The magic of a pen
In the medieval Europe’s monasteries dedicated to the copying of manuscripts, the monks used to mark the paper with ink by using a kind of brush called penicillum, kind of similar to a brush. Something not new, if we consider that the Romans used a cane with animal hair trimmed for this purpose. It was not until the first third of the 16th century, when the German painter and engraver Alberto Durero invented something more like a pencil: a lead bar and a certain tin alloy called a silver tip, whose mark could be erased with breadcrumbs. Some historians say that Josef Hardtmuth, of Austrian origin, son of a carpenter, is the responsible for his appearance. Discontent with the low quality of the tools that were available to write, he had the idea of mixing clay with graphite powder, and after many tests he found the right degree of hardness for the pencil, and in 1792 he founded his own company in Vienna.
However, to obtain what we now consider a pencil, many discoveries had to be made previously.
We could say that the pencil was born as Frankenstein, thanks to the fortuitous lightning of a storm that fell on a giant oak tree in the humble village of Borrowdale, in Cumberland, England, near the Scotland border, in 1564. At first, it was thought that the substance was a kind of lead, and it was called black lead or plumbago. Its main use was to mark sheep. In a short time, the rumor of the existence of a rock capable of painting was spread throughout the rest of Europe. It even allowed the strategist Louis XII, in France, to develop it so that his entourage and royal court would use it in their private parties.
England maintained the monopoly of plumbago for centuries until in 1662, the Germans managed to mix powdered graphite, sulfur and antimony to create sticks like the English pencils, although of inferior quality. It was in the 1760s when the German company Faber founded a factory in the city of Nuremberg, Germany, for large-scale production.
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