Pen To Paper: Caroline Weaver, CW Enterprise
This venture is devoted to that most humble and too-often overlooked graphite tool — and has accordingly garnered a devoted social media following since opening its virtual doors in November 2014, then a vest-pocket shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Just as every paper has a story to tell, so too does every pencil — and in both the brick-and-mortar and online forms of CW Pencil Enterprise, Caroline brings their pedigrees to life. Whether it is a 1950s Litho-Rub Red 73413 Eraser Pencil from A.W. Faber ($6), topped with a brush-like eraser to sweep shavings from a typewriter, or a Calendar #2 Pencil from General Pencil Company ($0.70), made in Jersey City, New Jersey since 1889 by one of only three pencil companies still left in the U.S., there is much more to these objects than mere utility.
I interviewed Caroline to learn more about her mission and means of delivering her customers any pencil that their “heart, hand or collection desires.”
What was behind your decision to open a business dedicated to pencils?
Pencils are an object that I’ve always collected, appreciated and used extensively. The idea for the pencil shop came out of frustration when trying to find quality pencils in the U.S. In the beginning it was really just an insane fantasy but the more I thought it through the more I realized it could actually be a thing.
How has your shop and brand evolved since you launched?
I designed and started the shop with a certain aesthetic in mind already — basically my ultimate dream shop. Since then we’ve had a lot of exposure online and on social media, so having the opportunity to get to know our customer base has really helped mold what our brand is now. It’s a constant evolution but we still try to stick to what the ideals were in the beginning.
To your mind, what makes a really fabulous pencil? Which do you prefer?
The most important thing is the quality. A well-centered core, easily sharpen-able wood and a nice finish are all very important. From there it really depends on what I’m doing. Sometimes I need something that won’t smudge, but sometimes I want something really dark. Generally I prefer pencils that are darker and smoother than a #2 but not as messy as a typical soft pencil. I really like Japanese pencils for this reason — they run soft but without the annoying side effects.
What do you think goes into a quality paper, and what types of papers do you gravitate to?
For me, of course, it has to be super pencil-friendly. Not too smooth (read: smudgy!) and not too toothy (eats up the pencil!). I really like paper with a little bit of cotton in it.
What you source accessories from notebooks to writing papers, what qualities do you look for?
I look for things that are different than what’s around at every other nice stationery shop, and always things that I would personally buy. The most important things are quality and function. After that the aesthetic appeal and the story are the things I look for. There are so many stories behind these objects — the more we can share, the more interesting they become.
What was the last letter you wrote? What paper and pencil did you use?
The last letter I wrote was to a dear friend who is moving to Paris. I used a pink limited edition Mitsubishi 9852 HB pencil that I bought in Japan a couple of years ago and wrote on vintage 1960s letterhead with roller skating flamingoes that I found I on eBay. The paper is a really nice cool grey with a perfect finish for a pencil.
What value do you find when you put things to paper?
The physical connection you get when you put something to paper is something that will never ever be replicated by anything else. It’s more mentally stimulating than typing something out and saving it deep in a device. I feel more productive and more in tune with what I’m working on when I’m writing it down or sketching it out.
Do you keep a journal? What goes into your selecting one?
I’m really obsessive about everything I do and have always struggled with journals because if I don’t do it every day it rally bothers me and I feel like I need to start over. It’s important to me that the paper is fun to write on and that the journal itself is durable and nice looking. I do keep a travel journal, which has a hard cover and is super sturdy so it can survive all suitcase situations.
Are there any qualities in pencils that your customers tend to seek over and over? What about papers for writing and journaling?
With pencils it really has so much to do with personal preference. There isn’t really a “perfect’ pencil. Some like them to be audibly scratchy, some people like them to be really slick — it really depends on the person. The one thing that everyone is looking for is quality and value. As for paper, a lot of our customers are looking for something both pen- and pencil-friendly, which is a little tricky because it can’t be too smeary for the pencil but also needs to be bleed-proof for the pens.
Note: Currently CW’s physical location is temporarily closed while Caroline and staff deal with a serious building safety issue. They’re working hard to get back up and running as soon as possible, but don’t know exactly when that’ll be. In the meantime, CW Pencil is operating as usual online and will be posting updates on Instagram.