Pencils are reliable up to a point

August 22, 1994|By McClatchy News Service

There are probably three or four No. 2 pencils somewhere in your life. Maybe it's the ground-down, eraserless nub in your desk drawer, or a dull-pointed, school bus yellow one with teeth marks, in the garage tool rack.

Not a mechanical pencil with its tiny, fragile lead, not a No. 3 (too hard, writes too light) or No. 1 (too soft, writes too dark), but a standard No. 2.

Think of the Dixon Ticonderoga variety here.

Pencil sales totaled more than $148 million in 1992, according to statistics provided by the Pencil Makers Association in Marlton, N.J.

The pencil's staying power is pretty remarkable when you consider the world of portable laptop computers, electronic memo pads and fax machines.

"In this high-tech age, it's nice to know something works as well as it does today as it did yesterday," said Hannah Coan, a spokeswoman for the Incense Cedar Institute, a group that promotes pencils crafted from incense cedar.

"It's a staple. The only hardware required is a sharpener."

Ms. Coan said a No. 2 wooden pencil connoisseur should look for a smooth, fine grain. A sure-fire way to verify its authenticity is to put it to the grindstone.

"You should smell the forest and cedar trees once you sharpen it," she said.

Many novelty composite pencils look like wood, but they are somewhat bendable. Snap one in half and the middle usually has a pinkish tinge to it.

Recycling-minded pencil pushers may like Empire Berol's Eagle Jeans pencils, made from reclaimed denim. The pencils, which look stonewashed, are made from shredded denim cuttings leftover from the manufacturing of well-known jeans brands.

Some pencil facts, compliments of the cedar folks in Stockton, Calif.:

* The average pencil can draw a line 35 miles long and write an average of 45,000 words.

* Americans use about 28 billion pencils a year.

* Astronauts have taken pencils into space because their writing ability isn't affected by gravity or pressure.

* Pencils are the least expensive of all writing instruments.

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