Notebook, 1993-




Writing or drawing instrument consisting of a slender rod of graphite or similar substance encased in a cylinder of wood (or less usually metal or plastic). Although the material is graphite, the 'lead' pencil took its name from the lead point (see METAL POINT) which it superseded, and is first heard of in the 1560s. Pencils of predetermined hardness or softness were not produced until 1790, however, when Nicolas-Jacques Conté undertook to solve the problem of making pencils when France was cut off from the English supply of graphite (the mines in Borrowdale, Cumbria, which had opened in 1664, being the main source). He found that the graphite could be eked out with clay and fired in a kiln, and that more clay meant a harder pencil. Conté obtained a patent for his process in 1795. It was only then that the pencil became the universal drawing instrument that it is today. Although the Oxford English Dictionary records the usage of the phrase 'a pencil of black lead' as early a 1612, until the end of the 18th cent. the word 'pencil' more commonly meant a brush (particularly a small brush) and was often used as a symbol for the painter's art. 'Pencilling' could mean 'colouring' or 'brushwork' as well as 'drawing'. According to a handbook published in 1859 ( Painting Popularly Explained by Thomas J. Gullick and John Timbs) 'The smaller kinds of brushes are still sometimes termed "pencils"; but the use of the word "pencil" instead of "brush" as distinctive of and peculiar to water-colour is now obsolete.' [Chilvers, Ian, Harold Osborne, and Dennis Farr, eds. Oxford Dictionary Of Art. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.]

The New Columbia Encyclopedia: Pointed implement used in writing or drawing to apply graphite or a similar colored solid to any surface, esepcially paper. From prehistoric times lumps of colored earth or chalk were used as markers. The Egyptians ruled lines with metallic lead, as did medieval monks. The so-called lead pencil--a rod of graphite encased in wood--came into use in the 16th cent. From the late 18th cent. pulverized graphite was mixed with clay to bind it and to provide different degreess of hardness--the more clay, the harder the pencil. Today the mixture is forced through dies, cut to the required length, and kiln-fired. The rods are laid in grooves of a thin board, a similar board is placed over them, and the wood is shaped into pencils, usually of round or hexagonal cross section. Pencils are also manufactured with cores of colored pigments mixed with clay and wax and of other materials. Mechanical pencils are commonly made of metal or plastic, the cones (or leads) being advanced by operating a screw mechanism or a propel-repel ejector mechanism. [Harris, William H., and Judith S. Levey, eds. The New Columbia Encyclopedia. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1975.]



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