Today, we celebrate the object that started it all
Here at PoP, we get really excited when we hear about people who never let go of their biggest, boldest dreams, follow them fearlessly and live them out each day—particularly when those dreams involve pencils.
So, that’s why when I heard about Caroline Weaver—a lifelong pencil lover and collector turned pencil shop owner—I knew I needed to meet her.
We met on a chilly March morning at her picture-perfect specialty pencil shop, CW Pencil Enterprise, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Caroline’s shop opened three years ago, but she’s been a pencil lover much longer than that.
Caroline grew up in a creative family, and she began collecting pencils as a young kid. As the story goes, it all started when her mother gave her a set of Caran d’Ache (a Swiss brand) colored pencils when she was six years old. “For years that was my most important object,” she says.
And though she cherishes her pencils, Caroline is quick to let me know that she’s never been a fan of collecting for the sake of collection.
“It really makes me sad to think that some people buy these and just put them in a drawer. The whole purpose of a pencil is that it’s supposed to be used. If you’re buying the same pencil that was used by John Steinbeck” she says, “don’t you want to know what it feels like?”
And she’s never been afraid to use even her most valued pencils, because it’s in the use of the pencil that the magic happens.
“In college,” she shares, “every week I would start with a brand new pencil. I would sharpen it on Monday, and on Sunday I would retire it. I’d put it in a small plastic bag, label the date, and pin it to my studio wall.” That way, each pencil would forever be remembered by the time it lived and the things it did. Now, she says, “I try to commit to one, use the whole thing up, and then move onto another.”
At this point in our conversation, I begin to realize that Caroline sees pencils in a way that most don’t. To her, a pencil is a living object, each with its own unique quality, feel and ideas it’s meant to express during its lifetime. Just as you can guess someone’s age by their appearance, Caroline notes that you can see how much a pencil has written, and therefore how much it has lived, by its size.
It wasn’t long after college that Caroline opened CW Pencil Enterprise. The more she learned about pencils, the more she grew to love with their individual histories, and she dreamt of “having a place where all the pencils could live together and I could just share those stories.”
And now, three years later, she’s sharing those stories each day at CW Pencil Enterprise. The shop has become a place where pencil aficionados (which yes, there are quite a few) can find the specific pencil they need, and first-timers can sit down at the shop’s test station to test as many pencils as is necessary to find the one that feels just right.
“It’s really exciting when you do find that one that’s perfect.” Caroline says, which inevitably reminds me of how “the wand chooses the wizard” in Harry Potter.
“Something as simple as having the right pencil can truly make a difference for a lot of people.” Caroline knows this might sound a little crazy to some, but in her experience, it couldn’t be more true.
“We get a lot of customers who come in looking for something very, very specific,” she tells me, like a great pencil to sign their artwork with, to take the Bar exam with or to fill out the New York Times crossword with. She even tells me a story of a woman who used the same pencil for every important written thing in her life—exams, her marriage certificate and all important documents (yes, she signs things in pencil).
As for Caroline’s instrument of choice, she says, “I like them to be a little softer and a little darker, but I think it’s important that they still have that pencil sound.” The sensory experience of using a pencil—that scratching sound, the smell of cedar, the feeling in the hand—is what gives each pencil its identity, and is what Caroline loves about them most.
At PoP, we often use a pencil to symbolize education—and to symbolize the endless possibilities that education can bring. And after speaking with Caroline, I’m more of a believer than ever that such a simple, often overlooked object, has much more inside of it than we realize.
“A pencil can really be a gateway to so many things,” she says. It allows us to not only let our ideas loose into the world, but to do so fearlessly, since, anything written in pencil can always be erased.