January 13, 1952 (Yard-O-Led pencil)

January 13, 1952  (Yard-O-Led pencil)

I’m not sure what was being commemorated fifty-six years ago today, but that’s the date inscribed on this vintage Yard-O-Led pencil.

Engraved pens and pencils typically have names or initials, but this one has a date. I imagine it being a birth, a graduation, an anniversary, or some other milestone of life that was being commemorated. Yet, it’s still odd to me. If you chose a gift like this, and chose to have it engraved, wouldn’t you put the person’s name on the gift?

The pencil is rolled gold in a barley pattern with a hexagonal body. It takes a 1.18mm lead. I bought it mainly to inform myself about Yard-O-Led pencils, as I’ve thought of acquiring one of their new pencils.

While almost exactly the same length as a Lamy Scribble (which I find very comfortable), this pencil is too short for the way I want to grip it. I want to hold the hexagonal part of the body, just as I would a woodcase pencil. But this winds up causing the cap of the pencil to hit my hand in an uncomfortable way.

As to the lead and mechanism – I could not at all figure out how to adjust the lead. I kept looking at the instructions over at Dave’s Mechanical Pencils. My results at times resembled parts of a Marx Brothers comedy. At one point the lead shot out of the pencil across the room. Now let’s be fair and acknowledge that this pencil is over a half century old, with provenance unknown. It may have spent twenty or thirty years in a damp basement or a humid yurt. Removing the slider from the barrel was challenging – it just wouldn’t move beyond a certain point. But it did come out.

January 13, 1952  (Yard-O-Led pencil)

That “slider grip” is the oddest piece. Being new to this pencil, and having noticed that it can shoot parts around a room (due to a capable spring), I was alarmed when the slider “disappeared”. It was there – then it was gone. I feared it was snapped off, or sprung into the yonder. I couldn’t find it. I did notice that the other bits of the mechanism – the piece that holds the lead in particular – were also gone. At this point, I was thinking that I’d broken the pencil. I tried fishing around the slider barrel (which has a narrow opening) with an eyeglass screwdriver. There they were – the parts were submerged, and with some toggling, re-emerged. I carried on, and can say – it all works, and I can now retract and extent the lead, and know how to refill it. As far as I can tell, my original problems were due to the “refill nut” (another unfamiliar pencil part) not being properly in place. It wasn’t my focus, but after it being properly fastened, the pencil started to work – from the point of view of the cap, clockwise motion extended the lead, and a counter-clockwise motion retracted the lead. That’s how it should be!

As Dave wrote, “Complicated or what!”

If I ever buy a new Yard-O-Led pencil, it will be in person so that I can try out the feel.

But – I’m still wondering, what happened fifty-six years ago today?

60 Replies to “January 13, 1952 (Yard-O-Led pencil)”

  1. Help please! I am trying to replace the yard o led pencil my dad bought me in 1968ish. I need to identify the model/pattern. I don’t think it was real silver and it came in a light blue cardboard box. It had rectangles of alterative plain and patterned. Can anyone tell me the model or tell me where I can go to for help? Thank you

  2. Caroline I’ll try to help you but I’m not quite sure which the model was. Firstly, if it had a chequered pattern plus the cardboard box it would not be 1968. You do not say if the pencil is round or hexagonal. The original large chequer pattern was on the six sided (hexagonal) pencil. Both the original (pre WW2) round and hexagonal were the Diplomat model and were made of silver with a clip that was loose and secured by a small nut that held the spare leads in place. After WW2 the clip was riveted and the hexagonal pencil was also made in Rhodium plate and marked as such. Another model was introduced The Aristocrat, again round and hexagonal but with a tapering finial. One of these was made in Platinine with a small chequer pattern called draught board. By the early 50’s the silver coloured YoL’s were all hallmarked solid silver. The Diplomat model is still made today but the pattern is either plain or barley and can be bought at good pen shops and John Lewis stores. You will also find second hand YoL pencils for sale on popular auction sites.

  3. Hi Colin. Thank you for such a detailed reply. It was the round one and I guess it could have been sold in the wrong box? I thought it wasn’t silver as it had no hallmarks. Perhaps it could have also been an old one hanging about in the shop? It was definitely bought after Jan 68. Thanks again. For your help.

  4. Hello, all. I have only just found this site and I think it is marvellous … interesting and so informative. I already have a wonderful YOL fountain pen and I am waiting for the arrival of an old YOL pencil. Like so many others it bears the J&MCo London hallmark which I now know was the mark of Johnson and Matthey. That has caused me plenty of head-scratching.
    In Colin’s lengthy answer on Oct 27, 2009 (yes I am going back a long time!) he says that YOLs were originally made for them by J&M until YOL commenced manufacturing their own pencils in the 1950’s. What puzzles me is that YOL came into existence in 1934 as a pencil manufacturer with their premises in Birmingham. So if J&M were making the YOL pencils in London until the 1950’s, just what were YOL producing in the Birmingham factory? Was there a productivity issue? Were the two companies working in parallel? Even if the Brum premises were destroyed during the war I would have thought prior to that the company would have been making their own pencils. Sorry to go on at length. I presume there is a simple and logical answer. I certainly hope so!

  5. Hi Alan,
    The Yard o led pencil company started in London not Birmingham in 1934 and JM&Co, who made pencils for many different companies, manufactured the pencils to order for YoL. In the 50’s YoL took over the Birmingham pencil firm Edward Baker. YoL later used Baker’s premises to make the pencils and they were hallmarked EB. YoL’s HQ remained in London for many years

  6. Hello Colin,
    Thanks for clarifying that for me. I seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick (or should that be pencil?) altogether. It does, however, seem to be a case of re-branding and makes me feel a little disappointed that my 1948 example will not be a ‘proper’ YOL pencil after all.
    What exactly were YOL doing until they took over EB and started to make pencils in Birmingham?

  7. Hi Alan,
    I don’t really get what you mean. All yard o leds are yard o leds. In the beginning the Yard o led pencil company had the Patents, they designed the pencils and then had them manufactured to their specifications.
    YoL then marketed the pencils distributed the pencils and advertised the pencils. However if you want the full story it will be in the book I am writing on the history of YoL, but I don’t think I am allowed to advertise that here so please do not ask for further details.

  8. Thanks again, Colin. I did not mean to be contentious or cause any offence. I had never realised that YOL’s were made by anyone else but themselves. My re-branding comment was simply likening their initial situation with, say, Michelin tyres being originally made by Dunlop or NIKE trainers being made by Reebok. A more appropriate comparison may perhaps be some of the well-known companies whose pens carry their name but, since those companies are in business to manufacture other types of goods and not writing instruments, those pens are actually supplied by another genuine producer of writing instruments. I do not need to name them, I’m sure.
    As for the book, I shall look forward to seeing it. Such an eagerly-awaited publication will no doubt receive plenty of advertising elsewhere! I wish you success with it.

  9. hi can anyone put a rough value for a rolled gold 1960 s yard o led pencil please never used in mint condition thanks so much rob

  10. Hi,

    I just received my third Yard O’ Led pencil, a square rolled gold model and there’s an issue with it not holding the lead firmly in place. Do you have any suggestions? I have already verified it came with the right lead diameter having switched leads with my 1960’s Deluxe model.

    Thank you,

    I find out about these fine pencils from you website

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