General Pencil Co. and the Kimberly pencil

General Kimberly pencil and a lime

As manufacturers in the OECD countries continue to move production offshore, the stories of those surviving, and even thriving, become ever more interesting. The General Pencil Company of New Jersey is one of those survivors.

With the company formally founded in 1889 and a business lineage dating back to the 1860s, General has an amazing story. Among Dixon, Eberhard Faber, Empire, Venus, Wallace, the American Pencil Co., and dozens of smaller companies – General has outsurvived them all as an American owned and based pencil manufacturer.

The story has not gone unnoticed, and we are lucky to have some excellent reports on this interesting company.

Peter Shea from New Jersey Public Television has a great piece at the NJN website. Browse down to “Watch more of State of the Arts’ tour of the General Pencil factory”.

An interview with general manager Helmut Boda reveals that General built their New Jersey factory around the machinery in 1924. This machinery, some of it dating from 1910, was permanently installed!

A National Public Radio interview by Adam Davidson with family owners Jim (father) and Katie (daughter) Weissenborn is another delight. Davidson asks, “What kind of American manufacturer is doing well?” The surprising answer is – a family owned pencil company in New Jersey. The program also notes the old machinery, and that entering the factory is “like stepping into the 19th century”.

Jim Weissenborn mentions that they have their own graphite core manufacturing capabilities that use original 1910 machines. Clay and graphite are broken into powder by turning them with “stones from the Belgian coast.” Water is added, forming a paste which they pass through extruding machines. The extruded cores are then baked in a kiln.

Katie Weissenborn noted that tough times came in the 1990s when Chinese manufacturers became capable of producing finished pencils for less than General was paying for the raw materials! General made the tough decision in 1997 to abandon the mainstay yellow No. 2 pencil (though not completely) and focus on the art supply market.

The lesson from their example seems to be that markets for commodity items are increasingly hard to compete in, and higher yield markets where quality differentiation is important (such as art supplies) can be a viable replacement.

With Sanford and Dixon both having stopped US production, General isn’t just the largest independent US manufacturer – they are also a unique and special link to an almost gone industrial past. I am glad for their success, and wish General well in the future.

Since mentioning them in 2007, I’m very glad to report that General has started selling online. But they are only half done. They need to add international sales. Many US online sellers report that they get half their revenue from international sales! Packaging with English/French/Spanish/German text shows the admirable intent to sell internationally – now is the time to execute.

Of General’s many graphite products, which include graphite powder and graphite sticks, and even raw graphite chunks, the Kimberly woodcase pencil line may be the best known. General’s trademark application for Kimberly indicates the brand dates to 1918.

General Kimberly pencil

The pencil today is remarkable for a classic, retro look – a green pencil with traditional markings and a metal cap. This cap brings to mind the metal caps of old copying pencils.

General Kimberly pencil

While I imagined that this cap had been unchanged for decades – it seems to be a new addition! Photos at, Brand Name Pencils, and pencils I personally own all indicate decades of the Kimberly’s existance without the cap. So what is the cap for – to enhance appearance? To add some heft? It isn’t alone – the Van Dyke and Turquoise lines (and some may note, Graf von Faber-Castell pencils) all have metal caps. Yet you will be hard pressed to find metal on another main street modern pencil.

General Kimberly pencil

The details:

Name: Kimberly.

Full name and model no: Kimberly 525.

Manufacturer: General Pencil Company.

Background: See above.

Weight: About 4.5g – not sure how much of this is the metal cap.

Dimensions: Rounded hexagon with round metal cap crimped at three points. Standard (~175mm) length.

Appearance: The pencils are hexagonal and sharpened. The factory sharpening is less acute than others – more like a typical golf pencil.

The pencil is marked:

U.S.A. General pencil Co. Kimberly 525 HB (gold coloured text)

The reverse says:

Graphite Drawing since 1889 HB (white coloured text)

Other notes: There is no bar code.

Grip: Nothing unusual to note.

Sharpening: As one would expect from cedar, the pencil sharpens easily.

Writing: This pencil comes in a wide range of grades. Retailer Dick Blick notes that the pencil uses Ceylon graphite. Ceylon (the country) has been Sri Lanka since 1972, but I’ll presume it is a marketing term like Ceylon Tea.

General Kimberly pencil

The Sri Lankan graphite is venous graphite, similar to the original Borrowdale mine in England. Most pencil graphite today is apparently the more common amorphous type. You’ll note as well from media interviews that General are quite proud of their in house graphite core manufacturing capabilities.

I’m not a geologist or chemist, but as a pencil user, I think the Kimberly’s core has a distinct ‘signature’, and there is definitely something different about this pencil versus others. I recommend that artists and pencil users try it out. I won’t claim it is better at all tasks, but the middling (F, HB, B) and softer (2B, 3B, 4B) grades that I tried definitely offered something unique. My best description is that there is a certain density to the lead – which seems mellowed by the clay and other ingredients.

Erasure: On a Doane notebook, which happened to be handy, a Factis Extra Soft ES20 (a brand distributed by General) erased very well. I’ve not always found this eraser great, but on a humid day with this paper and pencil, it did extremely well.

General Kimberly pencil

Overall: It is a unique offering from a unique company. It is 2010, so you can buy one of these pencils and contemplate that it was made on a one hundred year old machine. You can also enjoy the pencil for it’s excellent quality!

Many people say they want smaller companies like General Pencil to survive – the best way to achieve that end is to buy their products.

36 Replies to “General Pencil Co. and the Kimberly pencil”

  1. Thank you for that detailed article! The pencil as well as the the story of the company is very exciting, and if there was a retailer for the Kimberly pencils near me I would immediately buy a box. – The photo with the lime is great :-)

  2. Sadly, some of General’s great pencils are hard to find, even in New Jersey! The Cedar Pointe is a lovely natural pencil that recalls the old Blackfeet pencils. These can be found on their online catalog at a good price, but unfortunately, the green Kimberly’s are not on the site except in drawing kits.

  3. Gunther, thank you for your comment. The lime somehow seemed like it should be there. :-)

    Adair, thank you for the comment. I suspect that graphite pencils in general (as well as the specific “yellow no. 2”) are really not a main business line for General any more, compared with colour pencils.

    OfficeSupplyGeek, thank you, I did watch that video. How interesting. As I understand it, Eberhard Faber is also set to be turned into housing: and

  4. I’m 99% sure I saw a box of Kimberly pencils at the local Hobby Lobby store here in the U.S. They also have other lines of drawing/sketch pencils from General. I may head back and buy a box! It’s been a while since I bought my “Semi-hex” via their website. My wife’s mother loves them due to the great erasers.
    Very nice article! I’m glad that they made the decision to specialize in higher end art pencils to stay alive. I need to watch that video.

  5. Ashley, unless I am missing something, you can only order the green Kimberly’s in a drawing set, with assorted degrees, not by individual degrees (e.g. a dozen 2B). Fortunately, you can order the Cedar Pointe and the Semi-Hex, as well as a test-taking darker pencil by the dozen.

  6. At the big box Hobby Lobby near me, I was able to buy packages of 2 pencils of the same grade (a package of two 2H, two H, etc.). They sold boxes of 12 in the HB, 2B, and 4B. The other grades were all in the packages of two.

    I tested out the pencils, and the initial impression is that they were very light in weight. The box for the 12 HB grade pencils had a picture of a Kimberly with a yellow painted “eraser” end, but they also had the metal cap like the ones shown above. I thought I was getting something different until I opened the box.

    I too liked the way that they wrote. In general (no pun intended) I prefer F and harder #2 grades like the good old Eberhard Faber American #2 for writing. The main thing I noticed was the big jump from the H to the HB with the Kimberly. Very different, but then I was missing the F in my new stash – don’t recall seeing those, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. I may try to find them as well soon.

    I still have a bunch of mail ordered “Semi-Hex” #2’s from General, and they were a bit lighter than the Kimberly HB. Ditto when also compared to a Ticonderoga #2.

    This site rates the Kimberly’s as “poor” compared to other drawing pencils, but not being an expert I thought they are better than that:

    This one gives a better take:

  7. Thanks for this great article with lots of background information. The pencils look great, especially the gold cap. I’ll definitely try to get my hand on one of these.

  8. I agree that the Kimberleys have something unique about them. In my experience, the Kimberly “H” grade is softer and darker than the “F” grade from every other manufacturer I have tried, including Staedtler, Sanford, Derwent, and Faber-Castell. I’ve used that difference to my advantage many times in my drawings. Often the “KH” (as I call it) will give just the right tonal qualities that no other pencil can match. I also value the Kimberly “F” grade because it and the “H” are so different from other manufacturers grades that, in effect, I have two extra levels of hardness between H and HB. I see that as a real plus because I have found the change in quality from H to HB much too abrupt within any one manufacturers line.

  9. The timing of this post is a little amusing to me. A few weeks ago, I purchased pencils from the General Pencil Company’s website to try out their pencils as well as support their business. The pencils I purchased were their Semi-Hex pencils (all grades), Cedar Pointe pencils, and Test Scoring Pencils. I also bought some colored pencils too, but I haven’t tried them yet.

    I haven’t used these pencils long enough to give a solid review, but I found that the Test Scoring Pencils are really dark and soft. They are fun to use. Grade-wise, I think they’re around a 2B or higher since they are so soft and dark.

    All the Semi-Hex pencils seem good enough to use as beginning drawing pencils. I have experienced grit in one of the Semi-Hex pencils, though (#4 the 2H grade). It’s not a lot of grit though. I’ve experienced more grit in a Faber-Castell Pitt Pure Graphite Pencil (HB grade) and I had purchased that for an art class as required by the instructor. I also ran into grit on a Mars Lumograph pencil (one of the newer ones).

    Maybe it’s just hard to keep the grit out of the graphite core. Since a pure graphite pencil is all core, I supposed it’s a much bigger problem for pure graphite pencils than for woodcase pencils.

    I haven’t gotten around to trying out the Cedar Pointe pencils yet.

    In regards to the Kimberly pencils, I’ll give them a go once I finish up using my current stockpile of pencils. It’s gotten quite large at this point. D:

  10. I went back to the Hobby Lobby his evening to make sure I hadn’t overlooked the “F” grade Kimberly, and sure enough it wasn’t there, but the other grades were. I guess I’ll need to use mail order or hit a local art supply place if I want to give it a try.

  11. I’m not sure how I stumbled on this site but I’m glad to see General’s getting the attention it deserves. If you haven’t tried their new 9xxb graphite you are missing out on the most unique graphite pencil that has come out in years.

    I’ve been using General’s for years and they now supply my workshops with their charcoals and graphite pencils. They recently came out with a Primo Charcoal Pencil kit featuring my work on the box. You can see (and order) it here:

    oops, I may have messed up the tag but you can copy and paste.
    Keep Drawing,
    JD Hillberry

  12. Thanks for the many comments. The Kimberly does seem to be in the “relatively hard to find” category.

    JD – congratulations – the cover of an art supply product is a nice placement for a drawing!

  13. The Kimberly drawing pencils are somewhat mediocre.
    The softer grades can be difficult to tell apart until you get to the 6B.
    General’s products have been second or third choice to the nicer brands since I was in art school (a VERY long time ago).
    -nice post.

  14. A great write up.

    You didn’t speculate on the origin of the name – Kimberley – but I imagine it is named for the great Kimberley diamond mine in South Africa, diamonds being no more than a less useful form of graphite ;-)

    I have a few of these pencils, and would love to gwet hold of box of the new ones, but alas General don’t ship outside the US. (grrr).

  15. That is interesting about the name. I thought it might have been the name of the company founder’s daughter, but the diamond mine origin is a brilliant connection!

  16. This is interesting. It appears that General Pencil applied for a trademark on “KIMBERLY” but then didn’t follow through – if this site can be believed.

    BTW, I was able to find an “F” Kimberly without mail order. A local chain framing store carries the Kimberly Graphite Drawing Kit #25, which includes 10 different grades, along with a little sharpener and Factis plastic eraser. Of course I had to buy 10 pencils to get the one I was after, but it’ll allow me to play around.

    The Hobby Lobby store was not out of stock on the “F” grade. They simply don’t stock it. I’m not sure why. Maybe one of the artists can chime in.

  17. I had the time to try out the #25 drawing kit just now. I did actually notice a steady change in darkness from the F to the 8B, so maybe fisk (prior post) had experienced a period with poorer quality.

    The F is actually lighter than the old Eberhard Faber American #2, but darker than the old Mirado Classic #3.

    If you really liked the old “Dixon Ticonderoga 1388 – 3 HARD” and want something like it again, the Kimberly F is very, very close. The feel of the Kimberly F is a bit smoother when writing, but the shade & hardness is nearly identical.

  18. So fantastic and it is so close to a Great American Holiday! That of Heroic deeds and Dos and Bravery and facing the facts. How wonderful! Thanks for the story. These are my favorite pencils and dick blick supplies most of their products. But I do order online for some of their pencils that I cannot even find in their online store.


  19. Kimberly and General pencils are quite available, as you have said at Hobby Lobby, but also at Michaels craft stores.
    I have some and have tried using them. Each time, I end up going back to my Cretacolor favorites, because of grit.
    They do give a nice rich graphite tone, but I just hit the grit and get frustrated. Derwent is my second favorite.
    But, Kimberly/General pencils are so cheap, it certainly is no loss to try them. Hey, you may love them!

  20. Just wanted to mention that a lot of General’s products are now available on, many sold directly by Amazon so that they’re eligible for free Super Saver shipping or Prime. Just search on General’s pencils and tons of things come up in Home and Garden (art products) and Office. Your article is fascinating; I live in New Jersey and never knew about this company. I was looking for a softer, darker, easier-to-erase pencil for use on a wall calendar next year and had come across their products in my Amazon searches. Now that I know the story behind them, I’ll definitely give this brand a try!

  21. It’s great that General pencils are still made in USA – now everyone reading this should GO OUT AND BUY SOME, even if it’s just one or two – to support the company and make sure they stay that way. And P.S., I have an older box (about 1960s or 70s?) of Kimberly 3B, but they have ERASERS on the ends, not caps! I have looked all over and can’t seem to find any more of them anywhere, not even PHOTOGRAPHS. Doesn’t anybody else have, or at least remember using, a Kimberly with an eraser?

  22. My recent purchase Kimberly does have a barcode which appears to be heat stamped on the obverse, right next to the “USA” stamping. Why stamp a cheap looking non removeable barcode on the front of the pencil next to the beautiful gold printed lettering, when there are 5 more non obtrusive sides to choose from – weird!!

  23. Just came across a full 6 boxes carton of 5H Kimberly Carbo Weld stamped in Gold letters no tip or eraser. Was wondering if anyone is interested or knows when these were produced. I have original Chemi – seal 7H Copper beautiful box. A 12 pack of Mustgrave 817 MONONA No 2 pencils and Venus pencils in original box 7H the real its the real mc coy.

  24. Let’s talk about General Color pencil and water pencil ! What does it mean color -tex?
    I am curious I am about to order , but I have not found any reviews about those .

    Thank you

  25. Rita, thank you for the comment. There are many good web resources for colour pencils, but pencil talk is focused on graphite pencils, and specialty pencils with an office or writing function.

  26. I just found an antique stash of these in my inherited art classroom – anyone know if the paint has lead in it?

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