The collector: Bob Cantor, retired computer programmer and aspiring artist, Maryland, USA.
The collection: Pencil sharpeners, mostly souvenir and figural ones.
The story behind the collection...
Years ago, on a business trip, I had the chance to do some sight-seeing in San Francisco and wanted to find a trinket I could bring back to put on my desk at work. When I saw a Golden Gate Bridge pencil sharpener, I knew this was the perfect souvenir. It was small, inexpensive, a little bit kitschy and completely functional. Rather than just sitting on my desk as a decoration, I’d actually use it! After that, I began looking for souvenir pencil sharpeners wherever I travelled and eventually began collecting any interesting sharpeners I could find. They’re inexpensive, easy to display, and fun. People look at the collection and tell me they’ve never seen anything like it. I currently have about 600 in my collection. I use the sharpeners as the subjects of my oil paintings.
It’s always special to find a souvenir sharpener at a place I’m actually visiting, but what has turned out to be my best find was when I discovered a particular kind of Chinese sharpener made from material which is usually described as gypsum, clay or plaster. They’re small colourful figures which come in sets (usually 6) in small ornate cardboard boxes with the brand name “Lark” or “Giraffe”. These are just about the only ones I use in my paintings and I have over 180 of them.
Just recently, I finally purchased a much desired Bakelite 1939 New York World’s Fair Trylon and Perisphere sharpener. There are a lot of old small metal figures made in Germany which I’d like to get my hands on. Friends of mine get frustrated because they think it’ll be easy to find one for me when they’re travelling, but then they discover how uncommon they’ve become as souvenirs. Everybody sells souvenir pencils, but nobody sells the souvenir sharpeners needed to sharpen them. You can, however, simply search “pencil sharpener” on e-bay and you’ll find several thousand for sale at any given time (although most of those are not ones I would collect).
Unfortunately, most of the collection is in boxes right now. I do have about a hundred select sharpeners displayed on a shelf in a bookcase and another hundred of the ones I’m most likely to use in my paintings are on the mantle over the fireplace.
This is my only collection, but my wife is also a collector. She has a large collection of “tacky treasures” which includes what may be the largest collection of Mark Eden Bust Developers anywhere in the world.
I think my collection is well within control and I don’t personally consider it to be an obsession. I do consciously keep an eye out for sharpeners wherever I go, but mostly I’m just having some fun and gathering subject matter for my paintings.
Bob's website: www.bobcantor.com
Images © Bob Cantor and used with his kind permission.