Monday, February 05, 2007

Clutch Pencils

A while ago I put up a posting on sketch pencils, so it seems time to say something about their brothers, clutch pencils. Actually the term ‘leadholder’ is probably a more precise name for what I mean when I say clutch pencil. I am talking about those pencils that take a long stick of (usually) 2mm lead and it’s held in a little set of jaws at the tip.
Photo - Koh-I-Noor 'Technigraph 5611 C' (Italy), Rotring 300 (assume Germany), Staedtler 'Mars 780' (Germany)

My earliest definite memory of a pencil is actually of a clutch pencil. I think I was about 7, and I remember finding a dusty old clutch pencil tucked away in a forgotten corner of my father’s home-workshop. I recall it had a plastic body and a diamond cut chrome metal grip section that was starting to corrode. It was very aggressive on the skin! It was from some far-away foreign land like Germany. I don’t think I had ever seen any sort of non-wooden pencil before. You are probably thinking it’s rather strange I remember all this. A bit mad even by my standards! Just another confirmation of what a nutcase I must be. Well I think there is a reason I remember this, it’s because this particular memory continues on just a little bit longer to when I found something else, a Stanley knife, and then there was lots of blood! Man I was scared. Luckily though, I missed the really important bits of me, and the doctor stitched me up as good as new.

I have some sort of a like-dislike thing going on with clutch pencils. Perhaps it’s because of my early association of them with a scary incident? I want to like them more, but I just don’t. On the other hand, I’ve always been rather intrigued by the leads and their packaging.

These days clutch pencils are obviously completely out-sold by ‘ordinary’ thin-lead mechanical pencils. I’m no expert, but as far as I can figure it out, "thin-leads" started to become available in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. I think they had improved in strength and become commonplace by the mid-1970’s. From a few old sales catalogues and adverts that I’ve looked at, in the late 1950’s and early 60’s you often see 0.9mm (0.036”) lead called Real Thin lead and 1.18mm (0.046”) called Standard lead. By the early 1970’s there are Ultra-Thin or Super-Thin 0.5mm (0.020”) leads, and by the 1980’s 0.5mm thin-lead mechanical pencils dominate the scene, so much so that they are often no longer referred to as Super-Thin leads, they’re just normal. Staedtlers website implies they released their Mars Micro thin leads in the 1970’s.

In the early 1980’s, I recall a tutor in my drawing class talking to us about what pencils to use. He suggested a couple of 0.5mm mechanicals, but also mentioned we could of course use traditional clutch pencils and sharpen the lead with sandpaper, or a little lead-pointer, but why bother? Then a little later when I was out in the workforce I remember that most of the older guys had a clutch pencil in the pencil holder on their desks, but they used thin-lead mechanical pencils. Their clutch pencil was sort of like “Old Favourite” they just couldn’t throw away, but didn’t actually use anymore.

I don’t really have a lot of clutch pencils, but somehow I am slowly ending up with a collection of leads. You can buy these leads for a few dollars on eBay, but then I live in a land far far away, so shipping often costs many times the price of the item. Not quite such a bargain. Anyway, here are a few pictures. Perhaps more to come in the future.
Photo - a box of Stabilo leadsPhoto - Two generations of Staedtler
Photo - VERITABLE PROOF THAT LIFE ISN'T FAIR! - Two tubes of Staedtler leads, note how the printing runs from the end to the white/black cap on the top one, but is reversed on the other one, running from the cap to the end. If I was a stamp or coin collector this sort of reverse printing would surely make me a rich man!

Footnote: Now if you really want to know about these types of clutch pencils or leadholders, then Leadholder.com is the place for you. Its chock full of all sorts of interesting stuff, but be warned, there might be a few snippets of slightly PGR rated stuff, like a bad word or a picture of “Hot Hot Heidi” the Staedtler girl.

16 comments:

pigpogm said...

I love my Mars Technico 780 - so much that I bought another one the other day, because I'd lost the clip on my first.

As for thinness, I'd always thought 0.3mm would be far too thin to really be usable, but I've just bought a 0.3mm Pentel GraphGear 1000, and it's great - lead thin enough that I don't have to turn to keep the pointiest part down, but still doesn't seem to suffer from breakage.

andrew said...

This may sound slightly naive, but what the heck is the round black thing in the top of the 2mm Staedtler Mars Carbon tray? At first I thought it was a sharpener, but a quick poke and a twist proved me wrong...

???

A

kiwi-d said...

Oh I always get the hard questions!

I haven't ever used 2mm clutch pencils for any amount of time, so the answer is "no idea". Having said that, I've got an idea - maybe its a point protector. The leads fit inside it, so maybe when you sharpen up a couple of leads at a time, you use that to protect the point of the spare one not in the pencil? Also maybe its a replacment top button for Staedtler pencils if you have the top button off permanently as a sharpener.

Staedtlers website and printed catalogue don't shed any light. I'd suggest that you contact their international customer services (always very helpful in my experience) and/or leadholder.com. I look forward to hearing the answer!

pigpogm said...

It's a lead grade indicator - you can take the normal metal button out, and replace it with that. Each grade comes with a different colour button, so you can see which pencil has which grade in it when they're in your pencil pot.

Only downside is that you lose your lead pointer, because the coloured ones don't have one. If you have a selection of 780s, though, you probably want the lead pointer tub anyway.

Mik said...

I love my mars 780 too, such a versatile drawing tool. Its so much easier to use the side of the lead for shading with one compared to a mechanical, and if you have a lead pointer tub then you can sharpen it pretty long and fine and get a really sharp point.

its also got a nice weight to it which i think is important when drawing

Anonymous said...

what type of lead comes standard in a mars -780? any idea?

kiwi-d said...

I think the answer is "none". Unlike thin-lead mechanical pencils, clutch pencils do not normally come with lead. Well, at least in my experience anyway.

pigpogm said...

They come with one stick of HB lead.

Anonymous said...

Help guys. Anyone know where to get some 3.5mm lead for a Parker pencil?

Many thanks

marya said...

Im sure it was a sharpener at the top of a Staedtler tray, because i own one i should know. I always use it for sharpening the point of my led. but saying that im not entirely sure.

Anonymous said...

you said: "I live in a land far far away"....well, let me tell you that i really live in a land that nobody knows where is located on.....excellent blog, i just have 5 lead holders, i guess i felt in love with my faber castell tk 9401 so when i used it for the very first time, i realized that it was unnecessary to buy other clutch pencils....

kiwi-d said...

Well there's no new country added to Flag Counter so I don't think you are the first from the Land That Nobody Knows. Anyway, don't leave us in suspense...what is the name of this place?

Anonymous said...

I've had for many years a Staedtler Noris 789 made in Germany clutch and still use it for sketching and note taking. The HB leads I have seem to be much harder than normal.
PS: I also live in the land far away at the bottom of the Pacific! 73 de Bill

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed to find that Staedtler-Mars seems to have wound back its range of clutch-pencil leads. I have a box of 2mm 6B... and now their online catalogue lists them only up to 4B. When did this atrocity happen, and can I please go back in time to where I bought them and grab the rest of that stock?

Anonymous said...

Further to Sat 17 July - Staedtler themselves say they restricted the range in response to lack of demand. Blame it all on CAD.

Anonymous said...

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PS:I live in a land far far away too!