Made in Czech Republic

Pedlar’s Signet 100 HB 2


signet-boxThe Kimberly and Pedlars

Earlier this year, it was in February, Pedlars contacted me asking for some suggestions what pencils to add to their current offering. I believe Palimpsest suggested that they should contact me – and to be quite honest, I was quite excited to have a chance to make a (small) difference in the world of pencils. In my first email back I mentioned, among other pencils, the Kimberly – a pencil I really like, not only because of its metal cap and the fact that it’s made in the USA. Luckily Sean was kind enough to send me a pack a few years ago. Off topic: To my surprise the General Pencil Co seems to label their products, among other languages, in German, even though I’ve never seen their products in Germany – but it shows that exporting this pencil is an option they had in mind.


Much later did I found out by coincidence that Pedlars seemed to have liked my suggestion and started to actually add the Kimberly to their line of pencils. I’m very glad they did!


Pedlar’s own pencil, the Signet 100

End of November I heard from Pedlars again. This time they sent me a new pencil they’re selling, their own model, called the Signet 100. According to the description in the box the pencil is made using American basswood/linden1 and is made in the Czech Republic. The box it comes in, a very nice box with an old fashioned surface that implies quality is made in Cheshire.


Where is it made?

I only know of two pencil factories in the Czech Republic. The Stabilo-Schwan factory is Český Krumlov and the Koh-I-Noor L. & C. Hardtmuth factory in Budweis. To be honest, my guess would have been that the Signet pencils are made by Koh-I-Noor L. & C. Hardtmuth, but according to the Signet box they are “made in the Czeck Republic by a long-established, family run company”, which means we can probably rule out Koh-I-Noor as the manufacturer.

Koh-I-Noor’s official name is Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth a.s. and the company is a member of the Koh-I-Noor holding a.s. Group – and a.s. means that a company is a joint stock company, which makes an a.s. company not impossible, but less likely to be a family-run company. Stabilo Schwan is a limited company, so more likely to be seen as a family-run company, but there might very well be other pencil manufacturers in the Czech Republic. If you know of any, please let me know.


The pencil

The first impression I had when looking at the Signet was that it looks quite similar to the Palomino, which was also sold by Pedlars, so whoever might have designed the pencil might have gotten some inspiration (maybe subconscious, or maybe this is a coincidence), by Pedlar’s current range.

A Signet and a Palomino

A Signet and a Palomino

Comparing this pencil in my mind to the recently discussed Koh-I-Noor, despite it being unlikely it’s from the same factory (‘family-run company’), I expected it to be a light writer, but it isn’t. There are smoother pencils out there, including many cheaper pencils (for example the really good and great value John Lewis pencils, the more I use them, the more I like them, but performance is good. Point retention is good, too, i.e. the point doesn’t wear down too fast. The pencil also doesn’t smudge and is easy to eraser.

Two Czech pencils

Two Czech pencils

The main issue with this pencil is probably the price, £24.95 (~$39; €31.50) for ten pencils. You do get a nice cardboard box with these pencils, but the price makes you compare this pencil to other high end pencils …where it can’t really compete and it therefore looks like a niche / hipster product.

Point retention

Point retention


Price and exchange rates: December 2014

You can find Palimpsest’s review of the Signet on her blog.

I would like to thank Ms Karie from Pedlar’s for the Signet pencils, which I have received for free.

  1. Lexikaliker thought the Czech made Stabilo EasyGraph might possibly also be made using linden wood. []

Look who’s 125 12

It’s the Koh-I-Noor’s 125th birthday this year! Congratulations!

This pencil just featured in Contrapuntalism’s latest blog post (last picture) and I also mentioned it in my previous blog post.


The colour

Austro-Hungarian flag

flag of the Habsburg Monarchy

If you are not familiar with the Koh-I-Noor: this is the pencil that might be the reason there are so many yellow pencils around, especially in North America. Petroski mentions a story in his book that describes how the L. & C. Hardtmuth Company picked yellow as the colour for this pencil because the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the same as the flag of the Habsburg Monarchy) was black and yellow1 – “and since the graphite was black, the pencil had to be painted golden yellow”2.

Different Koh-I-Noor pencils from Austria and the Czech Republic

Different Koh-I-Noor pencils,  made in Austria and the Czech Republic – bought in the UK, Germany and China.

The glory of the past

Now before I go any further I have to to say that the two descendants of the original Koh-I-Noor share the heritage but not the pompousness of the original Koh-I-Noor. I fear they also don’t share the high quality of the old Koh-I-Noor pencils which were given “fourteen coats of golden-yellow lacquer, the ends of the pencils were sprayed with gold paint, lettering was applied in 16-carat gold leaf”3 or the effort made to protect it – a Manx cat and her offspring were protecting the store rooms of this pencil from mice4.


The Koh-I-Noor's look  before 1852.

The Koh-I-Noor’s look before 1852.

The name

Such a luxurious pencil needs a fitting name. The Koh-I-Noor pencil was named after the Koh-I-Noor diamond, a diamond from India that was once the largest known diamond. This diamond is set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth5 (That’s Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI –  not Queen Elizabeth II, the current queen). You can admire the Koh-I-Noor diamond in the Tower of London.


 The Koh-I-Noor on both sides of the Iron Curtain

It all started to go a bit pear shaped for the Koh-I-Noor pencil when, after WWII, companies in Czechoslovakia were nationalised. At that time there was no pencil production in Austria as earlier production was moved to Budweis – when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was still around.  On the other side of the Iron Curtain the descendants of Joseph Hardtmuth, the founder of the company, managed to re-establish pencil production of the Koh-I-Noor in Upper Austria in 19506 and were also able to use the Hardtmuth and Koh-I-Noor trademarks. Much later, in 1996 production of the Austrian Koh-I-Noor pencils would move East to Austria’s state of Burgenland, an area which, in 1950, was in Austria’s Soviet-occupied zone7.


The real successor

Which of these companies is the ‘real’ Koh-I-Noor L. & C. Hardtmuth? It’s difficult to say even or especially in my very simplified version of the story. You could argue that the company in Budweis is the real successor. Pencils were made in the same factory as before the nationalisation. On the other hand you could also argue that the Western branch is the real successor. All seven shareholders as well as most senior staff flew Czechoslovakia when the company was nationalised8 and moved the company with them.

The Austrian and Czech successors.

The Austrian and Czech successors.

For me both companies are successors of the original manufacturer. The company in Budweis does still exist. As mentioned earlier the Austrian branch moved to Burgenland.  Their pencils are still being produced there. You can get Austrian made Koh-I-Noors, but there has been a change in ownership so the Koh-I-Noor pencils are now being sold under the name Cretacolor. You won’t find the successor, the Cretacolor 150, on Cretacolor’s web site, because of the web site’s focus on artists, but the 150 is selling well, not only in Austria, but also in countries like China9.



The image of the Koh-I-Noor originates from the Nordisk familjebok. The copyright for this image has expired.




  1. in the comments of this blog post Rick has corrected this: the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not black and yellow. However, both the flag of the Austrian Empire and the flag of the Kingdom of Hungary were black and yellow []
  2. see Henry Petroski: The pencil (1989), p. 161 in my UK edition of this book []
  3. see Henry Petroski: The pencil 1989, p. 191 in my UK edition of this book []
  4. again p. 191 []
  5. see Wikipedia []
  6. see the Ruling of the Federal Court (of Switzerland) 83 II 312, p. 317 []
  7. I’d like to thank Cretacolor’s Mr. Ellmauthaler for this information []
  8. see the Ruling of the Federal Court (of Switzerland) 83 II 312, p. 316 []
  9. I’d like to thank Cretacolor’s Mr. Ellmauthaler for this information []