New Arrivals Victorian Pencils Unique Collectibles | Information about antiquities and teaching history
As you will soon learn, the humble pencil has quite a history that is far from humble. Today, there are hundreds of pencil collectors around the world.
As I was scanning my usual morning online auctions, I came across Garth’s “Gentleman’s Auction” catalog coming soon. Curious to know what it was, I scrolled through and saw items ranging from animal taxidermy trophies, skins and guns to fishing lures and antique novelty pencils. Pencils not only were sometimes in figurative form, but had mechanical actions. For example, one was also a miniature telescope. Another was in the shape of a mailbox. There was also an owl and a champagne bottle pencil. Some pencils were described as having a propelling motion, in which the lead was advanced by a mechanical device. They were silver and gold.
Auction estimates for the pencils ranged from $225 to $500. Prominent hallmarks were usually ‘SMGR’, representing the pencil maker Sampson Mordan (1790-1843), an Englishman. He was a goldsmith and co-inventor of the first patented mechanical pencil.
Historically, he and his co-inventor, John Isaac Hawkins, filed the first patent in Britain for a metal pencil with an internal mechanism to propel the graphite rod, or pencil lead, during use.
Hallmarks have changed over the years. The company continued as S. Mordan & Co. until 1941 when it was destroyed in the London Blitz.
HINTS: So when were the first pencils invented? Were they in the same form as the materials we think of as pencils?
We’ve come a long way since the ancient stylus used by the Romans. It was a lead rod wrapped in string for scratching marks on papyrus (an ancient form of paper.) Fast forward to 1795 when Nicholas-Jacque Conte (1755-1805), a French scientist, created a form of modern pencil. It was a mixture of powdered graphite and clay, pressed between two half-cylinders of wood. Because lead was considered toxic, graphite was used; however, the term “graphite” continued.
The shape has changed over the years from square to round.
An exciting development occurred in 1879, when American Joseph Hoffmann invented the push-button clutch for pencils. It was used in the “Eagle Automatic Pencil”, manufactured by Eagle Pencil Co. and became the first mechanical pencil.
The famous American author Henry David Thoreau contributed to the history of the American pencil by creating an anti-smear pencil.
Improvements in pencils and pens continued to be made over the years. Towards the end of World War II, the torpedo pencil was created. It reproduced in miniature the real parts of a torpedo. When pressed, the writing lead is released.
The serious collection of pencils began in 1955 when Professor Lester C. Taylor and his family became interested in writing instruments of all kinds. He started distributing a newsletter called “The Pencil Collector”.
Today, there are hundreds of member collectors of “The Pencil Collectors Society” around the world. The collections include unique pencils, even currently manufactured. The society holds annual conventions and prints a newsletter. Check the Internet for up-to-date contact information.