"I wonder whether those little silver pencil-cases with a movable almanack at the butt-end are still favourite implements with boys, and whether pedlars still hawk them about the country? Are there pedlars and hawkers still, or are rustics and children grown too sharp to deal with them? Those pencil-cases, as far as my memory serves me, were not of much use. The screw, upon which the movable almanack turned, was constantly getting loose. The 1 of the table would work from its moorings, under Tuesday or Wednesday, as the case might be, and you would find, on examination, that Th. or W. was the 231/2 of the month (which was absurd on the face of the thing), and in a word your cherished pencil-case was an utterly unreliable time-keeper. Nor was this a matter of wonder. Consider the position of a pencil-case in a boy's pocket. You had hard-bake in it; marbles, kept in your purse when your money was all gone; your mother's purse, knitted so fondly and supplied with a little bit of gold, long since -- prodigal little son! -- scattered amongst the swine -- I mean amongst brandy-balls, open tarts, three-cornered puffs, and similar abominations. You had a top and string; a knife; a piece of cobbler's wax, two or three bullets, a Little Warbler; and I, for my part, remember, for a considerable period, a brass-barrelled pocket-pistol (which would fire beautifully, for with it I shot off a button from Butt Major's jacket); with all these things, .....how could you expect your movable almanack not to be twisted out of its place now and again -- your pencil-case to be bent ... and so forth?
In the month of June, 37 years ago, I bought one of those pencil-cases from a boy whom I shall call Hawker, and who was in my form. Is he dead? Is he a millionaire? Is he a bankrupt now? He was an immense screw at school, and I believe to this day that the value of the thing for which I owed and eventually paid three-and-sixpence, was in reality not one-and nine."
Drawn from Life William Makepeace Thackeray
Selected and edited by Margaret Forster