[ Issue 42 ]

Pencils hold a lot of interest for Emily Bronto

Permit Bikwil to reveal the delights of Pencils


Today Fizzgig returns to a topic pencils first broached way back in Issue Issue 9 (September 1998).

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From the Back Verandah Fizzgig


It is now five and half years since I first asked the question in this column (it was Issue 9, September 1998):

I'm trying to find out when pencils began being graded as "H" for "Hard" and "B" for "Black" . . .

It could be that there were two stages in this labelling of pencils: originally they may have been marked "BBB", for example, then at some later date this got abbreviated to "3B", etc. I suspect, too, that this method may be confined to the UK and its old dominions, because there seems to be a different grading system in the United States, which goes "1, 2, 3 . . ."

Until recently, no reader had come forward with any assistance, so the other week, on the off-chance, I checked the Internet again and guess what? Id missed it. Yes, someone had done the research and put it up on the Web, as they say in the modern classics. In 1997!

Much as Id like to, though, Id better not use too much of his copyright material, so what Ill do is quote directly as little as I need from it .

First, for those of you with Internet access, heres the name of the site: Its at a page called Pencil Hardness/Softness Ratings, or Grading Pencils, and its author is Doug Martin.

The relevant information:

In the early nineteenth century, English pencil makers began using a letter designation for varying hardnesses . . . Different schemes were used to expand the range of grades, such as 'BB' and 'BBB' for successively softer leads, and 'HH' and 'HHH' for successively harder leads.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, a combination letter-number system had been established and was in use by nearly all European pencil makers, and was also used for some American-made pencils . . .

At the same time, a number-only system was in use, particularly in the U.S., which is still in use. The table below indicates approximate equivalents between the two systems:

#1 --- B
#2 --- HB
#3 --- H
#4 --- 2H.

But there is much more fascinating detail than just this on the site, so interested Bikwilians should take a look.

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