L. & C. Hardmuth Koh-I-Noor Kopierstift 1561

L. & C. Hardmuth Koh-I-Noor Kopierstifte
A recent (excellent) post at Timberlines made me think of these pencils. I had bought a box of “vintage” pencils via an online auction site whose name begins with “E”. The slightly padded envelope in which they arrived hadn’t stopped the cardboard pencil box from arriving with all corners broken. Also, the box was precisely seven twelfths full. Anyhow, sometimes you have to look on the bright side – they are still interesting (and historic) pencils, and less expensive than seven new pencils from any quality manufacturer. In fact they were less than seven new Koh-I-Noor pencils would cost me.

The box is cardboard, with the Koh-I-Noor emblem on the cover, and marked “1561 mittel” and “L & C. Hardmuth” on the sides. The pencils are yellow, with gold stamping:


Unlike the text on the box, there is a period after the “L”. The box is additionally marked inside “Koh-I-Noor Bleistiftfabrik”. I believe that “Kopierstift” roughly translates to what would be known as a copying or indelible pencil, and “mittel” to middle. “Bleistiftfabrik” is pencil factory. Cool!

Picking one up, the first thing I noticed was that these pencils are larger than modern round pencils, such as the Faber-Castell 9008. The core also seems much wider.

The next step required some debate. Although I could see arguments for preserving them, there was also another side. These pencils were made by craftsmen across an ocean and across a generation. I would assume they wanted their product used. So – I got out the sharpener.

My first thought was – “wow, I just sharpened a really old pencil.” The larger pencil width seemed to produce a longer point than other pencils in my sharpener (a Faber-Castell UFO). The two halves of the casing also seemed quite visible.

Writing on a Rhodia pad, I wrote a few lines. I also tried a modern Koh-I-Noor for comparison. The pencil writes smoothly and reliably, similar to many other quality pencils. The lead seems quite strong. I also tried erasing my writing. It is definitely a copying pencil, and resists vinyl erasers! Only my black Factis (meant for charcoal) erased the lines of the 1561.

I thought I was done, and was going to post what I had written – but I hadn’t yet discovered the most interesting part of this pencil. After sharpening the pencil, trying it out, and writing the above notes (with the pencil), I noticed some graphite dust on my hands. When I went to wash up, the dust turned a brilliant purple. I had never seen this before from a pencil. A little searching on the web turned up this excellent article on copying pencils from an American Institute for Conservation publication. The purple had come from a dye – an “aniline dye” that was created from coal tar by-products.

An original use of these pencils was placing a damp tissue above the pencil writing to take a copy. For anyone old enough to remember a ditto machine from high school (remember the smell of a fresh ditto?), these pencils seem like a manual predecessor. They’re also associated with copy presses and were used with carbon paper. The “indelible” function took over at some point as the main use and selling point.

I tried to moisten some paper and press it against my notes to take a copy. It transferred very roughly, and I can see that with some practice and a careful choice of paper and moistenening methods, it would be a useable method.

It struck me as quite amazing that this ordinary looking yellow pencil was capable of so much.

13 Replies to “L. & C. Hardmuth Koh-I-Noor Kopierstift 1561”

  1. Sanford still makes the old No Blot. It’s not as cool a color as that purple, but it’s an Okay blue when you wet it. Dick Blick sells them by the dozen. Last time I ordered some, I got an extra one, though it’s printing was on backwards.:)

  2. Thanks for the tip. I wasn’t aware that this type of pencil was still made. The Dick Blick website mentions sign repair as a use – quite interesting.

  3. Regarding backwards printing, does it increase the value of a pencil to collectors? Somewhere I have a Blackwing 602 with backwards printing on it. One of a dozen box that I still have 8 unsharpened and 1 sharpened of. Was pleasantly surprised to see what I could get for them on eBay when I paid $6 for the dozen originally, after my 1st read of Petroski’s book.

    Oddly enough, for all the praise others give them, I was never crazy about using them. The eraser is far too abrasive and falls out too easily, and the lead so soft they need too much sharpening. Yes, they do write with ‘half the pressure’ and are very smooth, but on balance the only reason I think they’re so cool is the dark metallic grey finish. I wish any other pencil had that. The newer (unobtainable) Faber Castell Design pencils that look like the grip 2001 but are black are the 2nd best looking pencil i’ve seen. But, while I bought a bunch of the very expensive Grip 2001s from Levenger when they came out… they’re another semi-disappointment, as I just didn’t find them comfortable.

    I did find some of the No-Blot pencils at a downtown Raleigh art supply dealer that’s now out of business. Kind of cool. Would be tough to pull a good copy off of, though. Never thought of the copying function of ink-in-the-lead before reading it here.

  4. I am trying to locate the following Hardmuth Product to purchase.

    The box it came in has the title :

    WHITE CHALK LEADS No. 2615 1/24 Gross
    L. & C. HARDMUTH

    Can you direct me me as to where I can find this item. Thank you John L

  5. Hi John,

    Good luck – I am not familiar with this item.

    I think we are all reminded that pencils and pencil supplies can be temporary items on the marketplace. If there is something you really like or depend on – buy in bulk!

  6. my wife found a box of, no. 1400 faust checking pencils/hexagon.
    made by L & C Hardmuth, Bloomsbury, n.j.
    the pencils say black checkering No. 12
    anybody know anything ?

  7. Dear Sir/Madam,
    I have pencil linden wood slat and with lead glued two cont?n?er stock.I sell you good price.? have pencil slat size;
    1.cont?n?er 180mmx8mmx 72mm,distance 7.7mm
    2.cont?n?er 183mmx8mmx72mm ,distance 7.7mm
    best regards
    semih istanbullu
    ustun pencil &brush factory

  8. Don’t know if you can help but I came across a set of 12 colored pencils in a very cool flip box, displays the pencils for use. They are in pristine condition, appears they were never used. On the pencil it reads, Flexicolor 1800 Koh-I-Noor. On the box it says Made in USA Bloomsbury, NJ I thought these pencils were made only in Germany and Czech Republic! Anyone have any info or idea where I might head next? trying to find out when they were manufactured and if there is any value to them, all though I have no intention of selling them! Too Cool!!

  9. have a large collection of Kooh I noor pencils – can anyone suggest a buyer/collector in the UK.

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