National Pencil Day (March 30) is a big deal in pencil circles. Pencil sales are better than ever, in spite of consumer infatuation with high-tech tablets and other digital tools and gewgaws. Sales of pencils in the U.S. increased 6.8 percent last year, according to a study by the NPD Group.
To celebrate the day — and pave the way for the 100th anniversary next year of its famous yellow No. 2 pencils dear to the hearts of standardized test-takers across the globe — pencil manufacturer Dixon Ticonderoga (the world's largest) has opened its vault of pencil fact, legend and lore to encourage people to sharpen their writing instruments and knowledge of pencils. Here are some to-the-point facts from that vault.
Pencils by the numbers
"Take out your No. 2 pencil" is a familiar command for anyone who has ever faced a standardized test. But it's not a request that test-takers use their second-string pencils. The No. 2 stands for the hardness or blackness of the writing core.
That little section of exposed shaved wood just above a writing point is called the collar. The ferrule, on the other hand, is the metal eraser holder.
Vive la différence
Our friends across the pond must be very confident in their writing skills, say the experts at Dixon Ticonderoga. European pencils come without erasers.
Writers are known for their passionate attachment to the tools of their trade. For many, nothing will take the place of a pencil. Roald Dahl, author of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," was so attached that he couldn't begin writing until he had sharpened six No. 2 pencils. He's not the only literary light with a pencil connection. "Walden Pond" author Henry David Thoreau worked in his father's pencil factory inventing techniques for grinding graphite, the mineral that is called pencil "lead."
A typical pencil can write as many as 45,000 words, the length of a short novel.
A pencil for all seasons
The pencil is the Swiss Army Knife of writing instruments — it can write effectively in zero gravity, upside down and under water.
The long yellow line
Dixon Ticonderoga is the oldest U.S. pencil manufacturer still making pencils today and one of the oldest companies in the U.S. The company was founded in 1795 as the Philadelphia to Lancaster Turnpike Road Co. It became Dixon Ticonderoga in 1983.