. Or perhaps she simply didn't share a private pastime.
 

niji

Contributor
Feb 9, 2003
1,496
1,214
tokyo
My mother died in July of last year. She had been sick for some time, and while she was not of very advanced years, it was of an age when we (as children) start to be familiar with dealing with the effects of our late parents.

I've been going through her possessions for some months now, and today came across an artefact that puzzles me. So much so that it truly creates more questions than it answers.

It's a pencil sharpener. More specifically, its a Caran D'Ache No. 455 Pencil Sharpening Machine.



When you are going through a late parent's possessions, one quickly develops a hard and practical carapace. You cannot afford sentimentality (or at least too much sentimentality) when it comes to the objects our late loved one collected. Without going all Marie Kondo, you soon learn to quickly consign most stuff to the junk pile or the charity shop.

But something about this pencil sharpener caught my eye. Its physical heft, for one. And the "made in Switzerland" stamped into its exquisitely cast body. A quick search: £102.30 on Amazon.

I have no idea why my mother would have possibly wanted a hundred fifty dollar pencil sharpener. Mom was no artist. She wasn't a retired engineer. She wasn't a schoolteacher. She sometimes wrote notes in pencil. But she also wrote notes with ballpoint pens, with felt-tip markers. With the roller-ball pens I purposely left at her house, by her telephones and writing desks.

I felt pangs of guilt and conscience. I recall one visit when I methodically went through her piles of dried-out ballpoint pens, throwing away the useless ones. I remember carefully sorting (and sharpening) the stacks of pencils she kept in a dented coffee mug by her kitchen telephone. But I also remember using the sort of plastic handheld sharpener you can buy for a dollar or two at OfficeMax or the school supplies aisle of any discount store.

Why had my dear mother gone out and purchased this ridiculously over-engineered contraption?

I speculate on possible scenarios: My mother walks into the local stationery shop, and asks for "the best pencil sharpener" they have in stock. Never imagining that a three-figure pencil sharpener is even possible, she neglects to ask the price. And when a figure of over a hundred pounds shows up on the credit card slip, she is too proud or too stubborn to question or decline the purchase.

Mother bore her illness pretty well. She rarely complained. She was undyingly cheerful and upbeat. She kept actively and mobile, social and gregarious to the end. Those of us who knew her best (and I'm talking about me alone here) saw the cracks. The hints of mania and falsehood in some of her laughter. I noted some of her spending habits seemed a little excessive. But an elderly, dying woman spending money on art, or plants for her garden, or even sweater ands and coats? I figured it was her money, she can do as she wanted.

I'm still no closer to knowing what led mom to buy the pencil sharpener. I won't take it down to the charity shop. It won't end up at the garbage dump. I won't try selling it on e-Bay. I certainly won't be mailing it off for my brother to use.

I'll keep it for myself. And every time I sharpen a pencil, I'll think of my mom. And the mysteries of life and love and loss.
hi

i think analysis of any concrete point in your beautifully written reminiscence leads to distraction from the memory itself.
i would leave it as it is. a bit of mystery. a bit of who your mother was.

about the pencil sharpener itself...
the pencil sharpener you point out would have cost around 12.99 USD in the 1960's 1970's.
even that amount was a lot of money then.
this type of sharpener was in all schools and offices.
it was a pre-internet era, pre-(book focused) amazon era.
unfortunately the 60's and 70's ended with only 1 or 2 major stationery independent retailers in most American cities.
manufacturing of stationery products became a province of German (Staedtler, Schwann, Pelican, Stabilo) and Japanese (Pilot, Pentel).

your mother's tradition for hand-writing, has been clearly transferred to you.
to make sense of ideas, to bring meaning to the world of thoughts, the act of mechanically hand writing those thoughts onto a piece of paper, creates the link to this time, this moment.
it makes them real.

my mother passed away a few years ago.
i went back to the USA to the house i grew up in.
my older brother and younger sister chose to leave it all to me to do the sorting and discarding.
it took me about 7 full days.
during those days there was, as more often than not in that town, an early April snowfall. a heavy snowfall.
the snow was a time machine to take me back to the days i lived there.
how to deal with so much stuff that meant so much to my mother, but meant absolutely nothing to me.

it was then that i realized what i needed to do for my own daughter.
i needed to make sure that i myself, before i die, i needed to make it easy for my daughter to just simply arrange for a house cleaning company to discard it all...except for a large collection of photos, and, two leather binders that are filled with my own words, for her.
so all she needs to do is take care of photos (pre-macOS Photos, paper based photos :) ) and two handwritten notebooks.
its my way of helping her to piece together who i was.
 

Zenithal

Suspended
Sep 10, 2009
9,182
10,205
Just a heads up, but Caran d'Ache products weren't always obscenely expensive. This sharpener is still sold today. The company makes other types of sharpeners. Much cheaper ones. Sharpeners like this and other quality metal goods were the norm up until about 20 years ago. Similar sharpeners from lesser brands have also shot up in price.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Scepticalscribe