Saturday, 26 December 2009

Cretacolor Graphite Pencil: Koh-I-Noor Diamond and Monoliths

Made of the finest graphite of English Cumberland or of the purest Siberian lead? Joseph Hardtmuth had a third answer: Oriental graphite. In 1790 Hardtmuth produced the first pencil leads made of a mixture of graphite and clay in his factory in Vienna, Austria. And in 1893 his Koh-I-Noor pencil, named after the legendary diamond, was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition meeting with great acclaim thereafter.

The Koh-I-Noor's name and its distinctive colour - yellow - carried connotations to the Orient in keeping with the era's fascination with all things oriental and their mysteries. Koh-I-Noor eventually became the name of a pencil factory opened in New Jersey in 1919. Timberlines blog has a interesting post about the history of the company and brand: L & C Hardtmuth, Koh-I-Noor: A Diamond in the Rough. The Hardtmuth Koh-I-Noor company was taken over by Cretacolor in 1996.

Cretacolor Monolith

Cretacolor Monolith is a unique graphite pencil. It consists of pure lead protected by a thin layer of varnish and is reassuringly heavy. A smooth cylindrical pleasure, grey, shimmering grey, the Monolith is a delight to the touch and performs wondrously. I tested the 4B grade for writing and sketching. The Monolith glides on the paper. Letters are of course not as crisp as with an HB for example and prone to smudge. But it is still a joy to use.

It is perhaps the Cretacolor Monolith's weight that places it a notch above the rest. Its smoothess is extraordinary and it can achieve fine and broad strokes equally well. The Monolith pencils were awarded the "Frankfurter messe" prize in 1999 by a international jury of design professionals.

Densities range from HB (medium) to 9B (extra soft).

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