E Wolff & Son’s Academy Chalk Pencil

Today we take a look at E Wolff & Son’s ‘Academy Chalk’ pencils.

I’ve  come across three variations of this pencil; the two older versions featured in this post and the more modern version, as seen on Bob Truby’s site here.

A quick reminder about Wolff’s pencils in general: pencils with right-to-left lettering are almost always older than left-to-right.  Pencils with ‘E. Wolff and Son’s’ branding are almost always older than pencils with ‘Wolff’s’ branding.Rowney & Co appear to have been the first makers to produce the Academy Chalk pencils. The earliest reference I could find to their introduction was from 1851. Unsurprisingly, other British makers (including Wolff) ended up producing their own versions.

Looking at the early advert below from Rowney, we can see that the Academy Chalk pencils appear to have taken their name from the Royal Academy of Arts (unsurprisingly).  It may be that once other makers started producing these types of pencils, they just opted to use the shortened name of ‘Academy Chalk’ rather than ‘Royal Academy Chalk’.It’s worth noting here that other brands were making other types of chalk pencils around this time; for example, Dobbs & Co made a very very early chalk pencil, but not an ‘Academy’ chalk pencil.

So what are Academy Chalk pencils? Well, I have dug out a few articles below to help explain, but for a simple starter, they are actually chalk; so not pastel, or charcoal, or crayon, or even a sibling of Creta Laevis (which we might get to some other time).

The passage from A Guide to Pictorial Perspective from 1853 sets out where Academy Chalk pencils ‘fit’ within the other types of art chalk available:When the Academy Chalk was introduced, it came in three hardness grades (1,2 and 3), all of which are black. The chalk pencil grading system of 1,2 and 3 does not line up exactly with the numerical graphite scale, but you get the general idea anyway – hard, middle and soft.Let’s turn to the Annual Record of Photographic Process from 1867 for some further explanation into these types of pencil:And what about the uses?  Well,  The Artist and Journal of Home Culture (Volumes 2-3) from 1881 is here to help:

And one more example from the London Daily News of 1902 for more info on their use:

The earliest model I have comes in the No.2 medium grade.  All Academy Chalk pencils appear to have come with round cores, even the very early examples.

So, when did Wolff start making Academy Chalk pencils?  Well, the earliest reference I could come across was from this advert from the Marlborough Galleries First Annual of 1882.  Note the right-to-left early Spanish Graphite pencils drawing.
Other interesting things to note in this advert: firstly, Wolff already had a Royal Academy drawing pencil, but they elected to use the shortened Academy Chalk branding.  Secondly, we can see the nice distinction between the coloured Creta Laevis pencil and the black Academy Chalk pencil.Interestingly, Wolff marked Academy Chalk pencils into the USA, so if you are a reader from the States, you might have a chance of actually finding older versions.  Wolff never had a USA factory in case you were wondering.
In 1890, shortly after their introduction, Wolff was sending specimens to The American Stationer (v.27) for review:

So where might you have bought them in the USA?  Well, this very question was asked quite a few years later in 1906 to the Harmsworth Self Educator:These pencils were clearly popular; the Business World actually visited Wolff and highlighted the Academy Chalk as one of their standouts:Let’s take a look at the second version in my collection. We can see that the lettering has now, as expected, moved to left-to-right.  The fit and finish generally is much higher quality, which again is as expected with Wolff.

So what about an age range for these second editions?  Well, we know these pre-date the formation of the Royal Sovereign Pencil Co, so they won’t have been made after 1911.
The third version on Bob Truby’s website includes the Royal Sovereign branding, so we know that they did carry on with these pencils after the formation of the new company.

It can be quite difficult to date these, but I can try and give it a stab using other Wolff pencils in my collection.  The ‘British Make’ font is similar to second run Spanish Graphite pencils, but the ‘E Wolff & Son’s’ is not quite as ornate.  That being said, Wolff did use the more simplistic font on pencils, even some Spanish Graphite models, as early as the 1880s.


Given the late 1880’s introduction, and looking at similar branding across Toughened Lead, Spanish Graphite, Royal Sovereign and Bank of England pencils, I would take a stab that these pencils could have been made around mid-1890s through into the 1900s.


In the 1880s into the 1890s, the use of foreign goods over those made in Britain was a hot topic.  This culminated in many a parliamentary debate, and the introduction of the Merchandise Marks Act 1887, which stipulated that all non-British made goods needed to state their country of origin.


Many makers, even though not required, saw the benefit in clearly stamping ‘British Make’ on their goods. See my post on the Civil Service Pencil for more on that.


Got any other versions?  Feel free to get in touch and help fill the the blanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: