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Pencils throughout the Centuries!

Updated: May 4, 2022

By Artsoreal

As an artist, I own quite a large collection of sketch pencils myself, mainly graphite. However, I do prefer working with a particular brand. Like most things, we tend to take these very same pencils for granted, not knowing how important they really are in our everyday lives, and even for decades. So, that got me thinking. Won't it be interesting to find out how it all got started.

The word Pencil originates from the old French word Pencel and the Latin word Penicillus, or "Little Tail''. Throughout the middle ages. lumps of lead in its raw state were used mainly for drawing and writing different manuscripts, it was also referred to as an artist Fine Brush or Camel Hair. The lead would leave behind a dense silvery line that you can easily write over in ink or even paint.

Graphite pencils, "or known as the Lead pencil" produces grey or black markings that can easily be erased. It can hold up to moisture, certain chemicals and generally natural aging. However, because the pencil core is still referred to as "a lead", many people have the misconception that the graphite in the pencil is lead, when in fact it does not contain the element lead. Most of the charcoal pencils we use today are mainly for drawing and sketching.

The first attempt to manufacture graphite sticks from powdered graphite, using a mixture of graphite, Sulphur, and antimony was first produced in Nuremberg Germany, in 1662. Many changes were made throughout history by various people and the different methods in which graphite was manufactured and transformed into more common types of pencils encased in wood.

As a relatively old tool for writing and drawing, the pencil developed in time and different types of pencils were invented for a variety of uses and in relation to their job these include:


Variety of Shapes:

  • Triangular ( more accurately Reuleaux triangle )

  • Round

  • Oval

  • Bendable ( Flexible plastic )

Graphite Pencils: These are standard everyday pencils, with different levels of darkness.

Solid Graphite Pencils: Although these pencils are similar from the standard everyday pencils, they are much darker in colour on the outside, this is because they come without any wooden casing which makes it easier to cover larger areas, and mainly used for drawing.

Charcoal Pencils: Usually takes the appearance of very dark pencils, almost black in colour. These are shaped like sticks, made from charcoal and are mostly used by artists.

Carbon Pencils: are smoother in texture than charcoal pencils and have minimal dust and smudging, and also blend very well. This is because they are made out of a black pigment. Their darkness changes when mixed with charcoal and graphite.

Carpenter's Pencils: are quite unique, they take on an oval shape and are made up of strong graphite. They are designed to be more durable with less breakage.

Stenographer's Pencils: a very reliable pencil with a lead that is very difficult to break.

Golf Pencils: used mainly for golf or other athletic events as well as for markings.

Having given you the history of pencils and graphite pencils and how important they still are in our everyday lives, it is safe to say that the lead in these very pencils we use are not harmful or toxic and are perfectly safe, with no effect on our human health. As I mentioned before it is referred to as the LEAD pencil, but in fact the actual pencil does not contain lead, but a totally different substance called GRAPHITE, this very substance is primarily made up of carbon, and thus cannot be absorbed in our body. However, graphite in pencils like any other substance if consumed regularly or in excess may become harmful to your health.

I often wondered why pencils that we use come in different shades of yellow, and not in a variety of colours. This is because the majority of pencils were once made in the United States, according to Henry Petroski. But, not all countries used yellow pencils. In other countries for example: Germany and Brazil their pencils are often green, blue, or black. In the southern European countries they use colours such as dark red or black with yellow lines. While in India the more popular colour schemes were dark red with black lines. Even as far as Australia most of their pencils were printed red with black bands at one end. Over the years and as times have changed, our pencils today are manufactured by many different companies, and in different countries around the world, each with their own brand names. Pencils can now be found in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes.

The greatest inventions in history would never have taken place without the use of pencils. Throughout the centuries it became one of the most famous and favourite tools still used by generations around the world, and a versatile tool used by many.

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