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The General Pencil Company

The General Pencil Company

General Pencil is not as well known as General Motors or General Electric, but they have an equally fascinating history.

Founded in 1889, the company has remained in the Weissenborn family for 118 years. Their 1900 factory on Fleet Street, Jersey City, remains, though the business is now headquartered in Redwood City, California, closer to the cedar industry. It is one of an extremely small number of pencil manufacturers to not have been acquired by a large conglomerate.
The General Pencil Company
Today, the business press regularly hails them as a turnaround success, having made a tough and successful decision to focus on higher-end pencils, and dispense with trying to compete in the generic yellow No. 2 office pencil market.
The General Pencil Company
Their website suggests they still do make office pencils, but you’ll have a hard time finding one. Where they shine are in art supply stores, and their largest retailer, the Michael’s craft chain. As well as graphite pencils, they are well know for charcoal, pastel, and chalk pencils.
The General Pencil Company
The Kimberley is the graphite pencil I’ve most often seen in Canada. It is green with a gold colored metal cap. The Semi-Hex, maybe a half-step down the quality ladder, is blue, with silver stamping and an unfinished cap. I’m not sure who first realized the potential the carpenter’s pencil had as an artist’s tool, but General sells them as “Flat Sketching Pencils” in another market niche. Their stongest area may be charcoal. Even the smallest rural school art supply store seems to stock General compressed charcoal sticks and charcoal pencils. The charcoal pencils are beauties, with classic dark stained finishes.

The General Pencil Company The General Pencil Company

Brochures, new and old.


I think they have made the right decision to pursue these higher value areas. I would also encourage them to get online and do some selling and marketing.

It’s a delight to be able to present some interesting links:

New Jersey Public TV interview with the general manager of General Pencil

Urban Semiotic’s excellent 2006 photo and reminiscences about the General Pencil factory

National Public Radio 2005 story

New Jersey Business and Industry Association 2004 profile (PDF)

10 comments to The General Pencil Company

  • Hi, I just came across your site and it’s wonderful! I’ve read all the entries and I’m amazed at how you manage to come by these unusual, hard-to-find pencils and pens.

    I live in California and would love to get some of these pencils, but I have no idea where to find them. I’ve been to all sorts of art stories, but it seems like only the original retail stores will carry products like Faber-Castell? Really disappointing. Do you know of any online stores that might carry these unique works of art?

    Please email me with any information you might have.

    Thanks.

  • Hi Anna,

    Thanks very much for your comment. I appreciate the feedback.

    Where to buy these stationery items has been a frequent question. The retail value of a pencil puts it in a category where not too many stores will find it worth their while to sell them online. Especially premium quality pencils, when a lot of the public is seeking the lowest price possible.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “original retail stores”. The art supply stores I’m most familiar with stock two or more pencil lines – usually Staedtler, and another line at a lower price point. Larger stores may have three or four lines. Another good place can be university/college book/supply stores.

    There are quite a few online pencil and stationery retailers. I’m sure you’ll be able a find a few with a web search.

  • Thank you for the information about the General Pencil Company! As a collector of both wooden and mechanical pencils (and a faithful reader of your weblog) I am very happy to hear about a manufacturer that is almost unknown in Germany. – By the way, the link to the PDF file does not work.

  • adair

    It is a pity that General’s doesn’t market some of their pencils better. While the Kimberly is easy enough to find, the excellent Cedar Pointe and the yellow Semi-Hex are much more difficult to obtain. The Semi-Hex is superior to most mainstream yellow no. 2 pencils.

  • Gunther, Thank you for your kind comment.

    I have fixed the link to the PDF file.

  • Dave

    I found a few Semi-Hex pencils at Pearl paint in Chicago but I don’t know if there are Pearl Paint stores in other cities..

  • fisk

    -Anyone able to confirm whether General’s is now a property of CalCedar?

  • Sharon

    I purchased your iron-on transfer pencil from the local hobby store. I was very disappointed in the outcome. I pressed hard on my pattern to make sure I would get a good transfer, but when I ironed it on the T-shirt, it was so light I could barely see it. I don’t think I could press harder without tearing the transfer paper. I would not recommend or buy this product again.

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