Home Consumer Did You Ever Wonder If There Are Number 1 Pencils?

Did You Ever Wonder If There Are Number 1 Pencils?

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(Image: Simon/Flickr)

 Updated February 16, 2024

Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test requires a No. 2 pencil. Are there other choices out there?

Indeed there are. Pencil makers manufacture Nos. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which have been preferred by editors and people working in publishing.)

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The current style of production is modeled on pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may have been agreed upon, the ways various companies categorize and label pencils weren’t.

Today, many U.S. companies use a numbering system for general purpose pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

[vc_btn title=”Continue reading” style=”outline” color=”black” link=”url:http%3A%2F%2Fmentalfloss.com%2Farticle%2F49849%2Fare-there-number-1-pencils%3Futm_source%3DNewsletter%2B-%2BMental%2BFloss%26utm_campaign%3D5a82d2e16b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_22%26utm_medium%3Demail%26utm_term%3D0_ac4ce78f57-5a82d2e16b-203485841||target:%20_blank|”][vc_message message_box_style=”outline” message_box_color=”black”]MentalFloss, excerpt posted on SouthFloridaReporter.com, Mar. 5, 2017[/vc_message]