Kaspar Faber

Pencil-makers were first recorded in the imperial city of Nuremberg around the year 1660. Numerous craftsmen also set up shop in the surrounding villages, but especially in Stein, just within the Marquisate of Ansbach. Here artisans were not subject to the same strict controls as in Nuremberg, so they had a competitive advantage.

One of them was the cabinet-maker Kaspar Faber. At first he worked for local traders, but in his spare time he produced pencils on his own account. Soon he became so successful that he was able to set up his own business. From these humble beginnings it was to develop into a company known all over the world.

Anton Wilhelm Faber

After Kaspar’s death his son Anton took over the business, which was already doing well. He acquired a plot of land on the edge of Stein, with a workshop that within a few years he had built up into a flourishing manufactory. The site remains the headquarters of A.W. Faber-Castell to this day. At the age of 51 Anton Wilhelm handed over to his only son Georg Leonhard what was already documented as a pencil factory and the company that still bears his initials.


Georg Leonhard Faber

Georg Leonhard continued to operate the company in what were difficult times, politically and economically, but was unable to prevent a fall-off in business. His pencils were still produced using conventional methods, even though a new process for making the leads had been discovered in France. He was also unable to compete with the “rare English pencils” made from finest Cumberland graphite.

However, he realized that foreign experience was decisive for the future of his company, and so he sent his sons Lothar and Johann abroad. And it was in the progressive cities of London and Paris that the eldest son Lothar developed the ideas that within a few years were to raise the factory in Stein to the ranks of an international company.

Lothar von Faber

The 22-year-old Lothar Faber returned home on his father’s death in 1839. With a strong will he followed an ambitious goal: “to rise to the highest position by making the best that can be made anywhere in the world”. He modernized the production plant and secured first-class raw material from a graphite mine in Siberia.

He placed great store by top quality and exclusive presentation of his products, stamped “A.W. Faber” – and so the first brand-name writing implement came into being.


Modernization of the production

On taking over the business, Lothar wasted no time in modernizing production. He put up new buildings, light and airy to provide healthier working conditions and motivate the employees better. The sexes were strictly segregated: heavy manual work such as processing clay and graphite and wood was carried out by men, while polishing, stamping, and packaging the pencils for dispatch was exclusively women’s work. The picture shows the leads being glued into the slats.


Social foundations

Lothar Faber was well aware of the social problems arising from industrialization. Therefore at an early stage he set up institutions that only later became standard, such as a company health insurance scheme – the oldest in Bavaria.

Five years later he founded a savings bank for his workers, then a pension scheme and a “consumers’ club” where they could buy food at favourable prices. He built apartment blocks which were very comfortable by the standards of the time, so that his employees enjoyed a relatively high standard of living.


One of Germany’s first kindergartens

Education was particularly dear to Lothar Faber’s heart. In order to protect small children from “harmful influences” he provided generous support for a kindergarten in Stein that opened on 13 August 1851 – under the cumbersome name “infant care institution”. He gave donations to schools and other educational establishments, including a library for his employees containing “useful and instructive” books.


Graphite from Siberia

Lothar Faber secured a decisive market advantage when he acquired the sole mineral rights to a graphite mine in Siberia in 1856. A French gold prospector had discovered the deposit and offered a partnership to A.W. Faber, by now a well-known company. The lumps of graphite had to be transported by reindeer over inhospitable terrain from the Sayan mountains, some 200 miles west of Irkutsk, then by boat down the river Amur to the east coast and from there along the western Pacific and across the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic to Hamburg. It was a worthwhile undertaking even so, and the “Siberian pencils”, encased in fine wood from Florida, were sold all over the world.


Centenary celebrations

The A.W. Faber company celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 1861. By then it had 250 employees and had cornered a significant share of the market. Lothar Faber, ever innovative, was looking for possibilities to diversify his business and came across a slate quarry a dozen miles west of the town of Hof in north Bavaria. In that centenary year he set up a factory for making school slates in the village of Geroldsgrün, providing employment for many people. Later this produced some world-famous slide rules.


Pencil factory opens in New York

Trade and commerce became increasingly difficult during the US civil war (1861-1865). So as to be able to produce pencils for the North American market, A.W. Faber set up a factory in Brooklyn that was headed by Lothar Faber’s brother Eberhard. Later this was to cut its ties with the parent company and become an independent firm as the Eberhard Faber Company.


Lothar Faber elevated to peerage

Over the years, Lothar Faber received numerous medals and awards in recognition of his outstanding social and economic services to the community. In 1862, King Maximilian II of Bavaria bestowed on him a life peerage, and three years later appointed him councillor to the Bavarian crown. The French emperor Napoleon III sent a commission to Stein in 1867 to inspect the establishments for the welfare of the Faber workers, which were considered exemplary. The delegates were so impressed that the emperor created Lothar von Faber a chevalier (knight) of the Légion d’Honneur. In 1881 he was raised to the hereditary peerage.


US Register of Companies

In 1870 the name A.W. Faber was officially entered in the US Register of Companies, as the fifth name in the first ledger. Since the four companies ahead of it no longer exist, A.W. Faber is the oldest brand name in the USA.

The company was registered in Russia that same year. Registration followed in Great Britain, Italy, France, and Spain.


Protection of proprietary rights

Lothar von Faber marked his quality products with the name of his company, at a time when that was by no means standard practice. Soon, however, many inferior pencils appeared on the market with the A.W. Faber lettering, so that Lothar found himself compelled to take legal steps against these cheap imitations. In his capacity as royal councillor he submitted a petition for the passing of a law to protect proprietary rights. That came into force in 1875.

Product presentation

Lothar von Faber always placed very high importance on an exclusive presentation of his quality products. He designed and equipped his sales rooms and display windows with great attention to detail, sparing neither effort nor expense. This presentation chest has several drawers and is elaborately decorated with inlays and cast figures. The two cherubs at the ends are engaged in writing and pencil-sharpening.

The “Faber house” in Berlin

After the German Empire was established in 1871, Berlin had grown to an important capital city. A.W. Faber also had a presence there, and on “Empire Day” in 1884 it opened smart business premises on the elegant Friedrichstrasse. The ground floor housed a generously proportioned shop, while upstairs were the storeroom and offices for the manager and his staff. This “Faber house” was famous, but sadly was destroyed in the bombing of Berlin during the Second World War.

Wilhelm von Faber

Lothar von Faber’s only child Wilhelm was the designated heir. He studied business administration in Nuremberg and in Switzerland, and joined the company in 1873. Three years later he became an authorized signatory with power of attorney.

 Wilhelm von Faber was of artistic bent and not really cut out for business. Fate was unkind to him: his sons Lothar and Alfred died at the age of three and four respectively. To complete the tragedy, he himself died at the early age of 42, leaving three daughters, all under age.

After Lothar’s death in 1896, his widow Ottilie ran the company until the turn of the century, assisted by some faithful employees.

Count Alexander Faber-Castell

Wilhelm von Faber’s eldest daughter and subsequent heir Baroness Ottilie von Faber (1877–1944) was married in 1898 to Count Alexander zu Castell-Rüdenhausen. Two years later he joined the board of management which he headed after the death of Lothar’s widow in 1903. That same year the foundation stone for the grand “New Castle” was laid – a unique monument in the Jugendstil (German art nouveau style).

The company flourished anew under Count Alexander. He gave it a more modern and unmistakable image, with the famous green “Castell 9000” pencil and the jousting knights logo.

A new name comes about

So as to retain the familiar company identity, Lothar von Faber had stipulated in his will that if his heiress marry then she must keep the family name. In those days that was a most unusual step, requiring royal approval. But it is the reason why Alexander and Ottilie were known not as “Count and Countess zu Castell-Rüdenhausen” but as Count and Countess von Faber-Castell. The new name was later transferred to the company, which thenceforth became A.W. Faber-Castell.

The "New Castle"

Next to the manor house built by Lothar von Faber, Ottilie and Alexander von Faber-Castell commissioned a grand new house to a design by the Nuremberg architect Theodor von Kramer. They wanted the façade to look like a castle – symbolizing the name Castell. The interiors, on the other hand, reflected the spirit of the time and are still an outstanding example of superior Jugendstil (art nouveau) architecture. Three rooms in the ‘castle’ were designed by Bruno Paul. The bathrooms are a model of luxury and were equipped with the most modern technical features then available.

The Castell series of pencils

Only a short time after taking over as head of the company, Count Alexander was able to achieve a competitive lead with a series of high-quality pencils bearing the name Castell. This superior range of products utilized a new manufacturing process and included a variety of different pencils. The dark green coat of paint – supposedly based on the Count’s regimental colours – and the picture of the jousting knights came to stand for the A.W. Faber-Castell company.

Polychromos artists’ colour pencils

Shortly after the Castell pencils, a further successful product came on the market: “Polychromos”. From the start they were available in 60 different hues, carefully matched to standard watercolour paints. Within a few years these pencils were familiar to artists as a top-quality product; their leading position remains unchallenged to this day.

150th anniversary

The 150th anniversary was celebrated in 1911. A modern production complex with light and airy rooms now provided excellent working conditions. The number of employees had more than doubled since 1904: the company now had 2000 workers and 200 members of technical and financial staff, supplying roughly 100 000 regular customers all over the world.

Ottilie and Alexander separate

The Count and Countess separated after 18 years of marriage. Count Alexander’s long absence during the war had made it hard to reconcile their differing interests. Ottilie left her husband and children to marry Philipp von Brand zu Neidstein. As the divorce law then stood, she was the guilty party, and her family fortune went to the son Roland. Count Alexander continued to head the business.

Foreign operations were confiscated

The First World War did considerable harm to the German economy; Faber-Castell was among the companies that suffered serious losses. Several foreign operations were confiscated; the American subsidiaries were sold off after the armistice. It was to be many years before A.W. Faber-Castell (the former A.W. Faber) was able to set foot in North America again: not until 1994 did the company succeed in re-acquiring the brand-name rights for the USA and Canada.

Death of Count Alexander

Two years after divorcing Ottilie, Count Alexander married Countess Margit von Zedtwitz; their son Radulf was born in 1922. The Count reverted to the name Castell-Rüdenhausen.He died of a lung complaint at the age of 61. His only son from the first marriage, the 23-year-old Roland, was heir to the Faber-Castell title.

Count Roland von Faber-Castell

On the death of Count Alexander in 1928 his young son Roland became head of the company. In 1932 Faber-Castell took over the Johann Faber pencil factory (founded by Lothar von Faber’s brother in 1879) and with it the Brazilian subsidiary Lapis Johann Faber. In 1950 Faber-Castell acquired the Osmia company and started manufacturing fountain pens under its own name; production ceased in 1975.

New foreign subsidiaries were set up between 1960 and 1977, including a sales company in France (1960), factories in Australia and Austria (both in 1962) and Argentina and Peru (both in 1965). In 1967 Count Roland was able to buy back a majority share in Lapis Johann Faber S.A. in São Carlos, which had been confiscated during the Second World War. It is now the largest pencil factory in the world.

Decorative figures

Products designed for children and with attractive packaging were important to Lothar von Faber. Count Roland von Faber-Castell continued the tradition and marketed a series of boxes of pencils decorated with couples in folk costume, animals, elves, Easter bunnies, and Santa Claus. This colourful packaging still gladdens the hearts of children and their parents.

Patent mechanical pencils

The Second World War again wrought great economic harm. The factories in Brazil and the USA were lost. However, in a relatively short time Count Roland von Faber-Castell managed to put the company back on its feet.

Production of patented TK pencils started in Konstanz on the Swiss border in 1948. This was a new mechanical pencil for technical illustrators and artists which proved successful on an international scale.

The ball pen

After the war the ball-point pen became increasingly popular and represented serious competition for the fountain pen. A.W. Faber-Castell was the first German manufacturer to include ball pens in its range, advertising them with a series of colourful contemporary images.

A new logo

After the war the jousting knights were considered old-fashioned, so the company logo was changed. The cartouche with the company name, surmounted by the castle, was distinctive and in line with the taste of the times, so marked the start of a new era. It was not until 1993 that the knight symbol was reinstated.

Colourful packaging

The immediate post-war years were grey and uninspiring, but luckily people soon rediscovered the joys of life; they developed a taste for travel and loved pictures of foreign countries. Italy was particularly popular with German holidaymakers: thousands of VW Beetles packed with happy children would chug across the border on their way to sunny beaches.

200 years of A.W. Faber-Castell

In 1961 the company celebrated its bicentenary with 3000 current and former employees, and with invited guests from all over the world. The civil defence corps of the island of Reichenau on Lake Constance came in historic uniforms to demonstrate their good relations with the factory in Konstanz. The people of Stein also took part; a school holiday was declared and the children enjoyed watching the colourful procession.