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Writing Instruments the Pencil



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Marie-Luise Stromer's image for:
"Writing Instruments the Pencil"
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You may think there isn't much to say about a pencil, if anything at all.  Everyone knows what a pencil looks like, how to use it and what it is for. You may even think that it has become obsolete as a writing tool in the age of PCs.

But there's really quite a lot to learn about pencils in general and especially about the classic green Castell 9000' black-lead pencil which has been made for 103 years by the German company FABER-CASTELL, the most important manufacturer of pencils worldwide with an annual output of more than 1.8 billion (!) wood-cased pencils. They obviously live in peaceful harmony with PCs, they're the cheap writing tool for the masses that they've always been and on the FABER-CASTELL homepage we can read that "many creative people love the intellectual aura surrounding the pencil". So there.

It all began in the Cumbrian mountains in England in 1564 where an enormous deposit of graphite of great purity was discovered. People didn't know about graphite then, however, and thought that it was lead ore from which the term 'lead pencil' has derived (this is what a pencil is called in German). The locals found the black stuff useful for marking sheep, but soon its value for drawing was realised. Graphite sticks were first wrapped in string or in sheepskin, later Italians thought of wooden holders.

The quality of the English graphite deteriorated, it was only due to its monopoly position that England could sell her inferior pencils at high prices. Enter an Austrian and a Frenchman who nearly simultaneously discovered a method of mixing powdered graphite, sulphur and antimony with clay and forming the mixture into spaghetti like rods that were fired in kilns.

In 1761 the German Caspar Faber started his own pencil manufacturing business in a small town near Nuremberg in 1761, this was the beginning of the industrial production of pencils, other companies followed, for example Staedtler and Schwan which are also known abroad, the area around Nuremberg became the centre of the lead pencil production world-wide. Through marriage into a noble family the name Faber became Faber-Castell, meanwhile it's the 8th generation that works in and for the company FABER-CASTEL.

The famous green pencil range was launched in 1905, each specimen has got the product logo of the Tournament of the Jousting Pencil Knights on the wooden holder meaning that they can beat all competition. When I decided to write a review on the subject, I went to the stationer's and had a look at what was on offer. I counted 16 different varieties of green pencils ranging from H (hardest) over HB to B (blackest). This is the European system for grading pencils, hard pencils are lighter, dark pencils are softer. They cost 1.19 (~ 90p) in their country of origin, they may be a bit more expensive abroad. I chose an 8B pencil, it's very dark and soft and writes well but needs sharpening rather often as the tip understandably doesn't remain sharp for long. That means it's better for drawing than for writing a longer text. Most people choose HB, the middle variety, for writing, it doesn't consume so quickly.

Last but not least something funny I found on Wikipedia: "The pencil is a common cause of minor puncture injuries in young children. The tip of the lead may leave a grey mark inside the skin for weeks. This led to the old wives' tale that the lead bits could be passed through the blood vessels into the brain, causing mental retardation in those with such a woundResidual graphite from a pencil stick is not poisonous, and graphite is harmless if consumed."

Im sure that after reading this review youll never look at a pencil in the same way!

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