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This Iowan has collected pencils for 30 years. With nearly 70,000 he now has a world record.

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Miss Peggy Bennett had a surprise for her first-grade class in 1993.

She passed out pencils with colorful designs as Christmas gifts to her students in Albert Lea, Minnesota. The gesture turned a holiday present into a lifelong passion of collecting pencils for her former student Aaron Bartholmey.

“It’s one of those things that kind of kept growing and growing,” Bartholmey, now 37, told the Register.

This fall, the Colfax man claimed the Guinness World Records title for largest collection of pencils.

How Aaron Bartholmey brought his record pencil collection to Iowa

Throughout his childhood, Bartholmey visited flea markets and antique shows with his grandfather. From there, he started searching for pencils — something cheap and small to collect — at the markets while his grandpa perused for items.

Bartholmey continued his collection and began connecting with others who did the same, including members of the American Pencil Collectors Society. Eventually, his stock grew to more than 70,000 pencils.

He later taught in southwest Iowa before teaching for 10 years in central Iowa.

The Wartburg College graduate stores his pencils in metal card catalog cabinets in his garage and drawers, containers and cigar boxes in his basement.

“I love the ones that are the most unique and unusual,” Bartholmey said, noting that it’s hard to pick a favorite when you have 70,000 of something. 

His collection includes pencils from presidential campaigns that span back to the 1920s, several from World War eras when “extreme patriotism” was at its peak, he said, and one from 1915 that advertised for converting gravel roads.

Did Bartholmey erase the previous Guinness World Record?

On July 1, a mid-summer Saturday, dozens poured into the Colfax Historical Society about 25 minutes outside of downtown Des Moines. The flock of folks were present to watch a count, which began at 8 a.m., for the could-be largest collection of pencils.

Members of the American Pencil Collectors Society were present to count the collection, as well as non-interested parties who counted every last one, per Guinness World Records rules.

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The two non-interested counters, with no ties to pencils or Bartholmey, counted throughout the day. One counter would go high on one box and the other would count lower on another box. They totaled the lowest number available.

“I was fine with that because I knew that would still mean that I would break the previous record,” Bartholmey said.

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The final count totaled 69,255 pencils. Then, the wait began. Bartholomy had to pause for 12 weeks to find out if he would be certified as the newest Guinness World Records holder in his category.

‘It’s a lot of memories and connections I’ve made’

It’s been 30 years since Bartholmey received those colorful pencils for Christmas.

The pencils from his childhood were not included in the world record count. They are still boxed up at his parent’s house in Minnesota. But this summer, he dug through.

Then, Bartholmey unboxed those original pencils from Miss Bennett.

“It’s a lot of memories and connections that I’ve made with different pencils,” he said.

And when summer became fall, Bartholmey was named a Guinness Worlds Records holder on Oct. 9.

Jay Stahl is an entertainment reporter at The Des Moines Register. Follow him on Instagram or reach out at

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