Pens, pencils, and erasers are used every day by people all around the world. We scribble down our thoughts, shopping lists, and to do’s on paper without giving our trusty writing tools a second thought! Who really knows anything about the little pencil that we’ve loved to color with, or what about that engraved pen we had on a special occasion, any idea what the backstory of the eraser is? Nope? Join us as we rewrite history with our 109 facts about pens, pencils, and erasers.
Fact 1: The word ‘pencil’ is thought to have both a Latin and French origin. For example, ‘Pencillus’ is the Latin version of pencil, and ‘pincel’ is the French version, both are very similar to the word we are familiar with though.
Fact 2: A single standard size pencil can draw a line that is 35 miles long. That’s the equivalent of writing about 45,000 words, or half a novel!
Fact 3: The ‘dip pen’ was mostly used for calligraphy, illustrations, and comics – this is not your ballpoint pen! This type of pen sort of looks a bit like a ‘fountain’ pen, but unlike a ‘fountain’ pen it has no reservoir (where the ink goes), so you have to keep on refilling it by tipping the pen in ink every time the ink runs out.
Fact 4: The most common type of pencil is made from graphite and wood.
Fact 5: When people say ‘lead pencils’ this is inaccurate as manufacturers no longer use lead in the core of a pencil. It’s just carbon these days.
Fact 6: The ‘fountain’ pen, or the ‘posh pen’ as some will call it, was the patent of Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru, in 1827.
Fact 7: Ancient Egyptians used thin ‘reed brushes’ to write down their work on papyrus scrolls. These are some of the earliest examples of pens.
Fact 8: Contrary to popular belief, it was never possible to get lead poisoning from a pencil. The modern pencil was never actually made from lead. It’s always been graphite.
Fact 9: Steve Roger Fischer thought that using ‘reeds’ for pens might have been done way back in 3000 BC.
Fact 10: Large proportions of graphite were found in Cumbria, England in the 16th Century. This graphite was completely unique in the UK and it was used to make thousands of pencils, which are no doubt in various pencil collections around the world.
Fact 11: Graphite pencils, or pencils that are square-shaped, were made in a town called Keswick, England, in the 1860s. They still manufactured pencils there until 2007.
Fact 12: Bread crumbs were used as rubbers before erasers were invented. Seriously, they really do work!
Fact 13: ‘Reed’ pens, used by the Egyptians, were used right up until the Middle Ages. You’re talking anytime before the 5th century! The Middle Ages lasted from about the 5th-15th century.
Fact 14: The French stumbled upon ‘caoutchouc’, a natural rubber, and decided to use it as the eraser that we use today.
Fact 15: An average size Cedar tree can make 300,000 pencils.
Fact 16: Quills were brought into action around the 7th century.
Fact 17: Pines and spruces are also used to make pencils. A lot of pencils typically look the same, except some might be more expensive than others!
Fact 18: ‘Quills’, that were used as pens, were usually made with goose feathers.
Fact 19: It has been noted that Thomas Edison used specially made pencils when he was doing his work. These pencils were not different in shape but were different in terms of their thickness, and he preferred a 3-inch long pencil instead of the normal 7.5-inch size. I guess today we’re more likely to type on a keyboard, or use a stylus to write on a tabet, when doing our work!
Fact 20: T3 claim that the following ‘fountain’ pens are the best on the market as of 2020:
- Caran D’Ache Ecridor Retro Palladium-Coated Fountain Pen
- Montblanc Le Grand 146 Fountain Pen
- Kingsman + Conway Stewart Churchill Fountain Pen
- Waterman Fountain Pen
Fact 21: The Latin word ‘pencillus’ actually means ‘little tail’.
Fact 22: Similarly, the French word ‘pincel’ means ‘little paintbrush’.
Fact 23: Your average pen can write about 45,000 words.
Fact 24: The ‘Reed’ pens that were used in years gone by were made from bamboo material traditionally.
Fact 25: A pencil can be used in space! Astronauts have used pencils for many years in space as the zero gravity has no effect on the pencil’s ability to write words out on paper.
Fact 26: Kids in India and Pakistan still use ‘reed’ pens to write on tablets known as ‘Takhiti’. No, these are not the iPad kind of tablets!
Fact 27: The world’s longest traditional pencil is 459.97 meters long and is made from WOPEX: A composite that’s largely made of wood. This pencil was made by STAEDTLER.
Fact 28: The ‘fountain’ pen, or ‘posh pen’, started being used during the 1850s.
Fact 29: March 30th is Pencil Day. This event is celebrated in many countries and it focuses on the history of the pencil and is just about having fun with your pencils!
Fact 30: On March 30th, 1858, an eraser was attached to the end of the pencil for the first time. Hymen Lipman was responsible for this new and innovative movement.
Fact 31: ‘Quills’ became popular when papyrus (something Egyptians used to write on) was replaced with animal skins (which was a new material to write on). According to historians, the new material was far smoother and much easier to write on, but it required a far superior ‘pen’ to write on it with, hence the ‘quill’ was brought into play.
Fact 32: Graphite is actually crystallised carbon and its atoms form a hexagonal shape.
Fact 33: Pencils are traditionally yellow as this was perceived as ‘better quality’ and ‘exceptional craftsmanship’ many years ago. This perception was born in 1890, when the wealthy art company Koh-I-Noor, in Austria, decided to sell pencils in yellow – everyone believed that this was the only way to make a pencil and just copied them.
Fact 34: ‘Gel’ pens are a type of pen that puts out a water-based gel when being used. This gel is not like the ink in normal pens. Gel ink is typically quite jazzy and colorful!
Fact 35: Roald Dahl only used 6 yellow pencils to write his books. He would write all he could with these pencils until they became unusable. When was the last time you wrote using a pencil?
Fact 36: A ‘quill’ was used to sign the Constitution of the United States in 1787.
Fact 37: A ‘copper nib’ was found in Pompei in the year 79, which suggested nibbed pens were used as early as this date. Obviously, these were not your ballpoint pens of today.
Fact 38: Authors like Hemingway and Steinbeck would only write their novels in pencil. Writing in pencil allegedly brought about creativity.
Fact 39: Derwent Pencil Museum is one of the most well-known museums dedicated to pencils in the world. The museum is based in the Lake District and was opened in 1981.
Fact 40: There is a coloring pencil in England that is 7.91 meters long and weighs an incredible 984.1lb. Its home is Derwent Pencil Museum in the Lake District.
Fact 41: The Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick, is visited by more than 80,000 people every year. Visitors flock from far and wide to see the history of the pencil. Locals from Yorkshire often visit as pencil manufacturing played a significant role in their culture during the 1930s.
Fact 42: A patent for a ‘metal pen’ was issued in 1803, but this patent wasn’t exploited by the masses.
Fact 43: In 2007 the world’s heaviest pencil was made. It weighs a whopping 18,000lb and is more than 23.16 meters long. 18,000lb is equivalent to the weight of 1,900,000 standard pencils.
Fact 44: Storm Desmond hit the Pencil Museum in Keswick so hard that it wiped out entire collections that were on display. The effects of the storm rocked the town itself and actually caused the museum to close, while it refurbished and salvaged its items – most of which are one-of-a-kinds.
Fact 45: The longest working pencil ever made worldwide is 1091.99 meters long and was created by BIC to celebrate the opening of their new factory in France. The pencil was made out of polystyrene so it is bendy and has a graphite centre.
Fact 46: ‘Bic pens’ came onto the market around the 1940s, but their success came later, around the 1950s.
Fact 47: ‘Fudepen,’ or ‘brush pens’ are used mainly throughout Eastern Asia for calligraphy purposes. The pen looks a little like a ‘fountain pen’ just with brushes at the nib. Nonetheless, this produces some excellent calligraphy when it is placed in the right hands.
Fact 48: A ‘stylus’ pen is a tool used in pottery, it is used for precision and to create more detail, which a hand would not be capable of doing.
Fact 49: Bryan Donkin requested a patent to manufacture metal pens in 1811.
Fact 50: Tiny flakes of graphite stick to the fibers on paper to create a pencil mark. These tiny tiny flakes are less than a thousandth of an inch – you would never notice them with a human eye.
Fact 51: John Mitchell, from the UK, began mass-producing pens with metal nibs in 1822.
Fact 52: Papermate brought out ‘erasable’ pens in 1979. I haven’t used an erasable pen in years!
Fact 53: Keswick England has had its fair share of Hollywood glory, but the Pencil Museum has also played its role in films. The Pencil museum’s most notable role was in Sightseers in 2012.
Fact 54: The ‘ruling’ pen is not a pen just for rulers, kings, and queens! Rather, it is used by engineers and those in similar professions, where they have to draw fine lines.
Fact 55: Today, we might think of a pen as a ‘digital’ pen, and rightly so! With lots of us working from tablets, phones, and Ipads, it’s no wonder that the ‘digital’ pen has risen to the surface. Literally, this type of pen is a pen that works with our gadgets. So, this pen is certainly up there with the ballpoint and fountain pen today, and couldn’t be further from the ‘quill’.
Fact 56: Pre-filled ink pens are said to date back to the 10th Century AD.
Fact 57: The biggest collection of black pencils in the world contains 16,260 pencils. The collection belongs to Emilio Arenas from Uruguay, who has travelled the world to get the most unique black pencils.
Fact 58: Faber-Castell is home to the oldest pencil, the pencil was made in the 17th Century. It was found after someone moved out of an ancient house.
Fact 59: The largest collection of pencil sharpeners contains 8,514 sharpeners. These sharpeners are all different and the collection is owned by Demetra Koutsouridou.
Fact 60: Angelika Unverhau, holds the title for the largest ballpoint pen collection. With over 285,150 ballpoint pens in the collection. The lady from Germany has collected these pens since 1990 and has got pens from 148 countries in her enormous collection.
Fact 61: 14 billion ‘BIC Crystal’ pens are sold yearly across the world!
Fact 62: When discussing pens, you might hear someone talking about a ‘reservoir’. In this case, the ‘reservoir’ refers to the place where the ink is held in the pen.
Fact 63: Eberhard Faber was responsible for the mass-production of pencils in America. In 1861 he built a huge factory that made pencils in New York city.
Fact 64: When talking about ‘pens’ people sometimes refer to them as ‘biros’. The reason for this is because this is the surname of László Bíró. He played a significant role in ‘ballpoint’ pen making in the 1940s.
Fact 65: The first sharpener was invented in 1828 and it was invented by Bernard Lassimone.
Fact 66: Your standard BIC pen can write out a line that is 2 miles long in ink.
Fact 67: An average of 15 billion pencils are made every year. If you lined these up you could circle the world 62 times!
Fact 68: In 953, Ma’ād al-Mu’iss, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt requested a pen to be created especially for him. His request was that the ink from the pen did not run onto his hand. Therefore, the well-known ‘reservoir’ inside a pen was created to hold the ink.
Fact 69: The ‘XS’ created by ēnsso, is one of the smallest pens in the world. This pen happens to be a ‘fountain’ pen, and it is very practical for those who need to travel around, as it fits into your pocket well.
Fact 70: 2 billion pencils are used by individuals in the USA each year.
Fact 71: Excluding the Cedar tree, a standard tree can produce 170,000 pencils, which means the USA uses 82,000 trees a year just for pencils!
Fact 72: Lee Newman patented the ‘felt-tipped’ pen in 1910, and B Paskach patented the ‘fountain paintbrush’ in 1926. The ‘fountain paintbrush’ is as the name suggests, much like a fountain pen but with a sponge on the tip, so it’s more like a ‘felt-tip’ pen in essence.
Fact 73: Mechanical pencils are generally the better option over traditional wooden pencils. You can refill a mechanical pencil with ‘lead’ over and over. This leads to less wood usage which in turn leads to less deforestation.
Fact 74: The most desired pencil in the world will cost you $12,800. This expensive little pencil is crafted by Graf von Faber-Castell and is created by shaping 240-year-old Olivewood and combining it with 18-carat white gold.
Fact 75: Daniel Schwenter created a ‘reservoir’ pen in 1636. This pen is said to look like 2 ‘quills’, with 1 quill being inside the other quill. The quill inside was said to hold the ink in with a cork, while the outer quill was used for the actual writing.
Fact 76: Details have emerged in recent years that suggest that Greek poets spoke about pencil-like instruments in their works and documents. Notably, poet Philip of Thessaloniki talked about an instrument similar to a pencil in the first century B.C.
Fact 77: ‘Skin’ pens as the name suggests are used to mark or write on skin. You tend to find these pens in operating theatres so that surgeons can mark a patient before an operation takes place. But, you also see these pens in tattoo parlors. Tattoo artists draw with this kind of pen first, so that they have the exact outline to follow before using the real inking machine on a person. Imagine tattooing someone without first outlining the picture!
Fact 78: The Bíró brothers, who created the ‘ball’ at the nib of the pen, patented ‘Bíró Pens of Argentina’ when they fled Germany during the Second World War. They continued to test out new pen designs throughout their lifetime.
Fact 79: The world’s largest pen, which can function too, is 5.5 m in length, and weighs 37.23 kg. This incredible feat belongs to Acharya Makunuri from India.
Fact 80: In England in 1809, Bartholomew Folsch got a patent to create pens with an ink reservoir inside.
Fact 81: The majority of the pencils sold in the USA come with rubber tips to rub out errors. The same cannot be said in Europe.
Fact 82: The ‘marker’ pen, actually has lots of names. These include ‘fine liner’, ‘felt-tip-pen’, ‘marking pen’, koki’, sketch pen’, and ‘flow marker’. In the UK, this pen is also known as a ‘highlighter’. The ‘highlighter’ is generally used to highlight important words, phrases, or sentences in documents. These pens usually come in many colours, but you can always see through the color to see what you have highlighted beneath.
Fact 83: Soldiers would carry pencils with them when at war. This was to write home to loved ones, to use as a weapon, and to leave messages for their fellow soldiers.
Fact 84: During WW2 the pencil factory in Cumbria created pencils for POW’s to use to escape their camps. They were nicknamed ‘spy pencils’. The pencils were created with a small map concealed inside as well as a compass under the rubber.
Fact 85: It was the creative work of Hungarian newspaper editor László Bíró, that brought us the ball at the tip of the pen that aided writing. The ball helped the pen glide over the paper, while at the same time picking up ink from the ink cartridge.
Fact 86: Charles Fraser-Smith, the creator of the secret spy pencils used in WW2, was said to be the inspiration for James Bond’s Q character. Q is the famous gadget creator in the James Bond books and films.
Fact 87: A ‘spy pencil’ was seen on the Antiques Roadshow in the UK, in 2018 and was valued at £400. These creations from 1942 are incredibly rare and were part of a Top Secret Government Operation at the time.
Fact 88: The ballpoint pen, which might be more known to us, was patented by John J. Loud in 1888.
Fact 89: The ‘Spy pencil’ was such a Top Secret Government operation that the pencils were all created in the night when all of the workers were home in bed. Only a small number of people knew of the existence of the pencil, as the British didn’t want any information falling into the enemy’s hands.
Fact 90: In 16th century England, graphite was so expensive and sought-after that guards had to watch over mine workers. Graphite was really easy to use to mark sheep and it could be sold for a good price in towns.
Fact 91: There are 8 known ‘pen’ types in the world. These are Gel, Ballpoint, Novelty, Rollerball, Fountain, Felt-tip, Stylus, and calligraphy.
Fact 92: It was Henry David Thoreau who started running ‘lead’ through the whole wooden pencil. Pencils used to be manufactured in two halves. These two halves would be glued together to make a long pencil.
Fact 93: As of 2020, Best’s ‘best pens of the year’ are as follows:
- Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen – the best ‘rollerball’ pen
- Uni-ball Jetstream Pen – the best ‘ballpoint’ pen
- Pilot Razor Point II Marker Stick pens – best pens for left-handed people
- Pilot G2 Retractable Gel-ink Pens – the best ‘gel’ pen
- Pilot Metropolitan Collection Medium-nib – best ‘luxury’ pen
- Marvy Uchida Le Pen – best ‘felt-tip’ pen
- JinHao X750 Medium-nib Fountain Pen – best ‘fountain pen for beginners’
- Zebra F402 Retractable Ballpoint Pen – best for ‘highlighting’
Fact 94: Pencil numbers refer to the amount of graphite the pencil contains and the shade of colour it’ll produce. In Europe, the letter ‘H’ and ‘B’ are used to distinguish the differences, but in the USA they use a numerical scale to determine these factors.
Fact 95: The first batch of ballpoint pens to be sold in America, way back in the 1940s, were being sold for about $12.45, per biro! In the UK, if you’re lucky, you can pick up a pack of 10 ‘BIC Crystal’ pens for £3.
Fact 96: The original pencil sharpener was a knife. This highly dangerous method was eventually superseded by the more practical and safer sharpener that was created in 1828.
Fact 97: In some countries, years and years ago, the ‘ruling’ pen, which was used for more fine and technical drawing, was used as tweezers by some women to pluck their eyebrows.
Fact 98: Mechanical pencils date back to 1636, where a bit of lead was attached to a spring. Nowadays, mechanical pencils have become extremely popular because of their convenience.
Fact 99: The US produces 2 billion pens a year on average!
Fact 100: There is such a thing as an electric rubber! They were originally invented in 1932 by Arthur Dremel. Yes, the same man that brought us Dremel branded power craft tools.
Fact 101: Pencil centres are made from clay, graphite, and water. Years ago, before the advent of machines, people would grind these contents by hand before placing the mixture in a kiln to cure.
Fact 102: On average, 125 ballpoint pens are sold around the globe every second!
Fact 103: The word ‘stylus’ comes from the Latin word ‘stilu’, and the spelling we see today is likely to have come from the Greek word ‘stylos’.
Fact 104: BIC, one of the largest pen manufacturers, sells on average 57 pens a second!
Fact 105: The creator behind the mass-producing pencil machines is John Dixon. In 1870, he used his lithography knowledge to create a machine that would output pencils at high speed, this machine could also cut out shapes ready for graphite to be set in the middle.
Fact 106: As of 2018, the most expensive pen in the world is the Aurora Diamante Fountain Pen. Get ready to be blown away by the price tag… the pen costs $1,470,600… I’ll let that sink in for a minute. For your money, you do get 30 carats of De Beers diamonds and a solid platinum barrel. Oh, and to top it all off, there is an 18KT gold nib, plus it can be personalised.
Fact 107: A ‘technical’ pen, as the name suggests is a pen that is used for very intricate and technical work. Professionals like architects would certainly be used to using this type of pen.
Fact 108: Steel ‘fountain’ pen nibs are a lot cheaper than gold nibs – as expected. Gold is more desirable in a fountain pen nib because it’s more springy. This means it acts as a shock absorber against any roughness in the paper to give a very smooth writing experience.
Fact 109: Permanent marker’ pens do as their name indicates – leave a permanent mark on a surface. The writing written by these pens generally lasts for years and years, unless you actively try and remove the writing. You can use these pens on different materials too!
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