Why are Pencils Called Number 2?

Why are Pencils Called Number 2?

In the world of writing instruments, there are few that are as iconic and recognizable as the pencil. But how much do people know about these humble tools? Here are some questions that might be on your mind: Why do they call it a #2 pencil? What is the history of the pencil? When were pencils first mass-produced? What is the difference between graphite and lead? What are the levels of hardness of graphite pencils? How are pencils manufactured? Why are pencils yellow? Why are erasers pink?

The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte. He discovered that if you mix graphite with clay and press it into a stick, you get a pencil. The first pencils were very different from the ones we use today. They were made from brown coal and clay, so they were very brittle and broke easily. They also didn't write very well, because the graphite was mixed with a lot of clay.

In 1822, John Walker invented the first modern pencil. He added water to the graphite and clay mixture, which made the pencils harder and less likely to break. He also coated them with wax, which made them smoother and easier to write with.

In 1858, Hymen Lipman patented the first pencil with an eraser on the end. The eraser was originally made out of rubber, but now it's usually made out of vinyl.

In 1890, the Blackwing 602 pencil was invented by Eberhard Faber. It was made out of high-quality graphite and had a very soft lead, which made it perfect for drawing and sketching.

In 1932, the Staedtler Mars Lumograph was invented. It had a harder lead than the Blackwing 602, making it perfect for writing and drawing.

Today, there are many different types of pencils available, from ultra-soft to ultra-hard. There are also mechanical pencils that don't require any sharpening and can be refilled with lead.


When were Pencils First Mass-Produced?

The first mass-produced pencils were created in 1662 by the Staedtler Pencil Factory in Nuremberg, Germany. Their basic wood pencils eventually spread across Europe and are still popular today.

Mass-producing pencils begins by cutting down trees to get the wood that is used in pencils. The wood is then cut into small pieces and boiled in water to remove the bark. It is then dried in a kiln, which makes it easier to machine.

The next step is to machine the wood into pencil shapes. This is done by using a lathe to turn it into the correct shape and then cutting it to the correct length. The eraser and the lead are then glued onto one end of the pencil and the paint is applied.

The pencils are then packaged and shipped to retailers all over the world. They are sold in packs of 12, 24, or 36, and there are also jumbo packs that contain 144 pencils.


What is the Difference Between Graphite and Lead?

There are many different types of pencils available on the market, but the two most common types are graphite and lead pencils. So what's the difference between them?

Graphite pencils are made of graphite, which is a type of carbon. Lead pencils are made of lead, which is a type of metal. Graphite is softer than lead, so it makes a darker line when you write with it. Lead is harder than graphite, so it makes a lighter line when you write with it.

Most people prefer to use graphite pencils for writing and drawing because they produce darker lines than lead pencils. However, some people prefer to use lead pencils for sketching because they produce lighter lines that are more accurate for detailed sketches.


What are the Levels of Hardness of Graphite Pencils?

The HB graphite scale refers to the degrees of hardness from very soft to very hard: 

8B - 7B - 6B - 5B - 4B - 3B - 2B - B - HB - F - H - 2H - 3H - 4H - 5H - 6H

Most pencil manufacturers outside the United States use HB scale to measure the hardness of the graphite. Graphite pencils are classified as soft black (B), hard (H), hard black (HB), and firm (F).


  • Soft pencils are perfect for artistic and pictorial drawing. 8B - 7B - 6B - 5B - 4B - 3B. They have graphite that is extra soft and creates marks that are very dark.
  • Medium pencils are perfect for writing and drawing. 2B - B - HB - F - H. The B or HB level falls in the middle of the spectrum of hardness and is both soft and fairly black. This level is the hardness equivalent of the #2 pencil.
  • Hard pencils are perfect for technical drawings. 3H - 4H - 5H - 6H. They have a lead that is the hardest of all the levels of hardness.

Why is it Called a #2 Pencil?

What does the #2 mean in a #2 pencil? The answer is that it refers to the level of hardness of the pencil's lead. In the Numerical Graphite Scale the higher the number, the harder the lead. So, a number two pencil has a medium-hard lead, while a number one pencil has a soft lead and a #3 pencil has a hard lead.

Everyday-use pencils usually fall into the #2 or B/HB scale of hardness. They are soft enough to leave a dark mark, but not too soft to leave graphite on the page that would smear during writing. 

However, there is no specific industry standard that would ensure a #2 pencil from one brand behaves the same way as a #2 pencil from another brand. Many companies have their own internal quality standards that determine quality and hardness.

Choosing which type of graphite pencils to use depends on the artist, paper, and artwork. If you tend to press quite hard on the paper, maybe harder graphite would suit you.


Why is the Pencil Yellow?

In 1802, Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth, an Austro-Hungarian company, patented the first pencil made from a combination of kaolin and graphic. In 1899, the company introduced the first world's first yellow wooden pencils at the World Fair in Paris. The graphite used in these pencils was from China. In Chinese culture, yellow symbolized royalty and respect. When Koh-i-Noor pencils hit American shelves after WW1, they kept their original yellow paint job. Due to the popularity of the Koh-i-Noor pencils, other companies started painting their own pencils yellow to imitate their successful competitor, and they are still being mass-produced with the signature yellow color today!


Why are Pencil Erasers Pink?

Several centuries ago before erasers were invented people used various things to remove marks on paper like bread or wax. For parchment or papyrus, removing ink required rougher surfaces like sandstone or pumice. In 1770, it was discovered that natural rubber from plants could be used as erasers. However, rubber in its natural state was not easy to use. It crumbled, was sensitive to temperature changes, and smelled awful. 

The most notable improvement to the eraser came in 1839, when Charles Goodyear developed a process that improved the tensile strength, temperature, and abrasion resistance of rubber. The chemical process that improves these physical characteristics of natural and synthetic rubber is known as vulcanization.

Hymen Lipman is credited with being the first person to sell pencils with erasers attached in 1858. The eraser was made of vulcanized rubber and attached to the end of the pencil with a metal clamp. Lipman received a patent for his invention in 1861, which he then sold to Joseph Dixon.

Together with vulcanized rubber, pencil manufacturers would add pumice to the rubber improving the eraser by creating just enough friction to erase the marks on the paper without ruining it. Pumice usually came in red or white, but at one point Eberhard Faber Pencil Company sourced pink pumice resulting in a pink eraser that the public loved and apparently still loves to this day!

There are many different types of erasers available in different colors and shapes. Monochromatic pencils have become quite unique and popular compared to the common yellow pencils with pink erasers. Check our sleek all-black pencils that come with a lovely carrying case.


In Conclusion

This simple writing instrument that we use every day has a wonderfully rich history. The pencil has come a long way from its early days as a simple stick of graphite. And while we might not think much about the origins of the pencil, it's definitely an interesting story. So the next time you're using a pencil, remember the humble beginnings of this amazing tool!

Do you have any other questions about pencils? Let us know in the comments.


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