The French Horn Teacher Who Works In Music To Support His Hobby

Andrew Westberg collects pencils. At his two-story home in Mankato, he has about 8,500, not including duplicates.

The pencils, some of which date to World War II, are organized in an apothecary stand, cigar boxes, crates, pencil cups and perched horizontally in a giant frame inside his home office. The pencils are blue, orange, red but mostly yellow.

This weekend, Westberg is welcoming his fellow pencil collectors to Mankato for Pencil Con 2024 at Bethany Lutheran College. The two-day event, which is sponsored by the American Pencil Collectors Society, is an opportunity to sell, swap and admire the collections of those who are really into, or just curious, about the hobby.

“It’s not something you’d expect,” said Westberg, who is president of the society.

Lester C. Taylor, a professor at Sterling College in Kansas, is credited with starting the group. In 1955, he began publishing a newsletter titled “The Pencil Collector.” Three years later, the society boasted 191 dues paying members.

On Saturday, collectors will be arriving in Mankato from Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and Iowa. Among those in attendance will be Aaron Bartholmey of Colfax, Iowa. He owns tens of thousands of pencils. Westberg knows this because a few years ago, he helped count them.

Someone online bragged about having the world’s largest collection, a mere 5,000 pencils, but Bartholmey knew he had thousands more. To come up with an accurate count, society members traveled to Iowa, divided into two groups, and spent two days counting Bartholmey’s collection.

At the end of 20 hours of counting, one group had counted more than 70,000 pencils. The other group counted 68,900 pencils.

“The numbers didn’t quite jive,” Westberg said. “So we went with the lowest number.”

Bartholmey kept adding to his collection. In July 2023, The Guinness Book of World Records credited Bartholmey with owning the planet’s largest number of pencils: 69,255.

Westberg, who is 55, organizes his collection by U.S. state or style. He owns American pencils from the 1940s without metal rings or erasers (brass and rubber were rationed during World War II), pencils promoting local businesses in tiny towns, pencils promoting big businesses in large cities, pencils containing pellets of uranium ore (harmless, says Westberg), pencils with single-digit phone numbers and left-handed pencils.

Pencils inside the Mankato home of Andrew Westberg, president of the American Pencil Collectors Society.

Courtesy of Andrew Westberg

Yes, he says, left-handed pencils are a thing.

“If you hold your pencil in your right hand and you look at it, usually you can read what’s on it,” Westberg said. “But if you hold it in your left hand, all the text is backwards. So on a left-handed pencil the text is deliberately written so that it runs from eraser to tip instead of the other way around.”

“There is a slight advantage to doing that because as a person sharpens the pencil, the name of the business stays on longer,” he added.

Collectors prefer wooden pencils to mechanical ones and unsharpened pencils to used ones. “If you were collecting Cadillacs, you’d want one that hadn’t been driven very many miles versus one that’s got a couple hundred thousand miles on it,” he said.

To support his hobby, Westberg works as a music instructor. His specialty is teaching children how to play brass instruments, mostly the French horn.

In preparation for Pencil Con, he’s has been organizing his collection and hopes to sell or trade many of his duplicate pencils.

His wife is fine with the obsession.

“She’s happy it’s not tractors,” Westberg said. “Pencils are so much easier to store.”

But she does have a rule.

“I have to keep my collection contained within my office.”

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