An Introduction to Pencils and Pencil Collecting
by Doug Martin
Updated February 1999

Why pencils? Well, they are small, relatively inexpensive, widely varied, and they are virtually everywhere. Before I started collecting pencils I had no idea there were so many varieties and manufacturers. Pencils have a long and interesting history, and are the result of centuries of engineering and refinement.

For the growing number of pencil collectors I hope these pages will serve as a useful source of information. Pencil collectors have varied interests, and as my specialized interests do not cover all aspects of pencil collecting, these pages are likely to be slanted in my favor until other collectors contribute their knowledge and points of view.

Basic Pencil Types

Wood Pencils
The most common of all pencils are the wood-encased types. A thin rod of a graphite composite or other material is sandwiched between two precisely formed strips of wood. An illustration of the steps involved in making wood pencils can be found here. Wood pencils are usually made with cedar because it can withstand the tortures of sharpening and stresses of writing without cracking or splitting. Recently, some pencils are being made using tropical 'rain-forest' woods.

Wood pencils are most commonly hexagonal or rounded in shape, but some types may be triangular, octagonal, or otherwise. Some specialized pencils, such as carpenter's pencils, artists' pencils, etc. may be flat or elliptical in shape.

Mechanical Pencils
Mechanical pencils come in many styles. Generally speaking, mechanical pencils consist of an engineered case made from metal, plastic, or a combination of both. The case contains an internal mechanism for advancing a thin, replaceable shaft of lead, which is actuated by twisting, pressing, or clicking some external gadget. Considerable design effort has gone into many of today's precision mechanical pencils.

Other types
With increased awareness of environmental issues, some manufacturers are now producing pencils made from recycled materials, such as plastics, cloth, sawdust, and others. These pencils usually resembled wood-encased pencils and are comparable in quality to their wood counterparts. Examples of such pencils include Sanford Berol Eagle brands and Eberhard Faber American Ecowriter.

Introduction to Collecting

When it comes to collecting each collector has a unique special interest, and so it is with pencil collectors. Over the past several years I have communicated with many collectors with as many special interests, some of which I'll make further mention of below.

As I have mentioned elsewhere on these pages and in email messages, my personal specialty is with original manufacturers name-brand wood pencils, ie. Dixon Ticonderoga, Eagle Mirado, etc. I strive to acquire as many different name brands as possible, including discontinued brands and those made by no-longer-existent manufacturers. As a consequence, the histories of pencil companies; their beginnings, mergers, and declines, are of great interest to me and are helpful in determining the age of an old pencil. I am presently compiling lists of pencil brands from my own collection and with the help of others who have contributed to these pages.

Most pencil collectors have specialty interests other than my own, however. I have found that by far the most popular categories are company advertising pencils and souvenir and novelty pencils. There are many sub-categories of specialization within these and other groups.

Advertising Pencils

A vast number of local businesses, large corporations and other institutions give free advertising pencils to their customers. These pencils usually include the company name, address, phone number and brief product or service description. I quickly learned after joining the American Pencil Collectors Society that "full address" pencils, ie. those with the complete name and street address of the advertiser are much preferred by some over those that list, for example, only the city and phone number.


Travelers can almost always pick up a souvenir pencil at every destination. Natural and historical sites, museums, other places of interest, and events are often commemorated on a pencil, and they make an inexpensive memento of places visited.


There are many varieties of novelty pencils from movie themes to sports teams. Novelty pencils commemorate holidays or events, or are decorated with bright colors and patterns. Included in this group are 'bentcils' and pencils with unusual erasers, such as cartoon characters or other objects. The possibilities here are almost endless.

Mechanical Pencils

Mechanical pencils are in a class by themselves. There are many variations in the style and design of mechanical pencils, and many antiques can be found. Often, mechanical pencils and fountain pens are classed together by collectors of both. I invite mechanical pencil collectors to contribute their knowledge to these pages.


Within each of the groups mentioned above, there are many smaller sub-specialties enjoyed by many collectors. Here is just a short list of the many possibilities.

Final Comment

As a pencil collector, I do not limit myself only to my specialty interest. A have at least a few items in each of the categories I have discussed. In fact, my souvenir/advertising pencils outnumber my brand-name collection at present. The items that are of lesser interest to me are useful when trading with others.

Be sure to read the articles by Steve A., Michael J. Grace, and Gene Fornario for additional commentary on pencil collecting. (see Articles)

Additions and comments welcome!

Doug -

The Pencil Pages © 1996-1999 Doug Martin