Monday, February 23, 2009

Real Thin Leads

[1 3/4" x 1 1/4".]

I admire this arrangement in ivory and black: the tilting balloon of "ONE GROSS," the lower-case "e's" and "l" of "Real Thin Leads," the jaunty cent sign, the chuckle-headed repetition. Real Thin Leads. Real Thin Lead. Ask for it by names! And I admire the cursive Autopoint, the forward-looking sort of cursive one might see on a home appliance.

And I like that this little package has been marked by history: at least three different writing instruments, green, red, and purple, have been tested on its surface. Just scribbles — no room to inquire Does this pen write? One side of the package has been resealed with tape in a hapless effort to honor a stern directive: "SEE THAT THIS SEAL IS NOT BROKEN." Ah, but it has been.

The "2H" correction — made in the store, I assume — is a reminder that some people are persnickety about their pencil leads. The potentially misleading "Extra" won't do when the unambiguous "2H" is at hand.¹

I found these Real Thin Leads circa 1998 during a going-out-of-business sale at a downstate Illinois stationery store. The store alas had been quietly going out of business for many years before having a sale about it.

¹ In grading lead, B signifies blackness; H, hardness. 2B lead is darker than B; 2H, harder than H. HB is the familiar "No. 2 pencil."

[This post is the first in what will be an occasional series, "From the Museum of Supplies." The museum is imaginary. Supplies is my word, and has become my family's word, for all manner of stationery items.]

comments: 8

Slywy said...

Alas, there seems to be no real standard about how hard/black HB/No. 2 is. For example, the Faber-Castell Grip B is actually about the hardness/blackness of what most think of as an HB/No. 2. And for some reason, the No. 1 Mongols I recently acquired write darker/softer than the No. 2s.

From Wikipedia:
* Also seen as 2-4/8, 2.5, 2-5/10. Although widely accepted, not all manufacturers follow it; for example, Faber-Castell uses a different equivalence table in its Grip 2001 pencils: 1=2B, 2=B, 2 1/2=HB, 3=H, 4=2H.

Michael Leddy said...

Right -- these gradations are absolutely meaningful only within a single maker's line. No. 1 usually means B -- No. 1 Mongols should be darker and softer than No. 2s.

I have a couple of old 2 3/8 Mongols. 2 3/8! Anything to stand out from the competition, I guess.

Slywy said...

I should not post without a license. I did not mean: "And for some reason, the No. 1 Mongols I recently acquired write darker/softer than the No. 2s." Because that's exactly what you would expect.

What I really meant was, "And for some reason, the No. 2 Mongols I recently acquired write darker/softer than the No. 1s.

(My word verification: Calks)

Michael Leddy said...

I wonder if the the age of the pencils might have something to do with the difference in the lead.

The old Mongols are to treasure, for sure, though I guess they'll never be as sought after as Blackwings.

Anonymous said...

Hang on to the 2 3/8 Mongols - along with the Blaisdell Calculator and Blackwing, those were Steinbeck's favorite pencils.

He specifically mentions the 2 3/8 grade in an "interview" that appeared in the Fall 1975 Paris Review (PDF).

I'll bet that a Calculator is even harder to find than a Blackwing.

I have some Mongol No. 2's, and can see from a statement on the box that they were made in Nos. 1, 2, 2 3/8, 3, and 4!

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the Steinbeck link, Stephen. I posted it some time ago. I'm glad to see that this interview is still free; the Paris Review has pulled back from its plan to make all interviews available at no cost.

I've never seen a Blaisdell Calculator. I'm glad I was able to sock away some Mongols while I could still order them from a local stationer.

The Inadvertent Advocate said...

So happy to find this post. My dad was in the office furniture/supply business. I found a handful of mechanical pencils that use this specific lead a little while ago in my mom’s writing desk.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for letting me know. I love the message-in-a-bottle feeling when someone finds a post in this way.