IBM Electrographic lead

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IBM Electrographic lead

Along with the IBM Electrographic pencil, IBM also manufactured lead for mechanical pencils.

The box is inscribed on the side:

“For Electrical Mark Sensing
For Marking IBM Test Scoring Machine Answer Sheets and IBM Mark Sensed Cards”

The bottom contains these instructions:
IBM Electrographic lead

“To Make Electrically Conductive Pencil Marks

Mark with firm pressure on a sharp point. Keep the point sharp by turning the pencil after each mark. This will produce dense black marks, in which the particles of graphite deposited by the lead are so firmly packed that electricity can pass from one end of the mark to the other.”

The box itself has a wooden frame, and appears quite sturdy. I’m lucky enough to now have a few 0.9mm mechanical pencils, but these leads are 1.18mm, and my sole pencil that can take this diameter is a Yard-O-Led.

IBM Electrographic lead

Unfortunately, the Yard-O-Led requires a Master’s degree in pencilology to change the lead. (And some people complain about the inconvenience of sharpening woodcase pencils!) Still, past practice likely helped, and I succeeded in the challenge.

I don’t know what results a few decades spent in the box might have had, but just like the woodcase pencil’s lead, the line drawn is remarkably rich, smooth, and black. Not just a darker grade, as in 4B vs. HB, but more luminescent as well.

The combination is nice, and the thick lead and dark line just might cause me to start using the Yard-O-Led pencil on a regular basis.

A very nice historical item.

IBM Electrographic pencil

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IBM Electrographic pencil

Today we have another special treat for pencil talk readers.

The IBM Electrographic is among the most sought after and collectable modern pencils, along with the Blackwing 602 and Blackfeet Indian. It might be the rarest of the three, though one never knows what warehouse stockpiles of pencils may exist.

The pencil was just a small component of a much larger enterprise – IBM’s development of Mark Sense technology. The central idea is the automated (machine) reading of human made marks in a variety of settings, though standardized tests and utility bills seem to have been the most well known areas.

IBM Electrographic pencil

As well as making a black mark, graphite makes a luminescent and electrically conductive mark. That is the basis of the technology. Some readers may have more to contribute in this area, which I would welcome, but I’ll focus here on the pencil. Some links below are suggestions for further reading on the larger technology.

The pencil is round, and finished in black. It has a silver coloured ferrule, and dark pink eraser. The eraser is predictably not useful after several years.

IBM Electrographic pencil

The pencil is embossed with an appropriate font in white, “IBM Electrographic”.

The pencil sharpens easily, and reveals a nice reddish cedar.

The pencil writes exceptionally well. Not just in the way some pencils are a gradient or two smoother or softer than others – there is something unusual in the lead formula which results in an incredibly smooth line. The line also seems much more luminescent or shiny than a regular pencil mark.

The lead does crumble a bit while writing. In outdoor sunlight, the lines seem more shiny than black.

IBM Electrographic pencil

After trying out the pencil, I have no doubt that those proclaiming that there is something special about the IBM Electrograph are correct. Though the pencils may have been created for standardized tests, there is no wonder about why a larger audience of writers quickly adopted them.

The IBM Electrograph is a standout pencil.

Further reading:

IBM 1231 Optical Mark Page Reader (ibm1130.com)

Mark sense (Wikipedia)

IBM 805 Test Scoring Machine (IBM Archives)

Optical mark recognition (Wikipedia)