Catching up With Caroline Weaver, Owner of Manhattan’s Astoundingly Perfect Pencil Shop
Manhattan has no shortage of specialty stores, making it one of the best places to shop in the world. It’s in part why we were very excited to learn of the C. W. Pencil Enterprise, which opened this March. It’s a lovely shop in the Lower East Side devoted exclusively to pencils. The owner, Caroline Weaver, is a self-described “lifelong pencil lover.” Petite and dressed in a black maxi dress, with a to-scale forearm tattoo of a pencil, she keeps a tight ship: tidy, neat, and fully stocked. Weaver is well-versed in graphite and passionate about her writing implement of choice (which she favors because they're both useful and sentimental). The shop carries a wide variety of wood-cased pencil types, along with vintage finds—pristine Ticonderogas and Eberhard Fabers dating back to the early 20th century—and antique sharpeners. Travel + Leisure talked with Weaver about her business and the world of pencils.
When did your love of pencils start?
I don’t even remember, it’s been so long. I’ve always just loved pencils. I love to collect things, so it comes from that as well—pencils are inexpensive, they’re easy to collect, and they’re tactile, useful objects as well. I wish I had a poignant answer for when it began, but I’ve always just been steadily interested over time.
Have you developed a strong sense of community among pencil aficionados?
Definitely. There’re tons of pencil people out there! There’s a podcast called Erasable, and it’s all about pencils. The three guys who do it are really funny: they just drink and talk about pencils for a while.
Have you always been steadily devoted to pencils, or have you had lapses of pen use, too?
There’s a time and a place for pens, I understand that. I really like Muji pens; if I use a pen it’s a Muji. You just don’t get the same sensation from a pen that you do from a wood-cased pencil. I love sharpening pencils: they smell amazing, and you can erase what you write, too. It’s such a tactile thing.
I notice you don’t sell mechanical pencils.
No. I don’t love them. They lack the positive qualities of a wood-cased pencil. They don’t have to be sharpened, and they break a lot, and they tend to malfunction. And the graphite tends not to be as smooth, either, which tends to bum me out.
You wrote on your blog that everyone loves pencils, but “they just might not know it yet.” Why do you think pencils get a bad rap?
I think people see pencils as childish, and they assume they’re more adult if they use a pen. Also, I think people find pencils fussy and unnecessary: they think we have so many better things that exist now, but I beg to differ. I think there has to be a reason that we are still making pencils. And I think nostalgia plays a huge role in why people come into the shop; pencils remind them of childhood and simpler times.
Do you use your pencils all the way to the eraser?
I do. And I use a pencil extender, once I get to the end. (She holds up a metal and wooden tube, about the length of a sharpened pencil.) I love my pencil extenders. I have a little jar near my desk called the Pencil Graveyard, it’s where I put all perished pencils. I have a nice collection going.
What’s your most special pencil?
A pencil my grandmother gave me. It’s half-used; she gave it to me that way. It’s an advertising pencil for her father’s business in the sixties. It’s the last one left. That’s, of course, a sentimental thing, but that’s the magic about pencils: they can be super sentimental.
The pencil’s stayed more or less the same size and shape since it was invented. But have you watched pencil trends develop?
Yeah! Triangular pencils are really great; pretty much every company has its version of a triangular pencil. They’re very natural to hold. A lot of companies are starting to use different things in their graphite. Many have started adding polymer to their graphite, and it gives it a whole different quality. It’s a lot smoother. There have been quite a lot of companies lately experimenting with different types of exotic wood in their pencils. They’re very beautiful—really expensive, but always very nice to look at. Hard to sharpen, though.
What do you think makes a pencil top-quality? How do you choose which to sell?
I like pencils that have stories, or are from old brands. I like pencils that have an interesting look about them, or have a specific function. As far as quality goes, I like cheap pencils; I like expensive pencils; I like them all. But a pencil has to sharpen well, and they have to have good point retention; it has to stay sharp for a while.
Are you able to identify a pencil by the look of its graphite?
If I can touch it, maybe. That’d be a really hard test. We should do that!
What have been the challenges of running this store?
It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been pretty easy. I’ve been really lucky to have only wonderful people come to me, enthusiastic about what I do. But I had a lot of challenges designing the store: that was hard, trying to find the right space that felt intimate but not too small. I sell small things, but I wanted this to be a place where you feel you can sit down and talk to me, where you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Who do you wish you could sell a pencil to?
Because he’s a typewriter guy?
Yeah! And I bet he could be into pencils, too. He’d probably have really good things to say about them, too. He’d have some good feedback. I’m sure if I emailed Tom Hanks and told him to come by, he would.
Do you think the person chooses the pencil, or the pencil chooses the person?
I think the pencil chooses the person. I have a testing station in here, and people sit down and think they know what they want. And then they end up with something completely different, and they feel compelled to buy dozens of a pencil that they didn’t even know they would like. I feel like a person doesn’t have too much control over which pencil fits. You can try them on, and it’s never the one you expect.