Steinbeck Pencil Length

The Steinbeck Pencil Length

John Steinbeck was very particular about his pencils. In addition to his 24 pencil ritual, John was also conscious of the length of his pencils. Once his pencils reached a certain length, commonly referred to as “the Steinbeck length,” he would discard them. These discarded pencils often ended up in the hands of his sons, Thom and John IV.

Thom shared the details of “the Steinbeck length,” and how he used his father’s pencils once they had been passed on to him.

Full transcript of the conversation included below.

When the pencils were down about halfway, or when the pencil could no longer be supported by this part of the hand… So they were about this long.

If they got any shorter, he would discard them. And I was a kid, my hands were smaller, and I got them. So I had pencils all my life.

Drove him crazy because I drew in the blank pages of his books in the library. Because I wanted paper.

So I’d open something really valuable and, “oh,” there’s that blank page between. And I’d draw in there.

About this long with a point, that was it.

Steinbeck Typewriter

John Steinbeck’s Typewriter

John Steinbeck was known for writing his novels out by hand. Later in his career, however, he was forced to introduce a typewriter into his daily routine. John’s son Thom shared what brought about this change, and how his father coped with his new writing companion.

Full transcript of the conversation included below.

The saddest thing was… to my father, as a writer… is the woman who had been doing his line editing, the woman who could actually read his handwriting, finally died.

At Viking, she was at Viking Press. And nobody else could read his handwriting.

And they sent him a letter saying, “John, we’re so sorry. We know you like to write by hand, but we can’t publish your handwriting. We can’t read it. You either have to find somebody who can type it up for you, or you’re going to have to get a typewriter.”

Well, this was a big drama in our house. Big drama. And he went out and he bought himself one of those gigantic IBMs. You know the kind that when you typed on it, all the paintings in the room moved.

Tunk, tunk, tunk, tunk, tunk. It was an unbelievable sound. 

He was a six finger typist. Tick, tick. Tick, tick, tick. And it was too slow, it would drive him crazy.

What he would do is… write by hand… finish his writing for the day and then he would have to spend the afternoon typing up what he’d hand-written. Because he knew what it said. 

So he went out and bought balls in every language. Remember they had the ball? And he got balls in Finnish, and balls in Russian. Just to see what they looked like, you know?

And just to get it back on his publishers, he one day wrote… sent them… three pages in Russian. Now he couldn’t speak or read Russian, he just used the Russian ball and made all these letters in Russian.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

And shipped it off and said “How’s this?”

And they said, “You’re kidding.”

Steinbeck Print

Inside the Blackwing 24 Subscription – An Unreleased Portrait of John Steinbeck

By now, many of our subscribers have received their shipments containing the Blackwing 24, our tribute to John Steinbeck. In addition to pencils, past subscriptions have included extra goodies, including an Incense-cedar pencil slat with a map of California etched into its grain and a movie barcode print of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon. The Blackwing 24 is no exception

When we met with the Steinbecks at the outset of this project, we brainstormed what we could include as an exclusive gift for our subscribers. We asked Thom if his father had any letters or notes that had never been published, something the public had never seen before. What he had turned out to be even better.

He took us into his dining room, where there hung a painting. It measured roughly 18 x 24 inches and featured the elder Steinbeck in profile, realized in vibrant acrylic. “This is the greatest likeness of my father I’ve ever seen,” said Thom, “and it has never been seen outside of this room.”

The painting is by Kenny McKendry, an artist Thom and Gail met during their travels in Europe. Mr. McKendry, who calls County Antrim in Northern Ireland home, describes himself as a “contemporary traditionalist.” He is recognized around the world for his outstanding portraiture, and his portrait of John was a gift to Thom and Gail.

Thom, Gail and Mr. McKendry agreed to let us share the painting with the outside world for the first time. Every subscription contains a postcard-sized print of the portrait with a message from Thom on the back. 

Steinbeck Print

In addition to the postcard, subscribers will also find a Blackwing pin, so you can show off your Blackwing flair wherever you go.

Blackwing button

Blackwing Volumes subscriptions containing the Blackwing 24 are still available. Click the button below to subscribe. 


Blackwing 24

Volumes by Blackwing – Vol. 24

To round out the first year of the Blackwing Volumes program, we wanted to pay tribute to one of our personal heroes, John Steinbeck. Designed under the guidance of his son, accomplished author Thomas Steinbeck, we’ve attempted to create what would have been John Steinbeck’s ideal pencil.

Our Day with Steinbeck

Our Day with Steinbeck

He entered the room with a presence befitting of his pedigree. His slicked-back hair and low-cropped beard had long since conceded their color, but his eyes were still piercing blue. His baritone was rugged but gentle: “I understand you’ve come here to talk about my father.”