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Colonial Cedar Pencils


Continued from product description on Early Education's Page Two...

Historical Background: The word "pencil" comes from the Middle English word "pensel" and the Middle French word "pincel," which is derived from the Latin word "penicullus" (meaning a painter's brush, pencil or stylus). The English word "pencil" came into use in the late-16th century to describe what we call it today.

The first pencils were produced in Keswick, England, with Cumberland Graphite. Pencil making was first a cottage industry in Keswick with families making artists' pencils in their homes. These home-based pencil "factories" were the origin of the pencil industry.

Graphite was discovered in 1500 in Cumberland, Keswick, England, when shepherds went to check on their sheep after a violent storm. They found a black material under the subsoil that had been torn away where trees fell. They first thought this black material was coal, but it would not burn. It proved to be an excellent means for marking their sheep, though. The British government took over these mines after it discovered how valuable this black material was. This material was first called "Wad" and a graphite pencil was known locally there as a "Wad pencil." The mines in Keswick produced graphite for over 300 years until they closed in 1890.

Graphite was called black lead or "plumbago" because, at the time it was discovered, it was thought to be a type of lead. The name graphite comes from the Greek word "graphein," which means "to write."

Around 1560, graphite wrapped in string or inserted in wooden tubes came into use as writing utensils. It is the carbon found in graphite that gives it its degree of blackness. Pencils were produced in Nuremberg (now Germany) in 1662 but were inferior to pencils made in England. The process of mixing graphite with clay and water was invented by French chemist and Napoleon courier Nicolas-Jacques Conte in 1795. This became the best process for making pencil leads and is still used today.

In 1812, William Munroe produced wood-cased lead pencils in Boston, Massachusetts. He and other pencil makers began manufacturing pencils with dried graphite paste, which was inferior to the English-made pencils made from higher quality graphite.

"Pencils made with high-quality Asian graphite were painted yellow to indicate the source of the graphite." Most of the pencils manufactured today are still painted yellow. The pencil industry grew as demand increased. Over 20 million pencils were being consumed in the United States during the early 1870s. In 1892, Dixon Crucible manufactured more than 30 million pencils. By 1912, U.S. production of pencils was 750 million and the world's production was 2 billion.

Benjamin Ball made square leads for pencils in the mid-19th century. They were typically off-center and the wood cases were somewhat out-of-round. Square lead was commonly used in most wood-cased pencils until the mid-1870s. All black lead pencils exhibited at the Centennial in Philadelphia in 1876 contained square leads. Square leads were the norm for a long time because they were easier and faster to make. A square grove was cut into the wood of the pencil casing and then lead was inserted and trimmed. Another piece of wood casing was then put on top and glued. Square lead pencils were produced until the last quarter of the 19th century.

Different machinery was needed to produce the casings for round lead wood pencils. When dealing with round leads, a rounded grove would have to be cut into both top and bottom pieces of the casing. Round pencils were not always perfectly centered. "Joseph Dixon Crucible Company was among the first manufacturers of pencils to use round leads," which happened after the Centennial. When pencil sharpeners were invented, pencil manufacturers had to center the leads in the casing or the sharpened pencil point would be off-centered. (If you would like to see how a cedar pencil is made, visit Musgrave Pencil Co. Inc. online at www.pencils.net/slats.cfm.)

Eventually, pencils were numbered 1 to 4 to indicate the hardness of the lead, with 4 being the hardest lead. Later, letters were used to describe pencil leads:

H -- hard;
B -- blackness of the pencil's mark;
F -- indicates that a pencil can be sharpened to a very fine point;
HB -- hard and black; and,
HH -- very hard.

Besides graphite pencils, there were also slate pencils. School children used slate pencils during the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century to write on tablets cut from harder grades of slate. Slate pencils are narrow slips cut from solid pieces of softer grades of slate or soapstone and do not contain graphite. Slate pencils were available with the slate core unwrapped, wrapped in paper, or encased in wood like a lead pencil. Until the 1930s, Eagle Pencil Company sold wood-cased slate pencils with fiber erasers. Other companies that advertised slate pencils were Holden & Cutter (Boston, Massachusetts circa 1840-1860); Grigg & Elliot (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania circa 1850-1860); and Charles J. Cohen (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania circa 1878).

Fun Fact: "Bullet Pencils" were also called pencil holders, which got their name from a rifle cartridge. Civil War soldiers stored their pencils in the end of a used rifle cartridge so that the pencil tips would not break off in their packs.

Fun Fact: Two billion pencils are made in the U.S. each year. If laid end to end, a year's production of U.S. pencils would go around the world's equator about 15 times!

Fun Fact: Erasers were attached to pencils with a "ferrule" in 1858.

Fun Fact: A pencil lead or a line drawn by a pencil will conduct electricity!

Fun Fact: Colored pencils are made from chalk, clay or wax and mixed with binders and pigments.

Fun Fact: One pencil will draw a line 70 miles long!

Fun Fact: The average pencil can be sharpened 17 times.

Fun Fact: Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner" in pencil.

Fun Fact: A good-size tree will make about 300,000 pencils.

Fun Fact: Most of the graphite used for today's pencils comes from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Mexico, and Siberia.

Early Pencil Manufacturers: William Munroe (Boston area, 1812), Benjamin Ball (Harvard, Massachusetts, 1820s-1850s), John Thoreau (father of Henry David Thoreau), and Joseph Dixon.

Companies That Advertised Other Manufactured Pencils: Holden & Cutter (Boston, Massachusetts) advertised French and English lead pencils circa 1840-1860; Grigg & Elliot (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) advertised Faber's, Guttknecht, and Brookman & Lagdon's lead pencils circa 1858.

Other Pencil manufacturers: Musgrave Pencil Company (since 1916), Dixon Ticonderoga Company, Cumberland Pencil Company (www.pencils.net.co.uk), Atlas Pen & Pencil, Eagle Pencil Company (in 1862, they won an award in London); Eberhard Faber (their factory in New York made pencils using leads from Germany); The American Lead Pencil Company; and Joseph Dixon Crucible Company. The last three companies were the principle U.S. manufacturers of pencils in latter 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Colonial Cedar Pencils
Colonial Cedar Pencils
Item Number 1004

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