A General History of Pencils


Researching a general history of pencils reveals how long this story is but also how recent it has become to its ending as a primary writing tool. Especially now that we have access to personal computers of all shapes and sizes for just about every task, pencils have become somewhat archaic for everyday use. But there is an exception to this rule.

Writing Tablets
history of pencils
Double Sided Old School Slate/Chalkboard-Ebay
Let’s go back a bit in the history of writing before pencils were available. I refer in fact primarily two types of writing systems.

Chalkboard One was only a few centuries ago using chalk as the writing instrument over slate as the surface. (Left)

Ancient Tablet Then the other was from ancient Rome using wax covered wood as the writing surface with a stylus as the writing instrument. (Below)

history of pencils

History of the Pencil This section is quoted from Wikipedia.

history of pencils

history of pencils

history of pencils

Special Pencils For everyday use the pencil is somewhat of a dinosaur. As mentioned earlier, the primary system is once again a tablet or a pad. But now it is a computer not slate, wood, wax or clay.

But in one situation, there is still a need and use for the pencil. This is in the area of drawing also known as art or illustration. In this area there are some very special pencils. For example, there is the Blackwing. The original ones are shown below costing $1,520 for a dozen.

original blackwing pencils 1Dozen Brand New – Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 Pencils with Original Box Perfect Brand New $1,520.00 Extra 5% off with coupon or Best Offer + $8.00 shipping on Ebay

More About Pencils In future posts, there will be more information focusing on Blackwing 620, Staedtler, and Eberhard Faber.


Example of a wax tablet with Roman stylus
Slate School Writing Tablet | Chalk Teacher Student Classroom | Remote Learning
Cuneiform Writing: How Clay And Reeds Changed the World
1 Dozen Brand New – Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 Pencils with Original Box Perfect
Definition and History-Wikipedia

Carpenter Pencil (Top and bottom image of this blog post)

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Drafting Tools Before The Computer


Pre computer drafting tools are the precursor to what the computer came to be able to produce. In fact several great manual tool companies existed during this pre computer time. One happens to be, Keuffel & Esser.

History of Keuffel & Esser
History of K & E from Wikipedia

a metal tool box with a USC School of Architecture sticker on it
My Interest in K & E In 1966 when I entered the School of Architecture & Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, personal computers were not yet available. At that time, everything had to be drawn by hand in other words with pre computer drafting tools. This meant that tools such as a drafting set were particularly essential. As a result, I bought what I could collecting the best.

 K & E drafting set
my K & E drafting set bought in the Los Angeles K & E store in 1966 when I majored in Architecture at the University of Southern California

The Charrette Corporation

Decades later, I worked for the West Side Highway Project in Lower Manhattan. That was just about the time that the dynasty of K & E pre computer drafting tools ceased. Meanwhile another great company was born, the Charrette Corporation. Read all about the Charrette Corporation in a series of blog posts that I wrote.

Drafting Tools and Equipment Born in a janitor’s closet of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Charrette evolved into the largest and most prestigious company of its kind with stores over a good part of the East Coast. Actually, their warehouse in Woburn, Massachusetts carried more stock for example of Letraset dry transfer lettering than the Letraset Corporation itself.

Letraset© and the Charrette Red Van
The Charrette Red Van Equally unique to Charrette was the red van that made trips every evening between the Boston (Woburn) warehouse and NYC for its high end clients. Quality was as much a part of Charrette’s service as it was of the products themselves.

Pencils There were several kinds of pencils considered highly functional during the pre computer time continuing to the present. Specifically, they ranged from wooden to metal mechanical. Currently there is one brand of pencil that is highly prized, the Eberhard Faber Blackwing.

Blackwing pencils
The Eberhard Faber Blackwing Pencil available for $920.
T-squares, Triangles, and . . . When I began this post it never occurred to me how much there would be to write about. Therefore there will be more on this topic. But at another time.


History of Keuffel & Esser
The Day the Slide Rule Arrived
Slide Rule
Technical Pens
Rapidograph Pens
On Writing Well: The History of Blackwing Pencils
Charrette Corporation
Objects | Charrette Corporation
The History of Blackwing Pencils


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