The Evolution of Pencils: A Brief History


The good-old pencil is a dull writing tool at first glance. Nonetheless, it is one of those writing products associated with thousands of years of history and legacy, changing and evolving from one generation to the next. Nowadays, this tool is often sidelined, and its closest relative, the pen, is favored more for its reliability. Nonetheless, the pencil becomes a staple for a five-year-old drawing stick figures in a sketchbook, a middle-aged person annotating his favorite book, or an eighty-year-old man solving sudoku puzzles in a newspaper.

The Etymology of Pencil


The term ‘pencil’ derives from Old French “Pincel” and Latin “Penicillins,” or a “little tail,” originally referred to an artist’s fine camel hair brush in the Middle Ages. However, drawing with a brush goes back to the early petrograph. Before contemporary lead or chalk pencils, little pieces of rock were used as writing products

From the mid-16th Century, pure graphite blocks (sometimes called “black lead”) were employed to mark things in England. Gradually, the wooden encasing came into being to prevent the messy fingers caused by graphite blocks. This appears to be the point at which the term pencil was changed from an assortment of brushes necessary for “graphite writing implement.”

The Origin of Pencil

The term “pencil” comes from the Ancient Romans (3200 B.C.), who used lead styluses to scratch letters onto tablets covered in a thin layer of wax. The lead stylus was developed to be employed with papyrus, on which the metallic lead would create a faint impression. In the Middle Ages, scribes working on manuscripts would use a metal stylus, called plummet, made of lead or silver to rule lines onto parchment pages to ensure straight writing. The scribes would also use a metal point to sketch any pictures engraved onto each page once the text was finished. The plummet, an early parent of the pencil, was used as early as the 11th or 12th Century.

Graphite and the Modern Pencils

Locals discovered enormous pure graphite in Borrowdale in England’s Lake District in the early 16th Century. Because metallurgy and chemistry were both in their infancy, this material known as ‘plumbago,’ the Latin for ‘lead ore,’ was thought to be a form of black lead rather than a type of carbon. Locals soon noticed that brittle graphite formed dark stains on the surface. This resulted in the first graphite-based pencils, which were shortly wrapped in wood for improved grip. The Borrowdale mines were the sole significant supply of high-quality graphite around most European nations. The graphite from these mines was used to create peculiar square pieces of graphite, recognized across Europe for their exceptional quality and mark-making strength.

The Birth of Wooden Pencils

The first attempt to make graphite sticks from ground graphite took place in the 1660s in Nuremberg, Germany. The outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars in the latter part of the 18th Century prompted the French to invent a different method and formula for the pencil’s core. 

Nicholas-Jacques Conte, an inventor working in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, created the modern pencil in 1795.

Conte’s initial method for producing pencils entailed roasting a combination of water, clay, and graphite at 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit in a kiln and then wrapping the finished soft solid in a wooden enclosure. Depending on the purpose of the pencil, the surround might be square, polygonal, or circular. Graphite sticks were initially wrapped in string. 

Later, the graphite was put inside hollowed-out wooden sticks, giving birth to the wood-cased pencil.

Industrialization and Mass Production

To capitalize on the exceptional quality of the graphite, a substantial pencil manufacturing business sprung up around Keswick throughout the nineteenth Century. The first factory, Banks, Son & Co, today known as the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company, was established in 1832. Cumberland pencils were the best since the graphite left little dust and clearly marked the page. In 1662, Johann Staedtler was inspired by the graphite pencils marketed in London and established the Staedtler Pencil Company in Nuremberg, Germany. This was the first affordable pencil manufacturer mass-produced and distributed throughout Europe.

Polymer Pencil: An Eco-Friendly Alternative

Spartex Gold Loose Polymer Pencils

Although the wooden pencil is a classic that can be found in every home, it does have a few drawbacks. It doesn’t make up for sustainable writing products since it requires four times the raw materials of a raw polymer pencil and more than double the raw materials of recycled paper. However, the invention of raw polymer pencil marked a considerable advancement in the pencil-making sector. These pencils contained a core of graphite blended with a clay binder, which resulted in lighter lines that were simple to erase. These pencils outperformed traditional wooden pencils in terms of environmental impact. They stay longer and may be reused, making them more cost-effective for consumers and ecologically beneficial. 

Pencils in the 21st Century

Pencils have taken several shapes throughout the years. However, as children’s schooling became more prevalent in Europe, pencils became necessary for young people. With the arrival of the twenty-first Century came modernity and stylization. Students were yearning for unique educational resources, so pencil producers also began to become creative. With their colorful packaging and designs, foldable pencils, click pencils, and pencils with various graphite tips dominated the market. When it comes to polymer pencil for students, Spartex has the best pencil for students. 

The pencil’s distinctiveness as a writing implement cannot be overstated. It has been utilized in space, underwater, and by schoolchildren hesitantly making their first letters over the past five millennia. If one adds the Romans’ lead styluses, the pencil has been the most extensively used writing implement for the longest time. In fact, the graphite in pencils is a carbon descendant of the charcoal discovered in the first cave drawings, making the simple pencil lying in your file cabinet rich with history as extensive as your own DNA.

Evolution of Pencils(Timeline)

Be it the Ancient Roman Stylus of 3200 B.C. or the modern-day pointy graphite-polymer blocks encased in a glossy wooden case, our dear old pencils have traveled a long way through time and history. To understand how this exciting evolution took place and how this ancient metallic equipment that was used to scrape on stone became a student favorite, we need to look at its development through the ages

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