Albert Lea native to break Guinness World Record

Published 6:12 pm Thursday, August 3, 2023

Some people collect coins, some comic books and others wine. Aaron Bartholmey, an Albert Lea native and Colfax, Iowa, resident, collects pencils — so many in fact he’s now the unofficial world record holder.

“I’m not officially the world record holder yet,” he said.”I’ve done the count, submitted everything to Guinness but I have to wait for them to send approval before I’m officially the record holder.”

For him, there’s a history to pencils he appreciates and wanted to preserve it.

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“I collect mostly wooden advertising pencils,” he said, noting he had pencils from different states and countries.

Every pencil must be wooden and unsharpened.

“It started [that way] because those were the cheaper ones,” he said. “Bullets and mechanicals were all more expensive, and the wooden ones were cheaper so that was easy for me to start young with spending my allowance.”

Bartholmey described his hobby as “fun,” especially looking for them at flea markets and perusing booths and tables, though he admitted one of the hardest parts was finding pencils he didn’t have.

To keep track of things, he has a spreadsheet, though he said part of it was having a good memory.

“You’re certainly not going to get it right every time,” he said. “When you’ve been doing it as long as I have there are certain ones that you recognize that I’ll be, ‘Yep, I’ve seen that before, I don’t need that one.’”

At the same time, he admitted he’ll buy a pencil he already owned by mistake, though doing that had a benefit: It gave him trading stock for the next pencil convention where he could sell it to a different collector.

He started collecting wooden pencils 30 years ago as a first grader at Sibley Elementary School, when his teacher, current District Rep. 23A Peggy Bennett, gave students pencils as a holiday gift.

“My family has always been collectors,” he said, adding he decided to save the pencil rather than sharpen it.

From there, he started antiquing with his grandfather, where they would go out to flea markets and antique shows every summer, something he said was fun. It also helped that collecting pencils was cheap and easy.

He still travels to flea markets and antique shops across the Midwest, and his advice for others was to look in places where people had boxes of junk that required sorting through. 

According to Bartholmey, his collection spans over 70,000 pencils, though the number he submitted for the record was 69,255. 

In order to count, members of the American Pencil Collectors Society, of which Bartholemy is a member, had to count during a public event at the Colfax Historical Society July 1. Pencils were stored in one of 470 boxes. Among the collection is a pencil from the country’s Sesquicentennial in 1926 and another from World War II.

Bartholmey said he keeps his pencils in boxes and drawers at his home, with half in the garage and the other in the basement. Everything was sorted by city, state and advertising, among other categories.

“The first counter counted the first box, we recorded his number and then passed it off to the second counter and he counted the same box and recorded his number,” he said. “We went through all 470 boxes that way.”

They started at 8 a.m. and, with the exception for a few breaks, continued until 9 p.m. They also counted for another five hours the next day.

Counting also gave Bartholmey a chance to display his pencil collection during the open event.

Currently, his plan is to keep the pencils at his home and continue collecting.

“The museum has talked about maybe having some sort of display with my collections and give it another reason to put Colfax on the map,” he said.

Visitors have also been impressed with the collection, particularly the size and variety.

Collecting pencils also lets him be unique, something he prides himself on. And the pencils provide some history, something he appreciates as a self-proclaimed “history buff.”

“It’s a chance to learn about parts of history that maybe don’t show up in school,” he said.

Collecting also provided him an excuse to travel.

The American Pencil Collectors Society, which has been in existence since the 1950s, trades pencils and networks.

“We’ve got about 135 active members from about 30 different states and a couple overseas,” he said.

The Collectors Society also holds biennial conventions and produces bimonthly newsletters.

His advice to anyone thinking about starting a collection of something: Find something you love and are interested in.

Bartholmey sent the paperwork claiming the world record on July 20.