Pencils Again

The vintage mechanical pencil, as I have often sadly observed, is not held in high esteem. Even the very best of them, the Yard O Leds and the Fyne Poynts, are barely saleable. So far as I am aware, there is no well-represented mechanical pencil hobby with forums of its own. It has an association with the pen hobby but only as an adjunct like inkwells or accommodation clips. There are one or two slender publications and a few blogs and that’s about it.

It wasn’t always so. I often acquire pencils as part of lots. There will be the occasional solid silver one that turns up but the majority are either gold or silver plated. That’s useful because the amount of wear on the plating indicates how much the pencil was used. Some are very worn indeed, just where the user’s fingers rested and where it came into contact with the desk.

Some pencils were sold as part of a set but many were sold individually. To go out and buy a pencil on its own indicates that it was seen as a useful possession. Most writing done, whether at work or at home, was not intended to be a permanent record. For note-taking or drafting the pencil was more convenient. No cap to remove so it could be picked up off the desk to be writing instantly. Those pencils were low-maintenance. Lead lasted a long time and was easily replaced. The Yard O Led would continue writing for a very long time, much longer than any fountain pen or later, ballpoint.

I think, though, that it may have been the ballpoint which led to the devaluing of the mechanical pencil. Though the very earliest ballpoints had caps those were soon dispensed with and the ballpoint became used in just the same way as the pencil. Pen and pencil sets began to be replaced by fountain pen and ballpoint sets. It is much less common nowadays to see new pen and pencil sets offered.

One cannot change what people desire and I have no wish to do so. Fountain pens are central to my life whereas pencils are on the periphery. However, pencils offer a very high quality collectable at a low cost. The fancy silver pencils from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are collected and fetch high prices but the practical pencils of the last hundred years and more have an attraction all of their own.

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