The predecessor of a pencil was a leaden scribe. The creation of a pencil was influenced by the invention of the natural graphite (black-lead) not far from Borrowdale in England in 1564, when a storm rooted out an oak. The invented material was called plumbago – imitation of the plumbum (it was first called graphite in 1779 by a Swedish chemist K. W. Scheele – according to the Greek expression for writing). Local shepherds used the black-lead to inscribe their folds. But the graphite dirtied very much. Therefore it was cuted into square tablets and twisted around with a cord, or it was encapsulated with wood. The first handmade pencils, in the shape we know them now, were the “Crayons d´Angleterre” right from the Borrowdale´s graphite.
In 1662 Fridrich Staedtler opened a little shop with pencils in Nürnberg. In a nearby village Stein, Kasper Faber began to manufacture the pencil. He tied the graphite with the Bavarian clay. Not long afterwards, in 1790 – 1795 Nicolas-Jacques Conte in France and Josef Hardtmuth in Austria began to manufacture the pencils in a similar way. Both of them regarded themselves as the inventors of a pencil.
Conte was preparing the inside (black-lead) from grinded graphite, clay, wax and natural dyes. He treated this mixture with heat and so he got an excellent material suitable for writing and drawing. He opened his factory – later known as Blanzy-Conte Gilbert – together with his brother Louise in 1793. The “offsprings” of this material are used today in a great degree.
Hardtmuth is in some encyclopedies stamped as the inventor of the nowaday pencil. It is true, that he, as a man connected with manufacture of ceramics (he had a factory for the production of ceramics), found out how to simple make the inside of a pencil in the way the ceramics is produced. He pressed the atificial insides made from clay, powder graphite, soot and organic vehicle. With the different volume of clay and different degree of the burning out he got the insides of different hardness (the hardness is marked with numbers or letters). Josef Hardtmuth gained a patent for his discovery. He laid the foundations of the industrial pencil-production with the technology of graphite insides, which hasn´t been went better untill now.
The pencils were manufactured in a Wienna ceramic factory J. Hardtmuth. The production was gradually increasing, so that the pencils have been the main production programm since the 30´s of the last century. Therefore the followers of Josef Hardtmuth –Lewis and Charles Hardtmuth built up a new factory in Ceské Budejovice (L. & C. Hardtmuth) and in 1848 they started the manufacture of pencils and ceramics. The choice of this place appeared as a very advantageous one (the accessability of the main raw materials, good locality on the trace of the first railway in Europe, cheap labour force). And so the factory could specialize only on the production of pencils and other stationery.
Franz Hardtmuth continued in the improvent of the production . He introduced into the market the yellow pencil and with a great range of hardness and of high quality. He called it KOH-I-NOOR according to the big yellow Indian diamond KOCH-I-NUR, “Mountain of light”. This pencil won the golf medal on the World exhibition in Paris and until now it is the most famous product of the firm. The yellow colour of a pencil became a symbol of quality and so the other producer started to make their pencil in this colour.
In the years before the world war I, the pencil factory KOH-I-NOOR in Ceské Budejovice was the biggest in the world (it had 5 branch oficces and 15 general representation around the whole world) and it belonged to the biggest and most important even in the period between the both world wars.
The quality of the pencil depends greatly on the quality of wood. The dominant wood for high quality pencils is the cedar, which allows good pointing and it resists the press while writing. But it is necessary to dry this wood in the open and in the drying house, to impregnate it with a wax emulsion, to stain it and then to dry it again. Only then it is possible to work with it. You can see the separate pencil production phases e.g. on page http://www.pencils.com/makeit.html. From one cedar tree aproximately 172 000 pencils can be made. But also other wood sorts are used, e.g. Weymouth pine or linden.
The nowaday pencil can draft a 56 km long line or it can
write aproximately 45.000 words and it can be 17 times pointed. The point of the pencil
can endure the pressure of 26 MPa
The wooden pencil has reach its perfection . However to keep the point sharp during the day-long use is not a simple thing. And so different constructions of mechanic pencils started to appear. Finally the construction form settled on this type: the collet that makes the shift and carriage of the lead (most often the diameter 2 mm) possible and a metal or plastic case that allows us to hold the pencil. These pencil are usually also equiped with a sharpener.
The classical “crayon” or “versatil” in different designs.
The youngest types of the mechanic pencils are the so called “micropencils” (sometimes improprietly called “automatic”: they are far from being automatic, because it is not the automatic scrolling of the lead but only the insertion of the new lead). It differs from the classic mechanic pencils in the usage of a thinner lead (e.g. 0,5 mm or 0,7 mm). From this reason is the mechanism that scrolls and holds the lead (collet) inside of the pencil and only the conducting tubule juts out (high quality pencils have this tubule made from metal). These pencils are especially very suitable for technicians because they allow the drawing of sharp lines and do not demand pointing. But the work with them is more demanding because the thin lead can break by the bigger pressure. And so there is nothing better for the everyday writing than the old and well-tried “crayon” …
(pict. from web page http://www.koh-i-noor.cz/skolni/automat.htm)