My Collection – Photos and Commentary

Special Purpose

Clark’s Indelible Pencil

I’m back!

One of the first wooden pencils I ever spent a chunk of money on was a very old and unusual one that I had never seen before, from the Clark Indelible Pencil Company of Northampton, Massachusetts.  I obtained several varieties since then.

These specialized pencils were made for writing permanently on cloth and other materials.

The active part of the pencil is integrated with a protective tube:

Clark's Tubes

Clark's Pencils

A patent from 1866 ( describes in detail how the pencil was made.  The indelible ingredient in the lead is silver nitrate.  I remember this substance from my high school Chemistry class because it gave us permanent (until the skin wore off) stains on our hands.

At first I thought that the leads were square.  But the patent describes how round leads were made from paste pressed into a mold, then placed into sawed grooves and enclosed with a strip of wood (clearly visible in the fourth pencil insert).  Hence, it’s a round lead (with cementing material) in a square hole.

Some of the pencils have second insert, a soft chalky substance in a paper tube.  I think this is probably gypsum.  The patent talks about gypsum as an ingredient of the lead, where it forms a compound that prevents softening due to atmospheric moisture.  Instructions on the label seem to describe the substance being rubbed on a dampened area of the cloth prior to writing.  Maybe it is gypsum helping to stabilize the mark. —

Clark's InstructionsClark's InstructionsClark's Instructions

A box with French labels, showing that Clark’s pencils were sold by A.W. Faber in Paris:

Clark's French LabelsClark's French Labels

The sixth pencil in the first photo is one of the newer ones.  The label suggests some new uses, including marking toothbrushes (no more disgusting mix-ups!) and umbrellas.  It came with this price list:

Clarks Price List

Tool Top

Kapoff, from American Pencil Co., has a bottle opener on top —

The metal piece on this Eagle pencil says “Spark-Tip” —

I once thought it was for producing sparks (but why?) or lighting matches, but I couldn’t see how it would work.  Now I think it is for testing spark plugs, although I don’t know exactly how.

My favorites of course are these Tape-Measure pencils —

The tapes go to 18 inches.

Controlled Reproduction

You may have noticed that some colors copy better than others on Xerox and other copying machines that you’ve used.  While this phenomenon is sometimes an annoyance, it has practical applications, such as not reproducing alignment lines and written comments.

There are, of course, specialized pencils for these applications.  There have been many different copying technologies and purposes, and pencils designed for optimal performance in each situation were produced.

Dixon produced an extensive “Fax” line of such pencils.  I have a set that came in a sales folder with information sheets —

Dixon Fax Pencils

Fax Sheet

Dixon Fax Uses

Here are some double-ended varieties from other manufacturers:

Pentel Torencil

Blue Print Pencils

(The No. 625 is from Richard Best.)


A sleeve with movable needle arm makes these pencils into a drawing compass —


Manufacturing Tests

Eco-friendly pencils with unpainted wood are popular (or at least produced) these days, but that’s not what these are —

VD Testing

They appear to be samples used to test pencil manufacturing processes.  V.D. here stands for Venus Drawing, I believe.

The similar one below is apparently a test for an Autograph by Venus —

Autograph Panel

The Autograph brand was around for a long time, in many varieties.  This one has a matte white panel where you can write your name — your autograph.  Japanese “kakikata” pencils for children often have this feature.

Another pair, maybe also for testing —

Badger Blank

Discerning collectors have noticed that some Eagle and Eberhard Faber pencils have a small dot added to the standard design.  The dot may represent some aspect of the pencil’s production.  An example of this variation for Eagle Turquoise Drawing —

Turquiose Dot

On the reverse is what at first glance appears to be the common “dotted X” decorative feature.  But it is missing one of the dots.  In fact, a variety of strange symbols can be found on these pencils —

Strange Symbols

I’m pretty sure that they are used for quality control purposes.  It looks like the various shapes with different numbers of dots are some kind of code, perhaps for different dates, equipment, and sources of material.


These are dressmaker’s pencils, for marking patterns on fabric.  The brush is for wiping the mark off afterward, as ordinary erasers would be inefficient.

The top three are somewhat vintage.  I’ve got some newer Dritzs, but they are mint in package, and I wouldn’t want to limit their investment value by removing them.  That’s tongue in cheek (an idiom, my foreign readers), of course.  Yet I’ve always been reluctant to remove pencils from their blister packaging, even though I’d prefer to put them with my other pencils and save space.  And eventually, the glue on those packages disintegrates and the pencils fall out anyway.


In honor of the upcoming presidential and general elections in the United States, presented here is a collection of specialized pencils for marking ballots.  All of them have (or had) a means of being attached to a voting booth — either a built-in string, or a ring or hole for attaching a string.  Several have indelible leads, although they don’t say so.

Some of these special pencils came into my possession after being literally ripped off.  I personally would never do such a thing.


Wooden golf pencils: for marking score cards, small enough for a shirt pocket, cheap, factory sharpened, and no eraser.  (Previously I showed some mechanical types.)

Let’s start with several from Hawaii, where I used to live —

And then some brand-name types —

The Dixon is obviously a truncated Ticonderoga.  But I haven’t seen a Ticonderoga of that design.  Probably it was never sold, and the existing stock made into golf pencils (similarly to the Student).

Red | Blue: Long

For the final installment of red and blue lead combination pencils, I present wooden ones that are 8 to 9 inches long:

As for the intended purpose of these pencils, I would say that the Romantic and Rainbow are novelty items.  Despacho from Johann Sindel indicates something to do with shipping.  And the Hardtmuth and St. Majewski pencils bear the medical caduceus symbol.  Why is it useful for medical pencils to be so long?  Maybe so that doctors don’t have to bend over quite as far to mark charts that are tied to patients’ beds.

Now for some statistics.  I have shown a total of 307 red/blue pencils, not including the mechanical ones.  77% have the red lead on the left, blue on right. — But for U.S.-made ones, only 60% are oriented this way, while 88% of non-U.S. ones are.  74% have left and right sides painted red and blue (or with colored marks left and right). — But for one of these, the leads don’t match the paint!  (Can you find it?)

Test Scoring

Another type of special-purpose pencil is used for marking multiple-choice answer sheets and similar purposes.  A scanner detects the mark locations optically.  Nowadays, any number 2 or HB pencil usually suffices, but scanners were less sensitive in the past and special lead formulations were required.  These pencils are referred to by terms such as Test Scoring, Mark Sensing, Electrographic, Machine Scoring, and OMR (Optical Mark Recognition).

Many are black, suggestive of their dark marks:

The pair of Detect-O-Graphs at the bottom are another example of a connection between the Linton and Venus companies.

Here are some more, including the IBM Electrographic (see Pencil Talk):

Some modern Mark Sheet pencils from Japan:

The Tombow Mono one came with a plastic point protector:

And finally, a mechanical variety by Dur-O-Lite:

Red | Blue: Italy, EF, Hardtmuth

More for the Red|Blue page: Pencils from Italian companies (Fila, Presbitero, FIM-Torino), Eberhard Faber, and Hardtmuth, plus the Checkpoint brand.

Would you say that this one is best described as right-handed, left-handed, or other?


Red | Blue: German Companies

The Red|Blue Collection page now includes German pencil manufacturers: A.W. Faber, Johann Faber, Lyra, Schwan, Staedtler, and others.  Pencils made by these companies in other countries are included.

Red | Blue: Mechanicals and Pens

Continuing with the red/blue theme, here are appropriate mechanical pencils and ballpoint pens.  I am showing them here but reserving the Red|Blue Collection page for wood pencils.

 Starting with the fourth pencil down, the brands are Wearever (x3), Onward, Scripto, and Empire.


Red | Blue: Other Countries

I have added red-and-blue pencils from various countries to the R|B Collection page (click here). 

Still to come, but not for a while, are red/blue pencils from Germany, Italy, and the U.S., as well as the Hardtmuth company and mechanical pencils.

Collections, Red | Blue, Japan

FRED’S PENCILS has a new feature: Collections pages.  These pages display large numbers of items in a single category, with minimal commentary.  They are accessible from menus at the top and bottom of any page.  Items may be added in a few installments, which will be announced and described in the Blog.

I’ll begin with a Collection of Red and Blue pencils.  These combination pencils, which are handy for annotating documents and checking forms, are popular with a number of collectors and users.  For me, they were one of the first types of pencil that I considered special.

The first installment is R/B pencils from Japan.  A peculiarity of several of these Japanese pencils is the use of a specific shade of red, Vermillion, and a specific blue, Prussian Blue.  I suspect this has to do with the properties of these colors when copies are made.  (Anyone?)

Watch for much more in this Collection!

Black | Red

While red/blue combination pencils are well-known, there are also pencils that have both black (graphite) and red leads.  Here are a couple of old American ones, with a box:

The box describes what the pencils are for:  Red lead for checking and special notations, black for shorthand and writing. 

This type of pencil is more popular in Japan, judging from the many varieties –

I show both front and back because a common feature of Japanese pencils is that they have important information on opposite sides.

Note that all of these two-way pencils have black on the left and red on the right.  But the one shown on the Shorthandy box is reversed! 

Black/red combo mechanical pencils also exist –

The Autopoint at top is a famous example.


As a youth, I used to go bowling often.  There were special pencils for keeping score.  Despite pangs of guilt, I made off with them if I needed them for my collection.  

The leads of these bowling pencils are of two general types: Thick graphite for paper, and opaque yellow or white for overhead projector transparencies.  The latter are fairly easy to wipe off. 


Note that Blaisdell, Moon, and General all made ones having the product number 300, the score of a perfect game.  And General has five different brands!  A couple of their numbers are frustratingly close to 300.