History of Boston Pencil Sharpeners, Sharpener Brands

Apsco Dexter pencil sharpener from Los Angeles.

At Staples yesterday, I bought a manual Boston Pencil Sharpener. It was $15.98; the model was the X-Acto KS. I got this manual one after an electric sharpener died. I hate to think how much electricity I wasted with the electric one over the years.

After I screwed it in the wall, it was a big hit with my five-year-old, and everyone else in the house who had suffered from the scourge of dull pencils.

It looks remarkably like the classic Boston KS that I remember in most of the classrooms; the only thing odd was the X-ACTO name on the sharpener. X-ACTO is a great brand and every desk ought to have one, but it doesn’t have much to do with Boston sharpeners, and it shouldn’t be on a Boston sharpener.

It seems well made, and comes with a two-year warranty. That being said, it was made in China, and I would certain have paid a few more dollars for it to be made in the U.S. The joy of using a pencil is not just in the writing with it, but the whole process. If Boston promised me a lifetime warranty, and made it REALLY well, I would have paid $25 for it.

China or not, every house in America ought to have one of these, as well as every classroom. I would love to see research on how many American houses still have manual sharpeners.

Boston was founded in 1899; in 1999 they celebrated with a 100th anniversary sharpener. In 1913, their sharpener, the Boston Pencil Pointer, was selling for about $6. In the past, people were used to more expensive sharpeners or having to sharpen pencils by knife, which wasted the lead.

Time was when every classroom in the U.S. had a sharpener, most probably a Boston KS. We found a great photo of an old Boston sharpener from the excellent office history website officemuseum.com. The site has all sorts of great history on old office products, including some of the other old brands of pencil sharpeners, including A.B. Dick, Jupiter, Webster, Lakeside, Climax, APSCO, Babcock, McDivitt, Beebe, Everett, Graffco, Dima, Iduna, Olympic, Dixon, Gem and others.

Boston goes down with the classic American desk brands that I want to have near me, including Swingline staplers, Artgum erasers and other assorted great pencil brands like the Dixon Ticonderoga and Venus Velvet. (There are other pen brands that are favorites, but not all are American.)

Some brands are no longer cool or interesting; for instance Mucilage comes in a cruddy looking bottle, and is no longer that funky nipple-topped LePage’s Mucilage, the brand I trusted.

Today, Boston is owned by Elmer’s Products, Inc. of Columbus, Ohio.  not only makes Boston but also makes Krazy Glue, X-ACTO knives and Bienfang arts and crafts products.

Elmer’s is growing. They recently purchased the English brand James Galt & Co. Ltd. (see www.jamesgalt.com). Galt dates from 1836; James Galt himself was born in Ayrshire and set up as an educational retailer in Manchester in 1836.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.


  1. So what makes a pencil sharper that lasts? Quality choices in the metal: The right kind of steel. The right metal for supporting parts. The right metal tempering procedures.

    What would it take to duplicate the old Boston Pencil sharpener manufacturing capability?

  2. Well I did it. I bought a classy looking Boston KS on EBay and a brand new cuter assembly still in the original box also from EBay. Thanks to everyone who commented in this thread.

    1. Author

      The old ones really were the best.

  3. I have an old Boston sharpener, works great- I was a draftsman for 42 years, now retired. probably had the Boston for 50 years?

    recently bought an X-Acto electric. Worst piece of mechanical crap I’ve ever owned. Did not sharpen well, pencils would not center – threw it away.

  4. I wanted to leave a comment regarding the quality issues that many people have experience with the new Xacto KS. As I have aged particularly since the early 1990’s I have become aware of the gradual decline in brands that were the staples of my youth. Having been born in 1950, my early classrooms were filled with many of the same products that have already been mentioned here. We were taught to write with the Sheaffer fountain pens which were sold for $1 for may years. As I became aware of the decline in quality I also became curious as to why and I began acquiring things that I had taken for granted. I collected and restored Parker 51 fountain pens, vintage Xacto knives and pencil sharpeners from Boston,Apsco and Dixon. Firstly let me say that you cannot blame the loss in the quality of the Boston sharpeners on Xacto as the are both the victims of a much larger player. One of my vintage Xacto manuals listed the address for the company as 440 Fourth Ave. in New York City. Having walked Fourth Ave. for many years I became curious as to where they had been. That Fourth Ave. address as it turns out does not exist today because the city changed the name to Park Ave. South in 1959 to accommodate the Real Estate interest. I was also doing some restoration work on the early Boston Ranger pencil sharpeners and wanted to acquire some replacement knobs. After some early e-mails to the company in North Carolina produced no results I finally called the company to find out why they could not acquire parts for the products they still sold. As it turns out they do not even own the manufacturing facility that produce the pencil sharpeners. It is now nothing more than a branding operation where they import fully assembled and branded units that are distributed directly to wholesalers. Just like Nike with shoes. They just order from the manufacturer in China and then resell. At about this same time I received a catalogue in the mail from a company named schoolfix.com. While going though the pages I came across what looks to be the exact same model KS sharpener but branded the Tiger pencil sharpener. This unit was replete with replacement parts which included replacement arms with knobs. So out of curiosity I ordered 6 and discovered that not only do the arms screw on to the vintage USA made Boston units but the knobs are dead on the same. More than likely that the Tiger sharpener is being made on the same former American manufacturing machinery as the Boston KS and Rangers once were. They can be sold under any brand name. This is all about marketing not manufacturing. The real piece of enlightenment came when I discovered that Boston and Xacto which are owned by Elmer’s are in fact themselves owned by Newell Rubbermaid, at present of Hoboken, NJ but soon Atlanta,Georgia. They are just a branding business with a stock price and can pick up and go anywhere at this point in time.

  5. I was trying to figure out which awesome pencil sharpener I used in elementary school and I’m pretty sure you nailed it! Thank you for the post.

  6. I ran across a Boston Pencil Sharpener (Vacuum Mount Type) that is from the early 70`s that looks to be a maybe a one of a kind. The word “BOSTON” all the letters are straight up & down. All the ones I have ever saw the O`s are slanted to the right, Also the words VACUUM MOUNT are larger. Do you know anyone that would know something about Boston Pencil Sharpener? Thanks

  7. Does anyone know when they stopped making the Boston 8-hole sharpener with faux woodgrain? I found one in a vintage shop, and based on what I read on from your comments, I learned how to check the date inside and it appears to be 1982. I would have thought it was 30+ years older than that.

  8. We have a great desk-top Boston “Champion” pencil sharpener!

    It has this nifty spring clamp assembly that pulls out away from the shavings collector. Squeeze the ears, pull it out, insert the pencil, release the ears, and commence sharpening. It auto-feeds the pencil as it is sharpened!

    I loved using it when I was a kid.
    I still like using it now!

    We got it some 50 years ago, and when my parents passed away, I made sure to nab the pencil sharpener!

    1. I nabbed the Boston KS pencil sharpener from my Father In Law’s workshop after he passed away… Found out today that the pencil sharpener was made in 1957. These posts have been very informative!

  9. I was surprised to see all of the negative comments on the X-ACTO KS sharpeners. I have had two for some time and they continue to work well. I am guessing the newer one was made over 20 years ago and the other is somewhat older and has a metal rather than plastic mount. I agree that they are not as rugged as the Boston models but both sharpen very well. And I agree that the vacuum mounts and the electric sharpeners are junk.
    I recently inherited two Boston pencil sharpeners from my dad. The model L likely dates to his youth (or earlier) in the 1920’s or 30’s. The KS is likely one he purchased in the late 40’s. Both still work but the cutters are worn and neither cuts as nicely as the newer X-ACTOs that I have. That said, they will likely still out last the X-ACTOs given their more robust construction.

  10. Awesome article! Learning the history of these was great. My favorite sharpeners have to be those electric pencil sharpeners from the 1980’s. Like those panasonic’s etc. Those were epic! 🙂

  11. Here’s a little tidbit for all of you into Boston KS pencil sharpeners. I am still the proud owner of such a beautiful piece of memory. The sharpener was in my little 3 room schoolhouse when I started school in first grade. No kindergarden then, it was added few years later. Telling my age now. I sharpened many pencils on it and so did about forty others in that little schoolroom. Surly hundreds were sharpened from grades 1-6. My little sharpener stayed right there, just waiting for me I guess. I then went on to middle school and high school.
    Was graduated and after a couple of years took employment with school district. Even got to clean the the little school house I spent 6 years in. There I found my little baby discarded somewhere in the junk. I guess it was just waiting for me to rebirth it and so I did.
    I have said all this just to say what great quality the Bosten KS was and still is. I still own and use the little jewel, it’s moved with me to 6 different states and dozens of moves. I know it to be 73 years old and was in my grade school possibly 10 to 12 years before I even started school. This sharpener is still in use in my little work shop, doing its job just like new. It has some discoloration but still works perfect. What great memories I have from it. Know that’s quality.
    No, I would not sell it at any price. Hope you enjoyed this.

  12. Growing up going to a Catholic school for 12 years we were not allowed to use colored pencils in the sharpeners. Didn’t understand then but do now. The colored pencils have a little wax coating on them and would plug up the sharpeners. Miss the smell of the chalkboard eraser cleaners that was in a spray can. Almost a sweet vanilla odor…..

  13. I have a ’54, left by the previous owners. After 20 years, I’m promoting it from the basement closet to the top of the stairs. Just like the one I grew up with in the ’60’s. Ahh, nostalgia!

  14. The (from the datecode, 1964 with a backward 4) Boston KS that came with our 1922-vintage house vexes family members other than me because play (looseness) in its knob, gears and cutters requires a light, attentive touch on both knob (which I had to jury-rig, as the old one was missing) and pencil feed. That’s their loss, because with suitable attention paid it still sharpens _flawlessly_. I’ll move it to the workshop and (gulp) seek a replacement for upstairs. Maybe Germany has something to offer, as German handheld sharpeners are generally excellent.

  15. I had an old Hunt wall mount pencil sharpener that I bought in 1983. It has been torturing me for a couple years, as the blades have become dull, and it was butchering pencils, not sharpening them. I went to an office supply store looking for a Boston KS like I remember from school. I found the X-acto KS for $21.99. I looked at the box and saw it was made in China, and put it back on the shelf. It seemed like an exorbitant price for something made in China. I found a new one on an Ebay auction for $4.50 and bid on it. I won the auction for the minimum bid of $4.50, and installed it on my wall. It works great so far and it won’t get beat up like in a classroom. Hopefully it will work for awhile, but I’d rather it was made in USA.

  16. The Boston pencil sharpener — what a classic! I remember them from private school; every classroom had at least one KS sharpener. As I progressed through the years and grades, from elementary to middle to high, the only thing that remained the same was those indestructable Boston pencil sharpeners. Each classroom had the same sharpeners through the years, and I don’t ever remember one ever becoming dull. This iconic sharpener was a well-engineered and well-built product. I even had one mounted on my desk at home! I don’t know whatever happened to it, but I know it never once failed me. That old KS sharpened many No. 2 and No. 3 pencils to a fine point.

    I have since purchased several electric sharpeners, none of which lasted more than a couple of years. Due to the apparent lack of a good Boston KS at the time, I had to revert back to the tried and true handheld pencil sharpener (basically a sharp blade mounted in a piece of high-impact plastic with a tapered opening. It’s better than nothing, but I wish I still had my old Boston KS from my youth. Unfortunately, when I sold my old desk several years ago, the Boston went with it. Oh well.

  17. Was able to connect with 2 old Boston Champion sharpeners from my father in law’s estate. One with the conventional variable hole size and one is a pinch feed. I was going to put one in the basement workshop and one in the barn shop when my wife dropped the mint vintage pinch feed and broke off one of the “ears” that you pinch. I am going to try and repair this but I’m not much of a welder and I don’t know if this is pot metal or something better. Wish me luck. Both of these sharpeners are like brand new!

  18. I have worked as a custodian for nearly 40 years. The old Boston sharpeners were great , you could take the cutters out and replace them. Now they are being replaced several times a year, cheap junk that doesn’t stand up in a classroom. What a waste.


  20. Thanks for your comment MARK I will look for the manufacturers date.

  21. I have a boston wall mounted pencil sharpener
    which looks very much like the x-acto KS table featured in this article. I know the one I have is at least 59 years old.. likely more. It functions as it always had ….. perfectly. Is there a market for this type of item with respect to collectors/antique? ty

  22. I’m 66 years old and went to school in a four room school house (two rooms down, two rooms up) from K-3rd grade. We had a Boston sharpener at the front of the room (had to walk past the teacher to sharpen your pencil. Iowa consolidated their schools when I entered the fourth grade, So I then had to go to another, larger school after that. That next summer they tore the old school building down and my dad helped in it destruction. I went along with him one day to watch. I found the Boston in some of the rubble (I knew it was from our room because it still had crayon markings on it. I have had that pencil ever since It is now on the wall of my wood working shop. I never new how old it was until I found out where the date stamp was. It was made in 1937 and it still works perfectly. That makes it 79 years old!

    1. Sam..that is the best story of a pencil sharpener that I have read, or that will ever be written?

  23. I’ve sold several vintage Boston KS pencil sharpeners on eBay. I find them at estate and yard sales. I learned how to date these vintage sharpeners.
    1) Remove the debris bowl from the sharpener. 2) Look inside the base of the sharpener. 3) You will see a two digit number (i.e., 55). 4) That is the year the sharpener was built. The is, 55 is 1955.
    The guys who change the date code each year had fun with it. The is because some of the dates, have one digit, and sometimes both, in reverse (as seen in a mirror).

    1. thanks for this! I didnt know much about how to tell the diference. I am assuming older ones are of better quality, as well. Thanks Mark.

  24. I work for the US Army and where I work, we have a few KSs that are still mounted but no longer used.

    The building was built in the late 60s so I bet that these are the orginal KSs.

    Maybe one day we will throw them away and I can reuse them. I wish!

    1. Wondering the same thing. Anyone know?

  25. I too have a long love affair with my electric desk-top Hunt-Boston Model #17 sharpener. I am just about to replace the one weak link, its primary drive gear with one supplied on e-bay by valens61…
    I would love to know how old my Model #17 is… The same enquiry as a Curtis made above… Any help in locating the history of Hunt-Boston electric sharpeners would be great!…

  26. I have a Boston model KS. Whenever I sharpen a pencil, it only sharpens one side of it. In other words, after sharpening, I look at the point, and on half of it I can see the lead, and on the other half, all I can see is wood. Does anybody know how to adjust a KS so it will sharpen correctly? Please advise. Thank you.

  27. I purchased a Boston electric pencil sharpener for 50 cents model 16, serial no af5613… It still sharpens but makes a terrible loud noise. I might try new parts in it but then it would not be exactly the vintage sharpener. But I would like to avoid the loud grinding sound it makes.. any suggestions and how much do you think it is worth…?

  28. 10 September 2014 0821 Hrs CDT

    I’m in the process of securing a replacement gear for roughly 15-year-old Boston, Model 18 pencil sharpener. If I have done my research correctly, the Hunt Company went out of business or sold their electric sharpener line to to a Chicoms around 2009. Question. Is there a reference source availabe that a serial number for a Boton sharpener can be entered to find out the approimate date of production of the unit?


  29. I own a Boston Pencil Sharpener painted olive drab
    (U.S. Navy WW2, date unknown), model KS. There
    is also a Bostonette. Both sharpeners perform flawlessly. Something about holding a Ticonderoga
    wood pencil that is indescribably special.

  30. What a delightful montage of “Boston Pencil Sharpener” enthusiast – I enjoyed the reading . . . thank you for sharing!

    I consider myself a connoisseur in the use of wood pencils as a tool for architectural delineation & art. In the age of boring computer aided drafting applications – there is nothing quite like holding a #2 wood pencil and spreading graphite around in just the perfect places on paper. I’ve used all manner of specialty technical leads, colors and sizes of pencils for my work as an architect. I have used nearly every kind of lead sharpener devices known to exist, such as, electric, hand operated, knife and files and I can assure you that the vintage USA made Boston wall-hung pencil sharpener will consistently produce the perfect pencil point. Like Twinkies, the original Boston KS pencil sharpener is an American icon – every household should have one. 🙂

  31. That sharpener being sold by mr.decoffs_classroom_supplies on ebay is sold under the brand name Carl elsewhere. I’m a former teacher, and now that I’m homeschooling my two kids, I really miss my old Boston classroom sharpener. The closest I could find in performance was the Carl sharpener, but it’s still not as good as the Boston. It lasted us for two years, (three people using it) but is starting to go. To its credit, two years means that it has lasted FAR longer than any other pencil sharpener we have bought for our homeschool, including a few very expensive electric ones. That said, the table clamp didn’t last long, it won’t “pull” on recycled newspaper pencils, and it is now starting to sharpen the pencils off-center (leaving a strip of wood up the side of the lead). I think I’m going to break down and buy a used Boston on eBay. It’ll be twice the price of the Carl, but I have a feeling it will last us through the remaining decade of homeschooling and justify the extra cost.

  32. I must go with the exacto pencil sharpeners being made so cheap they don’t last but a few days in most cases. I have gone through three of them in as many months. I got on ebay and bought a couple of used and abused vintage Bostons and they have really been a great investment. They will last forever and were made with durability in mind. I sent all my old ones to the trash. Exacto makes good craft knives but…that’s it.

  33. I just bought an old Boston KS for $1 at a yard sale- and it works and we LOVE it!

  34. I once purchased a hand-crank Xacto sharpener which was made of plastic and started jamming in days… not to mention the lame suction cup mount that never stuck for more than 30 seconds despite being attached to baby-butt smooth surfaces.

    I also purchased a battery-powered Xacto sharpener that is just terrible in too many ways. It literally grabs the lead and rips it off after sharpening, thus having wasted the last (and next) 10 minutes of your life.

    It’s so ridiculous. I was so glad to have an Xacto knife set when I was younger. These days, I’m utterly disgusted with the quality of their products.

    Now that I know they’re made by Boston, I’ll steer clear of anything Boston-branded, too.

    I’m buying a Stanley-Bostitch® Antimicrobial Manual Pencil Sharpener next.

  35. just bought a new xacto sharpner to replace my 25 yr old boston. It is poorly constructed ie the indexing hole doesn’t line up with the hole for the cutting head . very disapointed

  36. Just left a message but forgot. You should all look up the history of Westclox on the internet. Do you remember those great American made clocks. So sad.It could happen to all of our manufacturers.

  37. I have been annoyed for a number of years at the companies in the U.S. who are selling out to the Chinese. And then our U.S. representatives don’t represent the American People in getting our jobs back into the U.S. and companies in production here. Do you wonder why so many people are out of work? Any ideas anyone?

    1. It happened over the last 70 years. Constant shifts of manufacturing to countries with lower labor costs, non-existent environmental regulations and poor protections for workers.
      Why? So we could buy things cheap at Walmart. Doesn’t matter if things break. They’re cheap. Just replace them.

      In fact, there are companies that deliberately include design flaws so that things do in fact wear out shortly after the warranty expires. They’ll sell you a warranty so you are “protected”.

      On the other hand there’s Auto manufacturers that will sell you a car that lasts twice as long as a comparable American Made car.

  38. Heh… I found this while looking for Boston Sharpener info for my Vintage eBay ad:

    I have to agree with both the comments and the article. Manual beats electric, AND American made really is superior and ought to mean more to us ‘Merkins than it does.

    We are all so attuned to the WALMART mentality that cheaper is better, even if you have to replace it 10x, rather than spend $2x on it up-front, but hey we can always dig another landfill, and as long as we recycle, we’re cool.

    Don’t mistake this for xenophobia, I also believe that every culture and region needs to take more pride-in-ownership, and manufacture where they are based. I live near Hershey, and they ALMOST moved production to Mexico… forgive me, but a chocolate bar from Mexico is no longer a Hershey bar in my opinion.

    Simply put, corporate greed & profit-hungry shareholders drive it, while skilled American laborers become unemployed or employed in unrelated fields… usually the service industry.

    We need a 21st Century Industrial Revolution!

  39. Where can you find an American made pencil sharpener? The only one that actually worked for me in the classroom was a Panosonic. (It lasted over 3 years!!!!)

  40. We had a Boston hanging near the cellar stairs, when I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. It worked very well, and probably dated back to the late 30’s or early 40’s. In the ?turn of the century rooming house I now rent, there is also a Boston KS hanging a bit too far for me to reach easily. It works, but not as well as I remember. Wish I had the old one. Speaking of old ones, I inherited a Pilot 402 stapler, the one into which you insert the staple row into a slot on the open top. The staples are held by a fitted ‘pusher’ at the end of metal tape which is spring loaded. Not the best description…. It probably dates to the ’50s or earlier. I accidently left it at a Post Office. When I went to claim it, the gent said he was sorry that I remembered where I left it, and that all the guys wanted him to lie about finding it. It works. Flawlessly. The PO guys were using it, because “It works better than anything I’ve seen in 30-40 years.” Every stapler I ever bought (I’m 62) has basically s$%^&*ed. This one looks like a pterydactyl and runs like a Rolls Royce. Thank God for honest PO guys, who really did not want to give it up. Maybe I can will it to someone! I just found this web/blog and am enjoying it immensely. kjh. VIVA VINTAGE!!!

    1. Anything that old is likely no longer covered by patent protection, so in theory, an American company could simply take one of these apart, design machinery to produce the parts and put it together again.

      The problem though will be just as it is with low quality imported goods:low quality American produced goods.

      I’ve been told recently of an American company that produced a product made of steel. The product was previously produced outside the USA. The American Manufacturer used a steel part which should have been tempered during its production but was not. The resulting product, sold at a trade show was a disaster. In many cases, the product, used as intended, simply shattered. They ended up replacing the American manufactured product with the previous foreign sourced product.

      1. Author

        Agree. Offshoring has taken away the whole production cycle and supply chain, in a studied way.


  42. I found this website after being annoyed with every pencil sharpener I bought, then looking for a better one. First I read all the reviews of sharpeners on amazon. I came to the conclusion then that my only hope was to find a vintage one.

    There were many to choose from on eBay, but which to choose? I was contemplating several vintage Bostons that looked to be in excellent condition and was looking for more hints on which might be best or which might be best avoided when I stumbled on this site. Boy was I glad I did!

    I read the above comment about Mr. Decoff on eBay and immediately went back to check out his store and feedback. It all sounds wonderful and I put in my order immediately! Thank you! My son’s teacher will also be getting one this year for Christmas. I can’t wait to get them!

    However, I must say I’m still oddly fascinated with the vintage sharpeners. I may have to start a small collection of them. Shhh. Don’t tell my husband!

  43. I will agree with the piece of junk Xacto sharpener. I am fully frustrated by the things made over seas. I am one that has made things in the orient and imported them in my company. Some are good but not like USA good. Come on folks buy American lets get the USA back on its feet. PS I ran into this site trying to find a USA built sharpener while I cussed at the Xacto one we have.

  44. I would have to disagree a little bit with your views. Boston made great pencil sharpeners, we still have some of their model KS in our school from 20 years ago and they can sharpen a new pencil in under 8 seconds.

    Unfortunately, when they were taken over by Elmer’s and merged under the names of Boston, X-acto, and Hunt, they started using cheap parts and their pencil sharpeners are pieces of junk. I vehemently disagree that X-acto is a great brand – they are a cheap brand that makes terrible pencil sharpeners. Unfortunately, nowadays there are very few companies that make pencil sharpeners, and there are very few alternatives for teachers.

    But when there is a void, there is always someone to step in. A teacher decided to make his own pencil sharpeners and sell them on ebay. Now, hundreds of teachers are buying his pencil sharpeners in place of the garbage put out by Boston, X-acto, Hunt, and whatever other name they are using. (Just as an aside, you can tell what kind of company they are when they have to sell the same pencil sharpeners under 3 different brand names.)

    I do not know this person selling the sharpeners on ebay personally, but I am glad someone stepped up to fill this void. In case you are interested, his user name on ebay is mr.decoffs_classroom_supplies (You can find his pencil sharpeners by going to ebay, clicking on advanced search, and on the left click on find by seller).

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