A pencil sharpener museum? Is that really a thing?
Yes, it is! And I’m happy to say that I’ve been there!
We began Day 2 of Big Trip Lucky 13 in Logan, Ohio. Rocco had us up early so while we waited for the museum to open we drove downtown to take a look around. The weekend before our visit had been the annual Washboard Music Festival and the town was still decked out. Lines of laundry hung across the road all along the main street. Unusual but fun. I stopped in a restaurant to ask about the decorations. A little more internet research after the fact tells me that the festival is always held on Father’s Day weekend and that the festival’s focus is on celebrating the enduring role the washboard has had on American music styles.
Now that downtown has been scoped out, it’s time to head back to the museum.
Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum
A small shed outside the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center houses a collection of over 3,400 pencil sharpeners in the Pencil Sharpener Museum. This collection was started in 1988 by Reverend Paul A. Johnson. According to an article posted in the museum, Rev Johnson’s wife gave him two metal car-shaped pencil sharpeners as a retirement gift in an attempt to encourage an interest in transportation models. Things took off in a completely different direction, though, and his collection of sharpeners began to grow. By March of 1999, he had more than 2,000 pencil sharpeners in his collection.
“I know of no history, no clubs, no projects involving pencil sharpeners. I just decided if I was going to collect something, I wanted to do something no one else did.”
The museum is small and depending on how much time you want to spend admiring the variety of Rev Johnson’s collection, your visit will likely be short. It’s well worth your time to stop and look at the collection of pencil sharpeners. Categories of sharpeners as originally labeled by Rev Johnson include animals, body, cats, Christmas, Disneyland, dogs, Easter, food, games, globes/world, Halloween, hearts, history, horses, miscellaneous, religion, space, Spain, special, and Zodiac. Inside the Welcome Center you will find bathrooms and friendly people with even more information about the area.
Types of Pencil Sharpeners
There are three main types of pencil sharpeners – prism (or manual), cylindrical (or rotary), and specialty. Before pencil sharpeners were invented, pencils were sharpened with knives or sandpaper.
Prism, or manual, pencil sharpeners were first patented in 1828 by French mathematician Bernard Lassimone. This first design was no better than sharpening with a knife, which is how it had been done for years prior, so it didn’t really catch on. Lassimone’s design was improved on by Thierry des Estivaux. Des Estivaux’s design was a single blade inside a conical housing. This efficient and effective design was improved upon slightly by Walter T. Foster in 1851, making it possible to mass produce the sharpeners. This basic design is still used today in manual pencil sharpeners.
Cylindrical pencil sharpeners came about to correct the one flaw of a prism pencil sharpener. In a prism design, the user must hold the pencil steady. If held wrong, the lead will easily break and additional sharpening is required. In an attempt to solve this problem, a design was concieved which involved the cutting surfaces rotating on an axis and also rotating around the secondary axis of the pencil. (Look at the picture below to see what I mean.) These types of pencil sharpeners are what we commonly see in schools and are the basis of electric pencil sharpener designs.
The first cylindrical pencil sharpener, the AB Dick Planetary Pencil Pointer, was produced in 1896. The Olcott Climax Pencil Sharpener offered an improvement on that design in 1904. Since then, the main changes to pencil sharpeners have only been to the materials used in manufacture. The basis of how it works has remained the same.
[Side note – in an interesting small-world connection… Albert Dick (of the AB Dick Company) was born in Galesburg (a small town in Illinois near my dad’s side of the family) and he coined the term mimeograph. (You can read about my mimeograph adventures here.)]
The Man Behind the Collection
A retired minister and a US Navy World War II veteran, Reverend Johnson, along with his wife, Charlotte, was inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in 2004. As I dug around the internet trying to learn more about Reverend Johnson, I found numerous examples of what a kind and generous man he was, as he served his community for years.
- Traveled over 1 million miles, serving as Pastor of Hocking Valley Parish which includes 5 parishes
- Inducted into Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 1996
- Organized crew reunions for his shipmates from USS Pamanset (AO-85)
- Was a self-published author of the book Grandpa Is A WWII Veteran
- Received multiple awards and honors from local community groups including the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts
In his spare time once retired, Reverend Johnson focused on his hobbies – searching for pencil sharpeners and searching for shipmates. He hoped that his search would also encourage others to begin their own creative pastime.
“My hope is that it encourages people to do something creative – to look for something different.”
I love that Rev Johnson so carefully displayed his vast collection of pencil sharpeners and opened his shed to share his unusual collection with others. I am also thankful that the family decided to allow the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center to act as host and caretaker of the collection so that we can all continue to enjoy it even after he has passed.
I can’t believe I missed this…
Also in Logan, Ohio, is the Columbus Washboard Factory and the World’s Largest Washboard. The factory offers tours and is the only washboard factory in the United States. The old brick factory uses vintage equipment and the washboards are hand-assembled.
Well, you know what this means, right? I have to go back!