IBM Electrographic pencil

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 (

Mark sense (Wikipedia)

IBM 805 Test Scoring Machine (IBM Archives)

Optical mark recognition (Wikipedia)