Stationery Factlets #6: Staedtler was the first European manufacturer of mechanical pencil leads

Time for another stationery factlet: Staedtler was the first European manufacturer of mechanical pencil leads.

Staedtler made lead holders and leads for the lead holders for a long time. Below is a page from their 1935 catalogue.

Staedtler Catalogue 1935
Staedtler Catalogue 1935

When thinner lead diameters were introduced Staedtler was the first European manufacturer of these thinner leads – the kind of leads I would refer to as mechanical pencil leads.

Staedtler’s catalogues from the 1960s don’t seem to show pictures of these leads, but the catalogue from 1970 does – and it shows a very familiar lead container.

Staedtler Catalogue 1970
Staedtler Catalogue 1970
Staedtler Catalogue 1970
Staedtler Catalogue 1970

The Mars lead container still has the same shape today, but the plastic is now transparent. The opening of this lead container has the perfect diameter for refilling Mars micro mechanical pencils as you can see in the old video from my 2015 neox blog post.

I would like to thank Eberhard Rüdel for his detective work regarding my mechanical lead questions.

6 thoughts on “Stationery Factlets #6: Staedtler was the first European manufacturer of mechanical pencil leads”

  1. Great post! I didn’t know this facts about Staedtler. And they were way ahead of the game… Rotring released the Tikky only in 79 almost 10 years later

  2. Thank you for your comment. When you wrote about the Tikky’s history I was shocked it only came out in 1979. Was it Roting’s first mechanical pencil?
    When I went to school I just assumed that 0.5 mm mechanical pencils had been around for a long time, but it seems like they were not that old, back then.
    I find it surprisingly difficult to find information about the history of small diameter mechanical pencils and leads. Most info you can find on the web seems to be the Wikipedia article regurgitated…

  3. I don’t think Rotring had mechanical pencils as we know them today released before the Tikky. I know Rotring had a few lead holders with smaller diameter led a bit over 1 mm (1,18 I think – which is pretty close to what we have in mechanical pencils now) starting from the 50′ and 60′. But that was more a fancy writing instrument.
    Back then they were focused on isograph and radiograph. Before the computer aided design engineers would draw in pencil a rough drawing of the project with all the instructions annotations and so on. It wasn’t the final draft. That drawing was then redrawn cleanly by a draftsman who would use ink for the final version ( ink does not erase and you have a lot of linewidths to play with so it was very versatile)
    Engineers would draw in pencil because they needed to make changes and make corrections and correlations between disciplines. Also, an engineer would not put too much care into using standard line widths because his/her main job was to get the concept and the calculations right.
    So maybe this is why companies came so late with mechanical pencils.

  4. Rares, thank you for this explanation. What is the importance of the line width? I assumed in a technical drawing all the lines have the same width, but now I wonder whether different widths have different meanings.

  5. Interesting how the softer lead grade was HB then. I understand that the first polymer leads were introduced around 1970 in Japan, which allowed for softer grades and thinner leads like the 0.2 and 0.3mm.

  6. Thank you for your comment.
    I still haven’t found a good and reliable source for the history of thin mechanical pencil leads. If you find a good and reliable source, please let me know.

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