Saturday 9 April 2011

G is for Graphite – that’s what G is for ...

HB graphite pencils

This is the mineral from which ‘lead’ pencils are made.  It is a form of carbon but has no connection with the lead metal, except that lead too makes a black mark when it is drawn on paper.

Graphite used to be mined extensively in the northern part of the Lake District; mining was started in the 16th century by German immigrants; the graphite found was in a very pure form and in those early days was used only for marking sheep.

Later, however, graphite was found to be suitable for lining the casting moulds for cannon and musket balls, which caused its value to soar in the 17th century, as England, France and Holland built up their armies.  Since then graphite has been found elsewhere, with many industrial techniques utilising the ore in a multitude of ways.

The Buttermere Valley from Grey Knotts.
The Cumbrian graphite was also used in pencil making, which in 1790 led to the founding of the Cumberland pencil industry based in Keswick. The mine, in the Buttermere Valley, closed in 1891 after new techniques meant that graphite no longer needed to be so pure, so the Borrowdale mine became uneconomic.

I remember as kids we’d get pencils with our names on for Christmas or our birthdays ... what a treat ... “our own pencils” branded as ours!!  Some coated with silver paint and black lettering, then coloured sets with our names on in gold.

In recent years my honorary goddaughter used to give me HB pencils .. ‘Hilly – these are for you .. they’ve got your initials on!” – I had and still have a lot of HB pencils!!

That is Graphite – that’s what G is for ...

Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Unknown said...

We visit the Lakes quite a lot, were there last month, and I wanted to visit the pencil museum, but it was not one of my husband's good days. Maybe one day I'll be able to. :0)

Mason Canyon said...

Never knew graphite was used for so many different things. I've always just thought of pencils. I remember the ones with your name on them. That was fun.

Enjoying your A-Z Challenge and learning a lot.

Thoughts in Progress

Joanne said...

What an instrument of communication the simple pencil is. A "G"reat piece of writing history here, one this writer well appreciates.

Bossy Betty said...

Interesting! I'll never look at a pencil the same way again!

Southpaw said...

This post brought me back to my college years. We never used “pencils” for drawing it was either graphite or charcoal.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting--and I believe the material is also used for golf clubs? Thanks for the trip down memory lane--I, too, remember getting pencils with my initials. What a treat!

Nice to meet you Hilary!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Carole .. oh that's unfortunate - let's hope next time. We used to visit as kids .. but I don't think the pencil museum was there then & we were intent on rowing, swimming and picnicking from Ambleside at Windermere ... kids!! Me too .. sounds an interesting place to visit ..

@ Mason .. yes I was a bit overwhelmed .. how do they find these things out - from marking sheep to lining castings for canon, to as Liz below reminds me - golf clubs and tennis racquets .. now I think about it.

I loved my pencils with my name on .. delighted you're enjoying your British tour! Thanks so much.

@ Joanne .. it was a late developer the actual pencil .. charcoal, paint etc came much earlier - surprising really. But this is British Graphite .. and deserves its place in our history .. so thanks for the "G"reat .. it's fun this & so thrilled you're appreciating it ... good to know!

@ Bossy Betty .. actually it was good to write about - as I'd forgotten the mine was in the Lake District, where we holidayed .. and had those self-branded pencils were only ours - no-one else's!!

@ Holly - you encountered the technical side of drawing for your degree .. we did use charcoal at school .. just made a mess - but then drawing has never been something I can do! Interesting you used graphite too .. thanks Holly appreciate the professional input - from one who knows!!

@ Liz - good to see you here .. glad I connected earlier .. you're right - I'd forgotten golf clubs - though how when the Masters is on .. I'm not sure! Also tennis racquets .. Those pencils we received from parents, uncles and aunts, good friends .. were special weren't they!

Wonderful you've come over ...

Thanks everyone .. delighted you're here - enjoy the rest of the weekend .. Hilary

Yaya' s Home said...

Very interesting! Thank you. I find so many of your posts such that I must go an' do even more research. Thanks for creating such intrigue.

~ Yaya

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I sat beside a girl in high school who had the most beautiful penmanship. She only ever used a leaded pencil. I would try to emulate her, but to no avail. I still try.

Thanks for spotlighting pencils. They don't receive enough credit.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Yaya .. good to see you .. and delighted the posts interest you enough to go away and look more things up .. that's a big complement - thank you! Pencil making .. there's so much to tell about them - another post at some stage!

So pleased to know the posts intrigue .. delighted to hear that .. enjoy the weekend .. and hope you're feeling better .. Hilary

Theresa Milstein said...

I remember receiving pencils with my name on them. It was amazing at the time. I treasured them.

Amy @ Soul Dipper said...

I've stomped over parts of the Lake District, not realizing I may have been in the cradle of one of my favourite products - the HB!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Joylene - I can empathise with that - I changed my writing at just the wrong time .. and it's fine with a pencil, but with any other medium .. I have to be very careful! I still use pencils a great deal .. and begrudge having to use a pen sometimes!

Pencils in themselves deserve a whole post sometime .. but they were late coming on the scene - as charcoal had been around for millennia.

@ Theresa .. and another .. bringing back our childhood memories - the little things that please us .. you're so right - I treasured mine too.

@ Amy .. yes tucked away high up in a valley - I would think that the museum will be interesting to see a little more of those early graphite mining days and some old photos.

You too - the HB .. a favourite! Next time .. perhaps you can see more!

Cheers everyone - thanks so much for the comments - Hilary

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh. I remember the pencils with my name on them. I thought I was so special.
: )
Interesting post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susanne .. I think so many of us, as kids, thought we were so special when these pencils arrived as presents ... they were ours - named forever!

Glad you enjoyed it .. thank you!

Cheers Hilary

Chase March said...

Everyone still calls it lead. Weird, eh?

I have given out those named pencils before and I find that the "leads' in them usually are of very poor quality. They don't sharpen well or they break way too easy. I stopped buying them.

Sometimes I will carve a bit from the end of a pencil and write the student's name on it with a red pen. I find this works better.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chase .. you're right .. that's the way the English developed!! Interesting but weired ...

I've seen some given out recently well in the last 12 years or so!! .. but the kids were into gel pens .. that's why I ended up with the HB ones!! Interesting your comments - it's better to have quality over cheapness.

I like your idea of carving off a piece to write a student's name on .. that's a great idea.

Good to see you .. Hilary