Lead pencils are here to stay

Published 12:46 am Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sitting at the kitchen table with our iPads in front of us, my son and I explored different on-line catalogs. While I checked out year-end shoe bargains, he sought one of his favorite sites featuring tools for readers and writers.

He interrupted my concentration on a favorite brand shoe available in my size to quote the price of a set of his favorite pencils. He then informed me that the Internet catalog he was perusing even stocked replacement erasers for those pencils. How about that?

Pencils have always just been pencils to me. I don’t recall having any special pencils during my school years. These days, I seldom use one. When I do, the qualifications are the same as always—a sharp point and a good eraser.

There are a number of cups filled with pencils stationed here and there in my house. Mainly they just sit there and gather dust. Years ago, my mother gave me a small collection of stubby pencils that my daddy had worn down almost to the eraser. Most of the erasers are in perfect shape. He either used them in his job or his workshop at home. Maybe both. I wish I knew the history behind them, but I don’t. I keep them stashed in a cluttered desk drawer, still occupying space strictly for sentimental reasons. Now and then when I happen upon them, I pick them up, look them over, note that most of them are worn down to almost the same length, and think of Daddy with a smile as I place them back in their little niche. Those pencils trigger a picture of him walking around with a pencil behind his ear, though it wasn’t a short one.

I don’t want to minimize the usefulness of pencils. I know that students, artists, writers, architects, and others, including those folks like my son who love pencils, still use them. I know that in modern times before use of the ball point pens, electric and battery-operated calculators, and computers, pencils were in great demand.

The inventor of the first pencil is not known. Since graphite was discovered in England, it is most likely that the first pencils were made in England. The first pencil was documented in 1565 by Conrad Gesner. Some attribute its invention to him, but according to my source, it is not likely. European woodworkers were the first known pencil manufacturers. In the late 1700s manufacturing techniques similar to those practiced today were developed. The first pencil factory was established in June 1812 in Concord, Mass.

Erasers for those pencils didn’t appear until 1858, when a patent was issued. Previously, rubber or wax tablets were used to erase lead or charcoal marks from paper. Of course, we have all had experience with gum erasers. My husband loved to draw and kept one or two handy on his desk.

Pencils are still a necessary tool for some. I think it’s safe to say pencils are here to stay.