I’ve decided to group a couple of pencils together for this post; the E Wolff & Son ‘Mathematical’ pencil and the L & C Hardtmuth ‘Compass’ pencil. This is simply because I only have one example of the Wolff and given that it is almost identical to the Hardtmuths, both in terms of construction and time period, it makes sense to just group them.
First thing to note is that these pencils are tiny, so to try and give you a scale, I’ve included a standard hex pencil in a lot of the pictures. A slight issue with the pencils being so tiny is that they are pushing the limits of my camera phone, but I think the photos turned out clear enough for you to get the idea.
As you would expect for pencils of this age, we have the standard square core with the ‘trough and lid’ construction. The finished end belongs to the Wolff whereas the Hardtmuths have the core visible.
A very interesting point concerning these pencils is their intended sharpening technique. They were meant to be sharpened into a sharp chisel-type point rather than a round conical shape. Therefore, these pencils remained with square cores throughout their production, even when most Hardtmuths were using round cores instead!
The above advert within ‘The Builder’ from December 1843 refers to the pencils as ‘newly-invented’, so we can use this as a pretty good guess for ‘earliest’ date within our timeframe. The only reference I could find to the Hardtmuths was in an old catalogue from the 1890s, but I assume they had been making them for quite some time at this point, my reasoning for that assumption I set out below.
Wolff adverts basically disappear within a few years so they don’t seem to have been produced for a long period of time.
Both the Wolff and the Hardtmuths came in harder grades only; this makes a lot of sense given that they are for use with technical drawing instruments. My Wolff example is a 3H, whereas the Hardtmuths came in No3 and No4. Unlike some more recent compass pencils, these pencils fit into a compass rather than the compass attaching to a full sized pencil.
My 1890s Hardtmuth catalogue still shows they used the No.3 and No.4 grading despite the introduction of their 1500 pencils with the HB scale (both the HB scale and the Number scale feature in the catalogue). It’s worth pointing out that early Hardtmuth pencils didn’t follow the USA standard of ‘No.2 = HB’ as the catalogue extract below shows. Given the age of these pencils, we can safely assume that No.3 refers to HB and No.4 refers to H.
Note the very early Wolff address within the size guide below. Church Street became Fournier Street over time but the building still stands and is now a spectacular private residence. I can’t be entirely sure which version I have, but I have my suspicions that it is probably one of the smaller grades.
Whilst we are on the size guide, one of my pencil ‘white wales’ is the half-round pencil for use with a spring-bow. I don’t know how you’d accurately split one of these pencils at home, so it’s good that they made these.
I’m no mathematical instrument expert, but most I’ve seen tend to use lead rather than a mini pencil; it may be therefore that these items were short lived. If you happen to be an expert in these kind of instruments (and there are many of them out there), please do get in touch; I’d love to know which models these pencils were designed for.
I did find a reference to Wolff’s Mechanical pencils within the Leeds Intelligencer, October 1846. They did manage to spell Wolff incorrectly, but given that there are so few references to these pencils, I’ll still take it! On a separate note, I really love how well spoken advertisements where back in this time period.
Turning back to Hardtmuth, who elected to call their model ‘Compass Pencils’. The No. 21 version came in 5 diameters, all with their No. 4 (H grade) lead.
Note that this advert from 1890 states the stamping is ‘L & C Hardtmuth, Austria’; my examples say ‘L & C Hardtmuth, Vienna’ instead. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of time period however. I spoke with Hardtmuth about this and even though they moved the main production out of Vienna from 1848, they continued to use the Vienna factory up until the start of WWII.
This explains why you might see Koh-i-Noor branded hardtmuths with ‘Vienna’ stamping. When considering these pencils however, the conclusion is that these are early examples predating the 1890s.
I have two sizes of the No. 21 model. If I had to guess I’d say these are at the smaller end of the scale, but without seeing a full set I can never really be sure. A quick ruler check and the pencils are 5 inches, give or take.
Turning to the 21A model, which came in the No. 3 degree (HB) instead and in a more limited range of barrel thicknesses. Like the No. 21 model, I have two examples to show you.
Similar to the No. 21, these have the ‘Vienna’ stamping:
Surprisingly good condition given their age:
The pictures below shows examples of the three different sizes in my collection combining examples from the 21 and 21A models:
So there we are, something different and definitely not something you come across every day. As mentioned earlier, if you’re a mathematical instrument expert do get in touch if you know some more about these.