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
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.