The Sharpest Shop in Town | Midwest Living

The Sharpest Shop in Town

Can a pencil be worth $200? A Wisconsin shop owner says yes, and he’ll let you test-drive a few to prove it.

Some pencils date back decades, scooped up by the boxful from estate sales and online auctions. Others come from around the globe. Prices range from an affordable 50 cents to—yes, really—$200. 

What, in the name of teachers everywhere, would one do with a $200 pencil? “Write with it!” says Chet Griffith, owner of Pencillarium in the harbor town of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Chet has loved pencils since he was old enough to scratch on paper. So when he came across a website for New York pencil-shop owner Caroline Weaver, who’s so into pencils that she’s given a TED talk about them, he reached out. He got to know Caroline, who encouraged him to make room in his framing shop and gallery for a rack of cool finds.

That was in 2016. “The next year, it became a shelf,” Chet says. “Then two shelves. Then 20.”

What draws people to pencils?

A mix of nostalgia and romance. Like the Columbus 1492 pencils by the A.W. Faber company, whose illustrated Niña, Pinta and Santa María make a dramatic entrance as you slide open the box. Or the smart, stylish Blackwing, the favored tool of John Steinbeck, Stephen Sondheim and Chuck Jones, who used one to sketch Bugs Bunny. Then there’s the $200 white whale: a 1920s marbleized black Ramses pencil, with a pyramid-shape eraser. (Chet’s still searching for the brown version.)

The shop lets you feel the difference for yourself. Will it convince you to shell out $200? Maybe not. But Chet’s betting you won’t mind paying $5 or $10 for the small luxury of making grocery lists with a history-touched, custom-fit pencil—guaranteed just the write touch.

Follow Pencillarium on Instagram @pencillarium.

Pencillarium pencils

The ferrule—a ring joining pencil and eraser—matters in antique pencils. The World War II-era Dixon Ticonderoga has a plastic ferrule due to wartime brass rationing. And the Eberhard
Faber Microtomic has a notably flat ferrule. Photo: Marty Baldwin.

Note to self

Attention office-supplies geeks: Pair a rare or vintage pencil with specialty paper goods from a Midwest purveyor.

Broadway Paper, Milwaukee Historic Third Ward shop selling handmade papers and quirky cards featuring local artists’ work.

Steel Petal Press, Chicago Letterpress stationery, cards and bookmarks made on vintage presses in a bright Logan Square storefront.

Mara-mi,  Stillwater, Minnesota A store-studio-cafe with lines of playfully colorful notepads, journals, stationery and sticky notes, plus handy zipper pouches.


Mara-Mi. Photo: John Noltner.


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