Black-Lead Pencils

Until the 1550s, the British wrote with quills and ink. When black graphite, thought to be a form of lead, was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumbria, it was dubbed ‘black-lead.’

Book of Hours, Rosenwald MS.Evangelist with lion

Because graphite sticks alone were too brittle for writing, they were originally wrapped in sheepskin or string. By the 1840s, however, lead-pencil manufacturers were compressing graphite powder into solid sticks, inserting them between two grooved wooden halves, then gluing them together. The official catalogue of The 1851 Great Exhibition, Hyde Park, London, informs artists, architects , and engineers that their ‘Purified Lead Pencils, Perfectly Free From Grit, May be Entirely Erased, and Will Maintain a Firm Point.’