This post is part of a series of daily posts during National Stationery Week 2018! To find out more about National Stationery Week visit their website or read the rest of my posts for this exciting week here. Today the theme is #penandpencil so I’m going to look into the exciting history of the pencil and tell you everything you never knew about pencils.
Ok so you might be thinking, a pencil? I don’t need to know anything more about a pencil thank you very much it’s pretty simple. Well you might just be surprised. It’s one of the simplest tools that almost everyone owns yet it’s not simple at all. There is much more to the pencil than meets the eye. Read on to find out some fascinating facts all about the humble analogue tool we all know and love.
The word ‘Pencil’ comes from the word ‘Penis’
Sorry I couldn’t help but start with a cheeky one. But really, the word for pencil comes from the word ‘penis’! Well, kind of… In actual fact the ‘pencil’ comes from the Roman word used to denote a fine pointed brush which itself came from the word ‘penis’. The word for ‘Pen’ also shares this origin. I’m guessing you’ll be looking at your pens/pencils a little differently from now on hey? I’m just kidding, I’m a child. Please ignore my terrible sense of humour.
The first appearance of a modern pencil was in 1565
The oldest pencil is the Carpenters Pencil (pictured below) and was found in the roof of a 17th century German house. So that means that the modern pencil is over 450 years old! That truly demonstrates the staying power of the humble pencil. If we’ve been using it for over 450 years then surely it can stand the test of the digital age. Even more amazing is that the earliest example of a mechanical pencil was found in a shipwreck that sank in 1791 which means the mechanical pencil, an object some may view as a modern incarnation of the pencil proper is actually over 200 years old!
There is a shop in New York dedicated to Pencils
CW Pencil Enterprise is a shop dedicated to the love and passion of pencils. They were founded online in 2014 by Caroline Weaver and the NYC store was opened in March 2015! They stock an incredible range of pencils for absolutely everyone. Caroline believes that everyone has their perfect pencil and if you come to her store she can help you find it. CW also produce a quarterly pencil subscription box but it currently has a waiting list and is sadly only available in the US at this time. You can watch this fascinating video that tells you more about this amazing store below.
Pencils don’t contain lead
The ‘lead’ in a pencil is actually a mixture of graphite and clay. A deposit of graphite was found in Cumberland in the UK iduring the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This was mistakenly thought to be lead and the name stuck. It’s so far the purest and most solid deposit of graphite in the world and Britain had a monopoly on graphite for a long time. The amount of each ingredient in penci ‘lead’ defines how hard or soft a pencil will be. If there’s less clay the pencil will be softer meaning it deposits more graphite and leaves a blacker mark. If it’s the reverse the pencil will be harder and won’t need sharpening as often. This is were all the Hs and Bs come in to pencil grades. H stands for hard and B for black!
Martin Luther King organised a Pencil Boycott in 1964
When pencil manufacture was a big industry pencil barons were actually at the forefront of changes in the labour market. But in 1964 Martin Luther King organised a boycott of Scripto pencils as they exclusively employed black women reasoning that they could pay them the least! Thankfully they took notice and the protest became part of a bigger civil rights movement. Thank you humble pencil for playing your part in this important history.
There is a Podcast all about Pencils
That’s right if you are a podcast addict like I am and if you love pencils then you can learn all about them via audio with the Erasable Podcast! There are now 94 episodes all dedicated to the world of pencils! They discuss everything from new pencil offerings to the culture around the pencil such as their use in space! The presenters also have blogs dedicated to pencils which you can also check out to learn a lot more about the incredible world of pencils.
The worlds most expensive pencil is valued at $12,800
That is one pricey pencil. The pencil in question is the Graf Von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil. It’s crafted from 240 year old olive wood and has a built in sharpener and eraser. The end piece and extender are made from white gold palladium and feature 3 diamonds underneath the Faber-Castell logo. Only 10 were made and now only 5 are left in the entire world! If you want to put that price into perspective you could get 14,213 Staedtler Noris HB pencils with eraser tops for this amount of money!
So there’s everything you never needed to know about pencils!
What do you think? Do you have a new found respect for pencils? Or do you have a favourite signature pencil? Let me know in the comments!
I owe a lot of the credit to the facts in this post to the book Stationery Fever and their incredibly informative chapter on the pencil. If you’re interested in the culture and history around specific stationery items then this book is a great choice. You can get it on Amazon here.