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Slate pencils

Slate pencils

Until recently, I wasn’t aware of woodcase slate pencils – I had always thought slate pencils were only sold as raw cores or paper-wrapped. Then a friendly correspondent alerted me to a very nice set of woodcase slate pencils in his possession.

If you’re not sure what slate pencils are, here is a description from Office Museum:

During the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, pencils cut from solid pieces of softer grades of slate or soap-stone were used by schoolchildren to write on tablets cut from harder grades of slate.

An older member of your family might have some reminiscences.

Slate pencils

In an amusing unexpected coincidence, I came across a slate and slate pencils for sale just a few days later in a museum gift shop.

The pencil and slate have no manufacturer markings. The slate had a sticker indicting it was made in Portugal.

Slate pencils

The pencil writes on the slate smoothly and reliably, and is currently serving duty as a highly reliable telephone message taking device!

12 comments to Slate pencils

  • mmmsoap

    I’ve never even heard of a slate pencil. How does it erase?

  • Michael

    With a wet sponge!

  • Is is very nice to see those old-fashioned writing implements – thank you for calling these items to mind again.

    Using it as a “telephone message taking device” (as you put it) is very clever ;-)

    In Germany there are at least two manufacturers that offer slate pencils, namely Faber-Castell (“Heft & Tafel”, also available in a Jumbo Grip version) and Rheita (“Milchgriffel”). – I was suprised to see that also slates in many different sizes and designs are still available. Among them are small ones with a wooden holder that can be used as place cards and very large ones for restaurants. There is also one variant with a decorative coil at the smaller edge which makes the slate look like a paper notepad.

    Only a few months ago I have seen a slate in use – an older man from a boat hire kept track of the time on it, and in view of the condition of that slate and the matching pencil he has never used something different. The signs of usage made it even more appealing to me!

  • I imagine the slate woodcase pencil is rather aggressive on the blade in your favourite pencil sharpener?

  • Well, the name of the slate pencils I have mentioned can be a little misleading since these actually aren’t made of softer slate like the older ones but are made for use with a slate. Even soft slate leaves scratches, thus damaging the slate in the long run so these pencils have been developed. I don’t have any details about the composition of the lead in the Faber-Castell and Rheita pencils but to me it looks like a very dense but soft type of chalk (the name “Milchgriffel” that can be translated as “milk stylus” indicates its softness). – The Jumbo Grip type of the Faber-Castell “Heft & Tafel” pencil is recommended even for the use on blackboards.

  • Saumiq

    This explains a lot. I always wondered how children were supposed to get more than just a few words on their small slates using chalks. Thanks for clearing this up.

  • Thank you for the comments.

    In India, Sureshchandra & Brothers appear to still make slate pencils. They state:

    Use of Slate and Slate Pencils in lieu of Note Books and Lead Pencils is comparatively economical and environment friendly.

    They even sell a slate holder!

  • I remember using slate pencils on little boards for basic writing training in first grade, to save papers on how much grinding it takes for the average kid to learn the alphabet. Every kid was given one, and told to take good care of it – and to try not break their pencils while they wrote.

    I was very happy when we got to start writing completely on paper though. I hated the thing, I remember, since I loved the crisp lines one gets from pen and pencil on paper.

    See, I was a little art snob even back then :)

  • che pablo

    Interestingly, I stumbled on this link a short while after reading this. If you are interested in working on your slate skills, they may be purchased at I’ve never tried the merchant and so cannot vouch for them.

  • Bika, John

    I can vouchsafe for Jas-Townsend, Inc from che pablo’s link. I am a historical interpreter of the colonial period and reenactor. I have purchased over $1K of merchandise from them over a 15 year period and have never been disappointed.

  • Thanks, John. I see some highly interesting items there, including Ivory (I hope they didn’t shoot an elephant) notebooks and double-ended porte-crayons.

  • sumi

    well, i’m not so sure about them being environment friendly, as the mamufacturetrs say. what about all the mining and quarrying and the spreading of hazardous silica dust for miles around the quarries and factories?

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