Interactive Conceptual Art
A Broken Pencil that was offered for sale on eBay by Jonathan FeBland


During February, 2006 it suddenly struck me as a good idea to advertise a broken pencil for sale on eBay. Within minutes the advert was posted and I started to get more and more ideas. Initially, there wasn’t even a photo to go with the ad but as time progressed (the auction covered a 10-day period) I added some interesting photos which captured the imagination of the public (there were 5000 visitors within the 10-day life of the advertisement).
I fielded about 70 questions from members of the public while the auction was in progress and these range in style from humour to art to music to literature (and others). Many of the questions asked were rather surreal and I answered them ‘in kind’.
The auction also attracted a radio audience and was ‘plugged’ on British Radio by BBC Radio 5 Live and London’s LBC (as well as some smaller stations such as Heart FM).

In the first half of 2006 I also advertised the following items on eBay: An Invisible Elephant, The opportunity to be locked in my cupboard for 60 seconds, an odd sock, the Square of the Hypotenuse, a fake tram ticket, an empty plastic water bottle and about fifty other such lots.



This portfolio of eccentric auctions was entered (although not shortlisted) for the Turner Prize 2006 perhaps the leading Art award in the World.


Something that may amuse is the various different methods that the lucky winners of the auctions were invited to settle their account with me.


Seller's payment instructions
Cash, Cheques, Bills of Exchange, Promissory Notes, Una and the Lion coins of 1839, Cape of Good Hope Triangulars, Heal's Sofas (new), Payment in 'kind', Freebies, Exclusive contracts, Sinecures, Properties in the Maldives, Contemporary Antiques, M&S vouchers, Kiwi Fruit (boxed), Round-the-World hitchhiking tours, Snappy Moon Units, A Season Ticket for the 'Royal Box', Purple Frisbies, The solution to the meaning of life, string (lots), other.






Q.  How many pieces is the pencil broken into and is it HB. Thank you.


A. Good Question & many thanks for asking it. You do not strike me AT ALL as a timewaster and therefore I will try to give you a full and compleat answer to your question. First of all, we are not dealing here with an ordinary pencil. This is a Purple 'Professional Quality' W H Smith Pencil (B not HB, by the way) ref. no. EAN 5562. It is a real shame that I do not have a photo for this item as the colourisation is really something to behold. Purple/White stripe/Black tip/Gold lettering it could be considered a mini work of ART if you were that way inclined (which I am not). Now, to answer the other (second) part of your question. Is it broken, or is it just that the end has snapped off (and that it is still 'nearly' full-length? The choice is yours. In any case, I consider it broken - nothing a little sharpening couldn't rectify perhaps, but (sad to report) I am short (to the tune of one) on the pencil sharpener front. Hoping this answers your question and that you may indeed now go full steam ahead and 'Bid with Confidence' (I like that phrase so much, I'm thinking of having it put on my tombstone).



Q.  How long is the unbroken part? What hardness is the pencil eg H, B, 2H etc regards.


A.  The broken part is extremely short (in the context of normal pencil lengths) in fact I would go so far as to say that the pencil is only a wee bit short of full size. The unbroken part (on the other hand) is extremely long. I was almost going to write 'almost longer than a normal pencil', but that would have been a terminological inexactitude. The pencil is a B (B) single B not double B or 2B (or not to be). Regards.



Q.  PS I live in Edgware can I collect?


A.  If you wish to collect, that is your choice, however, I will probably wear one of my famous disguises when I greet you. Interestingly enough, I used to have a Batman suit when I was 8 y.o. sadly, that no longer fits so I will probably wear something less obvious or more subtle depending on which way you look at it. In any case, ask for Professor Frog and you won't go far wrong.



Q.  Are you a pencil dealer or is this a one-off sale?


A.  I have been accused of many things in my life, but this is the first time that this most heinous insult has been cast upon me. 'Pencil Dealer'? 'PENCIL DEALER'! I absolutely refute this suggestion. Well, to be technical, I don't actually refute it, but I do deny it, so take it whichever way it best hits you (preferably below the belt)...j/k... that means just kidding btw (which means by the way). And in answer to part B of your question (no pun intended) this is indeed a one-off sale, you have it in writing. It is the last, final and concluding broken pencil that I will ever sell on (or off) eBay with a unique signed, dated COA (Certificate of Authenticity) stating as much. I hope that this answers the question (and if not, sorry to have wasted your valuable time). Cheers.






Q.  Do u have any broken pens or rubbers for sale or is it just the pencil?


A. Seriously sensible question and congratulations for asking it. Are you a Pub philosopher by any chance? After searching carefully around the abode I have to state with some regret that it is just the broken pencil I am offering on this esteemed occasion. As the Bard might have put it: 'Why Gild the Lily?'


Q.  Can it be invisibly repaired?


A.  Thanks for the question. I am feeling a little Pencilled-out right now, so could I please ask you to give me a fuller explanation of your question in about 13 1/2 hours time after I come back from a bit of late-night kayaking. Incidentally, do you know if there are any good 2nd hand kayaks on eBay at the moment, mine is getting a bit past it. Thanks for your bid by the way, you know it's worth it! Cheers, J19. 



Q.  How long before the photographs become available? Will you be able to forward .jpg's by e-mail for closer inspection?


A.  I am waiting for my friend Mr.B to come round for a spot of tiffin and to help create some photographic images of the above.



Q.  Hi. I would like to investigate how the pencil came to be injured. Hopefully it was not on purpose. Marianne (Pencil and Biro Union).


A.  The said article sustained the injury during a tobogganing incident. Further details are sketchy (no pun intended).






Q.  Would the pencil be long enough to place one piece in each ear and look as if a pencil had actually passed through both ears?


A.  Keep this phrase in mind at all times when bidding for this item: 'Normal Pencil Activity'.



Q.   I have a used Whigfield single CD, would you consider a swap for this rare item?


A.   Interesting proposal, but sadly have to decline on this occasion as I am tone deaf and cannot appreciate contemporary pop music.



Q.   Would you consider second class postage?


A.   Tell you what... you pay for first class, I'll flip a coin and if it comes up tails, I'll post it second class anyway. How does that sound?



Q.   If I win the item and pay the £3.31 optional insurance, will this cover the item against breakage?


A.   Nice idea. Are you a Lloyds ‘name’ by any chance?



Q.   Is the pencil still in working condition, can it be sharpened? Also how old is the pencil?


A.   a) it is in working condition i.e. functional b) it can indeed be sharpened c) Late 1990's (but don't hold me to that).




Q.   Does the pencil come from the WHS set illustrated over at their website?  If so, would you consider a buy now price?


A.   A 'buy now' price to my mind is against the spirit of competitive bidding. Does that make me a capitalist? Discuss.



Q.   'Buy now' is a fundamentally capitalist concept, since it favours people such as myself who can afford to buy an item such as this outright without haggling one's way up the bidding cycle.


A.   I think I get your drift now. If I joined the Green Party might this change my outlook on life?



Q.   Last time I purchased a pencil here it arrived broken - kind of an extra. Has your pencil been chewed ?


A.   Thus far, it has not been chewed. I could arrange for some canine chewing if this might attract more bidders. I will await further reaction.



Q.   If you joined Amnesty International I might be impressed. Listen, if you organise canine chewing I will have no alternative but to withdraw my winning bid!


A.   Your point noted. I will keep the dog out of the equation. Have an enriching weekend.



Q.   Would it be possible to supply details on where I can obtain a splint?


A.   Sorry, but I don't smoke those kind of things.








Q.   WOW @ last. I’ve always dreamt of owning a broken pencil & thanks 2 eBay, I can now fulfill my dream. Would u consider a swap for x3 empty cans of Dandelion & Burdock (circa 2005) uncrushed?


A.   Swapping is not an option on this particular lot - sorry! However, I might be interested in a counter-swap with a new 'secret' item I have only just discovered. Will wait to hear from you again. Keep Sundays Special.   



Q.   My husband is watching this item - no idea why. What kind of dog is it?


A.   At last, a relevant question full of vitality (which is more than can be said of the hound - j/k). A young(ish) Welsh Springer Spaniel (try Google Images) who visits me regularly once a week with his owner (alias Papa).



Q.   As the pencil is broken, does it still have the full allocation of lead? A pencil with no lead is no good to anyone!


A.   I refuse to answer questions like this as they contain innuendo which might be offensive to under-21's ~ but here's a joke for you anyway. Man: 'Doctor, I haven't had an organism for three months'. Doctor: 'That's because you're incompetent'.



Q.   Could you please display a photo of the writing style of the pencil... will it write in Ariel Bold?


A.   Ariel Bold, let me think, isn't he a full back for Arab Emirates United?








Q.   You will notice an inverse correlation between the number of questions and bidders on this item. Years of experience have taught me that this represents a significant disingenuousness on the part of those faux-naïf posers of questions. Questions as to splints and the like are red herrings and are meant to take your focus from us, the genuine bidders. My advice, therefore, is that you consider vetting the bidders beforehand and examine their testimonials (if you so wish), because what I can predict is that at the very end, all these posers will rush at the proverbial gate, drive up the price ludicrously, and in the frenzy not be in a position to pay you. This will leave you disgruntled and forced to either sell the item to a trader in Burlington arcade for a song, or re-list it and risk the whole shenanigans again. You could of course just accept my wholly reasonable offer of ninety-two English pence and have a nice weekend.


A.   Owing to sleep depravity, I feel I cannot really do this inestimable question justice at this unholy hour of the morning. Thanks for asking it though - I am sure it will give countless hours of pleasure to future visitors of this page.



Q.   Can I use the Q&A under your listing to promote my new website 


A.   Only if it is a commercial site, I'd hate to think you were losing money on the deal.



Q.   Dear Auctioneer, I am afraid you have left me no alternative but to offer up one of my own pencils for auction. As you did not accept my previous offer of 92p, I am now forced to liquidate funds in order to continue bidding on this item. For your reference, my auction is under Obscure Writing Implements, furthermore, you will note that it is not broken. regards etc.


A.   Only too happy to give you a plug at my page dear boy, as they say in East Timor, 'What goes around comes around'. I'd also like to propose a toast: 'To Pencil-pushers everywhere, Happy Belated Chinese New Year'.



Q.   Hi, I'm the current winning bidder. I also live in Leeds. Can I collect? Thanks, Rikky.


A.   Hi Rikky & Many thanx 4 your Leeding bid (pun intended). I am happy to invite whoever wins this auction round to my place for tea and crumpet and to view some of the more obscure objets d'art in my humble collection. If we start getting into silly money I might even consider throwing in a signed, framed, original watercolour. However, we still have to define 'silly' and this would be strictly on a 'buyer collects' basis as I don't believe in posting more than 4 items per decade and I'm already close to fulfilling my quota.







Q.   Has this pencil been sharpened, if so do you have the original shavings?


A.   Personally, I have not actually sharpened it, this being due to my lack of the relevant professional equipment. If you read some of the earliest questions fielded, you may gain some insight into the Qi of this article. Having not sharpened it, I cannot plead guilty to ownership of the shavings, many apologies. Nonetheless, hope you have a joyful end to the week.



Q.   I have the winning bid currently, if I do win, would you consider coffee and crumpet instead of tea? I much prefer a double espresso to plain tea. Mind you if you had Lapsang Souchong I might be tempted to get into 'silly' money territory with my bids.


A.   Let me throw this question back at you: What do you call a drink consisting of decaffeinated coffee, skimmed milk and sugar substitute (granted the boiled water is more or less authentic)? If we're talking really silly money, I might have to throw in a dining experience at one of the local chop-houses along with the painting and a box of tea of your own choice as I do actually believe in giving value for money.



Q.   We now really up the stakes on this great very popular and fantastic first! Would you be prepared to sell to the first person to offer you £1000 and no messing about?


A.   Very interesting proposal. Qu. How many Conceptual Artists does it take to change a Lightbulb? Ans. Are you joking? We couldn't even be bothered to make the bed.



Q.   does pencil come with sheasth, sheaf?...does write black yes,...will last for a long time as i can use for long time thanks!


A.   Is just pencil. No Sheep. For you, I do special price. Is good, yes?



Q.   the foreigners seem to have crept in


A.   I am sorry, but I just cannot condone this Xenophobic attitude. Both Money & Pencils are Universal and I have already made it clear that Xu or Dong will need to be converted into Sterling. Finally a poser for you: How many Ningis are there to the Pu?



Q.   Xenophobia is not to be condoned at all, I totally agree. In fact I always carry a supply of RMB. You may find this instructive :


A.   No comment. Going offline for a bit now. AFK (away from keyboard) I am going to try my luck at another vigorous outdoor pursuit. The codeword is Rosebud.







Q.   sheath no sheep! im not foreign im in london. nevr mock the dark side. does pencil write black??? king felix knows all.


A.   king felix isn't the sharpest speller in the pack/which is one thing at least he has in common with the pencil (which writes in black).



Q.   I trust you are not confusing xenophobia with Xanadu. I once confused Orson Wells with Tunbridge Wells. However, to get back to the matter at hand, I had a broken pencil once that got accidentally glued together. If, to add this one to my vast collection, I bid an huge amount of monies, is there a guarantee?


A.   You got the Rosebud connection then? I might sound a little pedantic, but Orson actually had an extra 'e' in his surname ~ Welles. Now, getting back to the nitty gritty. I absolutely guarantee that there is no guarantee with this pencil, only a C.O.A. as previously indicated.



Q.   Hi, I need to know how this pencil came to be broken. I am a professional pencil analyst, and as I'm sure you know, the way a pencil is broken can unravel a persons total state of mind from birth to death. If for instance, said pencil was broken through sheer sexual frustration, I strongly recommend you end this auction immediately and swap this poor unfortunate writing implement with my current video listed separately at eBay!


A.   Thanks for the offer, but I make it my policy never to accept professional advice. Images of the Pencil are now showing @



Q.   I don't want the bloody pencil but I'm bidding anyway just to thwart your scurrilous endeavour.


A.   I'm guessing here, but that must be an example of half past three in the morning logic.








Q.   It is most unusual that I am LED in this tragic broken writing implement's direction. I am most appreciative of this work of interactive performance Art you have created. My wife has now put her hand over the opportunity of owning this now World renowned artist’s accessory and is now looking forward to creating limited edition works. Can I ask you if you would consider apportioning some of the proceeds from this auction to charity as she would?


A.   I'd like to take THE (i.e. Beethoven's) fifth on this one.



Q.   Has this collectable piece been evaluated for a school type Karate chop break. I am an expert on this as I hold the school record in 1975 for the most pencils karate chopped without breaking my skin...


A.   Not necessarily my problem, but if you wish to further damage the pencil (either through karate-chopping or 'other') it will invalidate the C.O.A. and could also lead to a Worldwide crisis in the Arts.



Q.   Just a point. Taking the 5th (Ludwig) is not appropriate, Karl-Heinz was a stronger proponent of the interactive aspect. Mind you Cage would have been proud of you too you could call it 7 days and 33 seconds maybe.


A.   FWIW: I bumped into John Cage in the 1980s outside the Almeida Theatre, Islington (literally, not metaphorically).



Q.   Interesting: 4' 33'' is the only piano piece I play well.


A.   It makes an ideal Intermezzo for the Hammerklavier and Op.111





The last pencil


Q.   I arranged a chance meeting with him, but he never tuned up.


A.   How paisibly eirenical.



Q.   Or a fine encore to BWV 988


A.   <:))))))------<  



Q.   Was that an aleatoric fish in response to my Goldberg?


A.   Let's try and stay focused, people; Some of us have got an iconic asset to dispose of. Please leave people like Mr. Goldberg & his aleatoric fish in their apposite pigeonhole.



Q.   I have increased my bid because the picture of the pencil seems to suggest it as not as broken as previously thought.


A.   How very wise. Watch out for new images coming up every day now!



Q.   I'm saddened! This is a girlie pencil what does not appear as broken as my heart once viewed! The mystery surrounding the lot has faded. I shall watch it either way, but still ... Now that you have tempted us with its beauty; Have you any pictures of the underside?


A.   I was over at the old Temple of Athena last night, snapping a few off for the website, so do not fear, pictures of the underbelly will soon be with you. In either case The B.L.O.G. 'Earl' has now been identified hither and thither (here) at the Official* Page - track this down & a Pandora's Box of piccies will be yours to gape at while you eat grapes.







Q.   How much to post to Hatfield in Hertfordshire? Would pay for shipping/air taxes and courier.


A.   If you are referring to the Hatfield, Hertfordshire which is in Pakistan, it will be at my enhanced rate. Thank you for your attention. I remain yours etc.



Q.   He wrote bafflingly with, for no art shop would supply, because of the known shortage of pencils, pencils, pencils.


A.   because I do not hope to



Q.   I am a broken man on a broken planet. What would your broken pencil do for me?


A.   What would the Venus de Milo do for you?



Q.   As a broker(n) in broken(r) inscription instruments, I have to express my appreciation of your unique exhibit, however the council do feel at this stage that we have to express an interest in the greater whole. Without extending my stay of welcome, I wish to propose that we look at far more intrinsic elements associated with the unique concepts we choose to portray here. We have a broken 'quill' made from a real feather which dates back to 902 A.D. We have now developed broken writing to support the 'broken writing implement' - we have recently taken delivery of a fine broken nib...we now have it on good authority that the nib is platinum....not explaining the lack of broken writing implements to deal with the situation....we are looking at all aspects of the 'broken communication means' to ensure we deliver what we promise... BTW, can I buy your 'pencil' for a tenner?


A.   No.



Q.   I have in my posession a propelling pencil with the propensity to perpetuate pap. Is your product panacea or placebo?


A.   I refuse on grounds of unconsciousness caused by a local time of 04.55 to try to tongue-twist my way out of a leading question set by someone with an I.Q. several cms higher than an Oxford Don.



Q.   I am heartbroken I found the perfect thing and you want pounds , have none what about all the time I am going to have to spend explaining that this is not a terroist plot.


A.   GBP (formerly LSD) is what we use over here (call us old-fashioned) and until a World Currency is initiated to put an end to currency speculation currently running to a Trillion USD+ per day, it is upon which I will insist. Hoping that this makes cents & thanking you in advance for your inattention.



Q.   If your pencil could write, what would it reveal?


A.   That I am neither scripophilist nor taxonomist.








Q.   What is the proper aim of broken art?


A.   Some Art is so great that even when fragmented it has value running into seven (plus) figurines. 'My Sphinx has no nose'. 'How does it smell'? 'Terrible'! But getting back to the point; you can simply leave the words 'broken' (& 'proper') out of your Q. and now you have posed the central question of meta-Art (basically, the Philosophy of Art) - What is the aim of art? And that answer merits a whole book. Let me know if you find such a tome (for weighty shall it be)! As for my trifle, it would have been classified by Duchamp as a Readymade (something I always used to confuse with an objet trouvé). Mercie pour votre attention et avoir un bon nuit divin. On dirait un croisement entre votre OuiOui et un kiwi. ...Bon, je serai bref. Je tenais juste à féliciter Sand et Ctrlz pour avoir eu le DEUG avec Docteur Poisson lui même.


Q.   What is the nature of life (and of the universe in which we live)? And do you accept PayPal?


A.   (Easy). Life is a game where you have to work out the rules on the hoof; The Universe is where it all takes place... and no, I do not accept PayPal.



Q.   Could it be a rare upside-down, left-handed broken pencil perchance? This would greatly affect the value to a collector such as myself.


A.   I think that you've been looking a little too closely at your monitor and have been fooled by the parallax of the trompe l'oeil cuased by my snappy snapshots.



Q.   Of every job an artist undertakes, whether it be writing a novel or planting a bush, he asks: 'What is this for?' rather than 'What will this bring me?' - What is this for?


A.   What is Beethoven's Eroica for? Well, that's a stupid question? It's for demonstrating good E flat writing, but back to the point... This certified object is a Churchillian enigma, a paradigm of exegesis (critical explanation or analysis) and furthermore it is its own solipsism. But enough of the long words already, its time for a cup of Koko (no reference to the Mikado intended).



Q.   Crikey! You iz sum sort of jeenyuss mefinks! Ur dead clever. How much 4 ur brain?


A.   Dear Spikey-Viking, thank you for your off-beat remarks which are highly encouraging. Please keep in mind what all of the senior members of my family have been saying for the last thirty or so years, namely: 'don't encourage him!' In any case, good night and a very merry evening indeed.



Q.   Where is the point?


A.   The point of the pencil is missing. The point of this advert is to sell something ridiculous. The point of this page as a work of conceptual art will need to be considered by the public and by (dare I say it) arts professionals (and critics etc.) to discover what the point is and indeed whether there actually is a point. Point taken?



Q.   Is this broken pencil more suited to not drawing than not writing?


A.   For the record (a CD of Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony with Rattle twirling the baton), it is better suited to not etching.


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