If ‘Stationery’ was a round on Family Fortunes, pencils would get maximum points in the audience survey. Forget your boss, pencils sit at the top of the office hierarchy. Without them we are nothing.
Originally pencils weren’t made of wood. The first pencil was a soft metal rod, often lead, used by the Romans to leave a mark on papyrus. Graphite came into being when it was discovered in the Lake District in the 16th century. It was softer, cheaper and didn’t turn you mad if you chewed the end of it. The name ‘graphite’ stems from the Greek word ‘graphein’ meaning 'to write'.
The increased softness required a wrap, which came in the form of a two part wooden barrel. Originally they were left bare, to showcase the quality wood, but as pencils became more mass-produced, the wood was painted over and branded too. Yellow, still commonly used to paint pencils, was used because it represented ‘respect’ in China – where much of the graphite was coming from.
Nowadays we chew/draw through 14 billion pencils a year. That’s a lot of trees. Some people use them as a medium to work with, and here are our favourites, alongside some other useful links.
Nimble fingered New Zealand artist Peter Trevelyan makes incredible sculptures, large and small, using pencil leads of varying thicknesses. Some abide to a strict geometric pattern whereas others flow more freely. All of them are indicative of love and dedication. We can barely get one in a pencil without it snapping.