Happy National Pencil Day! A perfect opportunity to look at how collectors can love everyday objects — like pencils. Slate pencils were made of soapstone or softer pieces of slate rock, sometimes wrapped in paper. Other early writing instruments used lead rods. Then a large deposit of the magic material, pure carbon called graphite, was discovered in 1564. Graphite sticks were at first wrapped in string. Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks. Nuremberg, Germany was the birthplace of the first mass-produced pencils in 1662. The modern pencil was crafted in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. Early American mass-produced pencils used natural unpainted wood. The first wood used was Eastern Red Cedar. In the early 1900’s, Incense Cedar from California became and still is the wood of choice. Did you know that one pencil can write up to 45,000 words?

Pencils are hexagonal in shape because of the graphite which is in the center of the pencil. The wood starts out as two sections, each of which has a long groove. The graphite goes into the groove and the two pieces are glued together. The hexagonal shape has two benefits; it maximizes the number of pencils from a piece of wood, and it is ergonomic to hold.

Want to start collecting vintage pencils? They are fun and inexpensive. And the vintage metal pencil dispenser pictured here could be used as cool decoration. It sold for $96.

vintage pencil coin operated dispenser

Vintage pencil dispenser, painted metal, coin-operated, labels, 25 cents, Monarch Sales Corp., Macon, Georgia, 13 x 9 1/2 x 12 in., $98.  Photo: Hartzell’s Auction Gallery Inc.


vintage pencils in box and patriotic pencils

Dixon Ticonderoga Company Ethan Allen pencils and American flag slate pencils.
Photo: National Museum of American History/Dr. Richard Lodish American School Teaching Collection

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