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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Pencil collector's convention shows off the write stuff at MSU

Big pencils. Little pencils. Mechanical pencils. Non-mechanical. They were all at the at the biennial convention of the American Pencil Collectors' Society this week in the CSU.

By Robb Murray, Free Press Staff Writer [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 6/22/2005]

Photo by John Cross
Larry Derrenberger, of Elkhart, Ind.
Larry Derrenberger, of Elkhart, Ind., is a first-timer at the biennial convention of the American Pencil Collectors' Society. He left his prized pencils at home and brought just his sharpened ones, the ones he hoped to trade.

MANKATO — There were pencils filled with uranium ore on top, pencils carved out of bark. Pencils with Mickey Mouse on the head. Pencils just for lefties.

Each collection is tended by a fussy collector who in some cases has spent decades hoarding them. Once every two years they get together en masse to swap, buy and sell. It is the American Pencil Collectors' Society.

Larry Derrenberger of Elkhart, Ind., is here for his first-ever convention. He didn't bring his best pencils. Those are back home, where he's got more than 4,000 bullet pencils (short pencils that pop out of a bullet-like shell, then slip back in when you're done for protection,) and nearly 7,000 other pencils from around the world.

"I have pencils issued to GIs during Japanese incarceration," Derrenberger said.

He has pencils from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, pencils from the World's Fair in Buffalo in 1908 and pencils featuring the entire rosters of the Cleveland Indians from 1948-1952.

J.P. Stanley is probably the youngest serious collector. At 12, the North Mankato resident has been collecting pencils for about half his lifetime. He got his first pencil from fellow North Mankatoan Adam Westberg, the Collectors' Society member responsible for bringing the convention to Mankato.

"When I was little, he gave me a pencil and said, 'This can be the first one you collect,'" Stanley said. "I just think it's fun coming to conventions, buying and selling."

Stanley says he's got about 3,000 pencils. And now, like any youngster whose collection affection reaches family and friends, people are gathering pencils wherever they go and passing them on to Stanley.

His two favorites to collect are carpenter and novelty pencils.

"If somebody has a novelty carpenter pencil," he said, "I'll pay through the nose for it."

Westberg said the Collectors' Society has between 300 and 400 members, about 60 of which made it to Mankato for the convention. Among the attendees are people from around the United States and a few people from overseas, including one guy from Denmark.

Westberg began collecting in second grade when, during a visit to an old friend of his mom's, he was given a pencil. From there, it grew. He collected every pencil he saw. Soon his collection climbed into the thousands.

"Originally, I did it because it was a unique hobby," Westberg said. "Anybody can collect coins or stamps."

Osman Gertunca of Indianapolis keeps a massive database of his thousands upon thousands of pencils. He brings printouts of his database to conventions so he knows exactly which individual pencils among the various series he collects that he still needs.

He loves pencils.

"They're cool," Gertunca said. "The pencil is taken for granted. It's used to prop open a window, it's used to scratch your back, it's used to stir your coffee ... But there's more to them than that."

He pulls out a pencil with a red ring around the ferrule - the metal band connecting erasure and shaft. "When you see that red ring," he says, "you know it's an Eagle."

There's no room for poor craftsmanship here, he says, and these guys can spot it a mile away.

"The wood shatters, it splits on you, you have to sharpen it all the time," he says. "That's not a pencil."

Aliene Thurston, at 88, is among the most senior members. Her husband began collecting years ago, strictly bullet pencils at first, but then he branched out. Thurston accompanied her husband to many conventions, dating back several decades. When he died in 1980s, she stopped attending conventions.

Eventually she decided to come back. She usually drives from Saginaw Bay, Mich., to whatever college campus is hosting the event. This year, however, for the first time since she's been coming to conventions, she flew. Most years, this year included, they stay in the dorms.

"I had made a lot of friends here," she said. "The fellowship is why I come. He was the pencil collector."

She brought a few pencils, but left most of her husband's collection in Michigan. Most of the ones she did bring were bound in rubber bands and given away free for anyone who wanted them.

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