What’s in a Pencil?

I saw this object lying on the sidewalk in the early morning light. This image taken in oblique light seemed to me to be an interesting visual essay on texture.

We live on a street with a school, so writing implements fall our way on occasion. But I don’t use pencils. Well, occasionally a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, or a set of drawing pencils. But text is the domain of pens, on those occasions when I don’t have a keyboard handy.

So one might wonder what there is to write about such a prosaic object. The cedar, the steel alloy, the blend of natural and synthetic rubbers, the content of the pigments and binders of the paint, or the blend of graphite and polymers that go into it come to mind.

I hereby declare that  essence is in the “lead”. There was a time (back before they had the periodic table worked out) when black lead (lead-nitrate and/or lead-sulfide) or other materials were called “graphite” and used for pencils. But it was finally decided that non-toxic and cheap carbon was the actual essence of writing. The word “Graphite” comes from the Greek word to-write.

The elemental metal lead (Pb for plumbum) was never actually used for writing, but the toxic black lead compound was. Even the paint around the pencil was yummy lead-acetate based, into my early writing years. Now the blend of carbon graphite and clay and/or polymers wrapped in wood is the modern essence of pencil.

So where does this lead lead (led leed)? To wit: To write is the rite to right an issue before the right audience. Thus I too am the type to type to you today. If I’ve judged rightly, this makes sense.


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