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Pencils - a history

 
 
 

The origins of today's pencil goes back to 1565, when a grey-black glistening substance was found in Borrowdale, in the Cumberland hills of England. It was said to be a 'lead' coloured material, greasy to touch an quick to stain the fingers. This substance became known as black-lead, and was found to be more convenient for a writing an drawing than pen and ink, as it's marks could be rubbed out easily.

                                        Engraving - 1711                                        Graphite Mineral
 

In the late 18th century, Swedish chemist Karl Wilhelm Scheele identified the substance as a crystallised form of carbon, like diamond, however structurally very different. He named it Graphite, from the Greek word for writing, 'Graphein'. 

 

In 1761 cabinetmaker Kaspar Faber settled in Stein, near Nurenburg, in Germany to make his first simple pencils. Graphite was cut into narrow sticks and glued between two pieces of wood which were cut and planed smooth. The family dynasty of pencil makers had begun.

The oldest pencil: found during renovation work. 

 

In 1794 the Graphite-Clay process was invented. Powdered graphite was mixed with clay, shaped into thin rods (or leads) then fired in a kiln at high temperature. The greater the graphite content the softer and darker the lead. The greater the clay content the harder and lighter the lead.

  

+ Graphite   For a darker and softer writing - Example 6B 

+ Clay:         For a lighter and harder writing - Example 6H 

 

 

 

In 1839, Lothar Faber, the great grandson of Kaspar Faber, began to transform the pencil industry. He mechanised production, using first water, then steam power and achieved a production rate and consistency of quality previously unheard of. He invented the hexagonal pencil and created standards for the pencil size and grades of hardness still in use today. His products were marked A.W. Faber, the first ever brand-name writing products and amongst the earliest branded articles in the world.   

 

Today, the Faber-Castell Group produces approximately 1.8 billion wood-cased pencils per year and is the world's largest pencil manufacturer. The company's latest pencil innovation is the Grip 2001 Triangular pencil with it's patented non-slip Grip Zone - now a winner of 6 international design awards.

 
 

The humble wood cased pencil is over 400 years old and still writing strongly.

 

Historic Pencil packaging from the early 20th Centuary

 
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