Artist's Back to Basics

The History Of Pencils

“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I shall take up my pencil which I have forsaken in my great discouragement and I will go on with my drawing.” Vincent Van Gogh

What an amazing invention the pencil is. We take it for granted, but where did this ingenious invention come from? The Egyptian scribes used a stylus, a thin metal? rod to leave an indelible mark on papyrus This technique, some scholars believe, was the precursor to the pencil.

The German word for pencil is Bleistift which means literally ‘lead pen’, but pencils are made from graphite, not lead. Themade into sticks. An early analysis mistakenly labeled the substance as lead, or plumbago ( Latin for “lead ore”). Thus the name “lead pencil” came about. Chewing the end of a graphite pencil may indeed have resulted in lead poisoning in the past, due not to the graphite core but to the toxic lead content of the paint the pencils were covered with.

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