It is now
five and half years since I first asked the question in this column (it
was Issue 9, September 1998):
trying to find out when pencils began being graded as "H" for "Hard" and
"B" for "Black" . . .
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 . .
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?
I’d missed it. Yes, someone had done the research and “put it up on the
Web”, as they say in the modern classics. In 1997!
I’d like to, though, I’d better not use too much of his copyright
material, so what I’ll do is quote directly as little as I need from it
for those of you with Internet access, here’s the name of the site: It’s
at a page called
Hardness/Softness Ratings, or Grading Pencils, and its author is
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.
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 . . .
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:
is much more fascinating detail than just this on the site, so
interested Bikwilians should take a look.