Friday, July 26

The Surprising History of the Pencil


A fascinating history of the pencil. I didn't realise they were made in England fairly close. We have been to Keswick and yes there is a pencil museum there :)

But I still prefer a pen. A fountain pen. It has a different kind of romance to it. There is a technique to it. You have to do things, clean the nib. Wipe it. Pour in ink with a dropper. Make a mess. Break off one point. Leak all over your shirt or notebook. The rasp of the nib as it runs over the slightly rough paper. 

I visited the Petrie museum the other day and saw several ink pots.


Can you imagine? dipping your reed pen into the ink and then rasping across the papyrus? And that made me wonder about our ancestors and what they wrote. 


How about this one? The ancient Mexica who wrote and drew these glyph books? Can you see the richness? You won't get that feeling with a bic. 

Anyway. I'm being a boring old reminiscing father now.



The Surprising History of the Pencil | Brain Pickings

by Maria Popova

What medieval smuggling has to do with the atomic structure of carbon.

Having previously explored such mysteries as who invented writing and how sounds became shapes, it’s time to turn to something much less mysterious, a seemingly mundane yet enormously influential tool of human communication: the humble pencil.

“Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak,” states the first of Margaret Atwood’s 10 rules of writing. “But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.” But even though the pencil has fueled such diverse feats of creative culture as celebrated artists’ sketchbooks, Marilyn Monroe’s soulful unpublished poems, Lisa Congdon’s stunning portraits, and David Byrne’s diagrams of the human condition, it has only been around for a little over two hundred years. In the altogether fascinating 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains Your World (public library), John D. Barrow tells the story of this underrated technological marvel:

The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. The magic material that was so appropriate for the purpose was the form of pure carbon that we call graphite. It was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the fifteenth century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier. Initially it was believed to be a form of lead and was called ‘plumbago’ or black lead (hence the ‘plumbers’ who mend our lead water-carrying pipes), a misnomer that still echoes in our talk of pencil ‘leads’. It was called graphite only in 1789, using the Greek word ‘graphein’ meaning ‘to write’. Pencil is an older word, derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning ‘little tail’, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages.

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