Frequently Asked Questions


Some 50,000 years ago our ancestors were still chiseling stories in stone with flint and painting on the walls of their caves with plant dyes. For thousands of years, pictures were their only means of communication. The ancient Romans used a stylus made of pewter or lead to write on wax tablets, papyrus or parchment. Implements made of lead, pewter and silver were used for writing and drawing until the late Middle Ages. Change came with the discovery of graphite in England around 1550: this new material was soon known throughout Europe.

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The hometown of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) did not become a centre for pencil making by chance. Once a well-organized craftsmen’s stronghold, Nuremberg also had a geographically advantageous location at the intersection of old trading routes. In 1820, about ten large workshops and the same number of smaller businesses were producing pencils in and around Nuremberg.

The first factories in which pencils were manufactured by machine came into being around 1870. The factory owners were quick to expand their sales activities: while products had previously been sold at markets nearby, pencils were exported to many countries in Europe and even overseas.

By around 1890 the pencil industry had experienced a rapid phase of modernization within a short time.

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A pencil lead mainly consists of graphite. This material was discovered in Borrowdale/Cumberland around 1550. It became known as “English lead”.

Only later did the material prove not to be lead at all, but graphite. It turned out to be ideal not only for drawing, but also for writing.
Pure graphite proved to be very brittle, however, and so carpenters in Nuremberg hit upon the idea of simply encasing the graphite in wood. But not as a “round lead” which is common for today’s pencils and our current technique. The historical technique can rather be compared with a “layering technique” meaning that a flat graphite lead was put between two small boards. These craftsmen were granted their own Handicrafts Code as pencil makers in Nuremberg in 1731.

For many years they managed to keep their skills a secret. Therefore their know-how was kept within the city walls, with the result that even today Germany’s pencil manufacturers are based in and around the city of Nuremberg.

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The pencil factory began using the swan as its trademark in 1875. Choosing this symbol was almost a fait accompli, as the German word for “swan” forms part of the family name Schwanhäußer. Most important in this decision was that this beautiful bird was thought to make the product even more appealing. The swan with its white plumage and elegant neck stands for purity and beauty. It became our trademark and has symbolized our company for over 130 years.

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