The Jonas Jones Stop Sliding Pencil

We’ve seen that there are preserved seventeenth century pencils in museums and collections in Germany and Japan. There is also a very interesting historical pencil in the United States.

© Mariners’ Museum and Park

In the 1740s, a ship (the Princess Carolina (1717)) was sunk in New York City’s East River as infill.

This ship was excavated in 1982, and many of the discovered artifacts found a home at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia. A curatorial query from the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation in (or around) 2015 led to the discovery of a highly interesting pencil.

Estimates of the pencil’s date have evolved with additional research, though it can’t be precisely dated. The excavation site wasn’t thought to have items newer than 1770, while this pencil earned a London patent in 1783.

As well as being very well preserved, the pencil is remarkable in multiple aspects:

1. It has a ruler imprinted on one side.

2. It has a maker’s name.

3. All wood, it has a sliding section and a stop mechanism for housing and extending a piece of pure graphite. In my view, this makes it jointly a mechanical and woodcase pencil! It is a remarkable (and to my knowledge, not duplicated) early pencil.

Further reading and photos at the Mariners’ Blog:

Do you have an 18th century pencil we can borrow? (March, 2016)
You never know what you’ll find in our collection… (October, 2017)

5 Replies to “The Jonas Jones Stop Sliding Pencil”

  1. Hello,
    I am a descendant of Jonah Jonas (not Jones), who invented the ‘sliding pencil’ here in London.
    I would love to see it in person of course, but in the meantime may send a friend who works in DC.
    Is the Museum open, and is our pencil on display?
    And would you like any further information about Mr Jonas, my 5 x great-grandfather?

  2. Thank you so much for this comment!

    The name I used is taken from the museum, who may very well be incorrect.

    I would check with the museum about their status and the display.

    And yes, it would be wonderful to learn more about Mr. Jonas.

  3. Hi, I believe I am also a great X5 granddaughter of Jonah Jonas! I had seen records describing him as a “pencil maker” and assumed it was a just a job description. His wife is described as “wife of pencil maker”

  4. I have an original sliding portion of a Jones sliding pencil. It fell out of a cavity in an early 19th c. drafting set. It’s the only one that I know of that didn’t come off a sunken ship like the examples from the Princess Caroline, HMS Pandora, and HMS Earl of Abergavenny

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