1. Pencils with leads made of actual lead were used by the Egyptians and Romans. Artists were reported to use sharpened sticks of graphite as early as the 16th century. Rumor has it that the actual birth of the pencil came when a tree was blasted apart by lightning, and happened to be growing over a graphite deposit, and when people were cleaning up the mess, they discovered that sticks with graphite on them worked great to write with. We're not sure whether this is true. We do know that, in 1795, Nicholas Conté invented the process of producing leads for proper pencils, by firing a mixture of graphite clay.

  2. In 1824, "John Thoreau & Son," a pencil manufacturing business, was founded by Henry David Thoreau and his dad. Really. Thoreau pencils were very much in demand as a superior writing instrument. In 1847, the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association awarded their pencils a diploma for excellence.

  3. Until 1876, almost all pencils were square - easier to manufacture, not to mention stack.

  4. Plant growers use pencils to mark plant labels because it won't fade in sunlight.

  5. NASA spent bazillmillions for research to develop a writing instrument that would function in zero gravity. The Russians just use pencils. Please note: this is not actually true.

  6. This carpenter's pencil - http://www.pencilpages.com/gallery/oldest.htm - is the oldest known pencil in existence. It was found in the roof of a 17th century German house, and is part of the Faber-Castell private collection.

  7. Most American pencils are made of cedar wood. In Russia they prefer white pine.

  8. In the early days of pencils, they were much more expensive. There was such a thing as a "pencil extender," a hollow tube into which a pencil stub could be inserted, like a cigarette holder. Doing this could get you another mile or two of pencil markings, but you didn't get an new eraser. There's a picture of one at http://www.pencilpages.com/articles/length.htm , but it's not exciting.

  9. The American Pencil Collectors Society is a non-profit organization devoted to "the exclusive interests of establishing and maintaining communication among pen and pencil collectors." The group has been around for fifty years, and is up to about 300 members, worldwide. Members attend conventions where they disaplay and compare their collections. Items such as models of log cabins, windmills, and other structures made entirely of pencils are also likely to be on display.

    It is customary but not required to have wood pencils or ball point pens printed with a member's name, complete address, and APCS membership number. These "number woods" are traded and collected by the members.

    Annual dues are $10; a spouse may join for $5 more and becomes a voting member at the business meeting of the conventions. Members receive a list of all active members, a membership card, and a subscription to the newsletter. For membership contact APCS president, Bill Bean, 3351 Jeffrey Lane, Eau Claire, Wisconsin 54703.

thanks to:


(p.s. Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?

. . . he worked his problem out with a pencil)

Pencil is a writing and drawing instrument.

The pencil was invention of naturalist Conrad Gesner, who described a graphite-based writing instrument in 1565. Before this, of course, The Ancient Romans had used lead-based styluses, but lead has certain health effects while graphite is non-toxic. Modern pencils were possible after 1564 discovery of large graphite deposit in Borrowdale of England. The first mass production of pencils started in Nuremberg of Germany in 1662.

Pencils are made of two parts: Wooden outside and the graphite core.

The wood is typically cut hexagonal. Most writing pencils are painted yellow these days. There are reasons for this - in 1800s, the best graphite came from China, and pencil manufacturers made pencils yellow (Yellow symbolising wealth and respect). I have also heard a story of a psychological experiment: Pencil maker painted identical pencils green and yellow, and asked people to compare them. When test subjects told the green pencils break more often and are, in general, more boring, yellow won the test.

The graphite core has graphite as the color component and clay as the binding component. By varying the amount of clay, the "softness" can be changed. Typical numbering schemes include numbers #1-#4 (#4 being the softest), and the (at least here) more common scheme of numbering pencils uses combination of letters B for "Black" and H for "hard"; soft art pencils are 8B...B and F and the hard technical drawing pencils are H..10H. Typical writing pen is labeled HB (I've been told it's equivalent to the #2 pencil.) I usually use 2B for drawing, HB for sketching - erasers typically have hard time erasing softer pencils, they just spread the color...

(My choice: Staedtler Mars Lumograph pens - you know, the blue-white ones with a black end.)

"Madame, life without you is like a broken pencil."

- Blackadder II: Chains

(In a (lame-attempt-at-humor) response to now-deleted writeups: They are not obsolete; Yes, I'm a hacker, I wrote this stuff with XEmacs, but I have found that laptops are bulky and you can't write on paper with a Palm stylus, except perharps when you push a bit harder (I'm not going to try, anyway). Besides, I can't afford an expensive art program and GIMP doesn't do much "natural media" stuff yet - replicating real pencils is not yet an option. And they don't need batteries. They say the black thing in it is a solar cell, that's why they work so nicely. =)

Sources: pencil.com, britannica.com, and some book I read ages ago but I can't remember what it was titled - a fine book of trivia...

Pen"cil (?), n. [OF. pincel, F. pinceau, L. penicillum, penicillus, equiv. to peniculus, dim. of penis a tail. Cf. Penicil.]


A small, fine brush of hair or bristles used by painters for laying on colors.

With subtile pencil depainted was this storie. Chaucer.


A slender cylinder or strip of black lead, colored chalk, slate etc., or such a cylinder or strip inserted in a small wooden rod intended to be pointed, or in a case, which forms a handle, -- used for drawing or writing. See Graphite.


Hence, figuratively, an artist's ability or peculiar manner; also, in general, the act or occupation of the artist, descriptive writer, etc.

4. Opt.

An aggregate or collection of rays of light, especially when diverging from, or converging to, a point.

5. Geom.

A number of lines that intersect in one point, the point of intersection being called the pencil point.

6. Med.

A small medicated bougie.

Pencil case, a holder for pencil lead. -- Pencil flower Bot., an American perennial leguminous herb (Stylosanthes elatior). -- Pencil lead, a slender rod of black lead, or the like, adapted for insertion in a holder.


© Webster 1913.

Pen"cil, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Penciled (?) or Pencilled; p. pr. & vb. n. Penciling or Pencilling.]

To write or mark with a pencil; to paint or to draw.


Where nature pencils butterflies on flowers. Harte.


© Webster 1913.

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