by Larry Feign

Is there anything as lovely as a pencil?
Out of this simple, elegant device can come a story, a work of art, a scientist's journal, or a full set of accounts, which can be erased and edited on the fly! Yes, just like a computer. But for the price of one office computer, one can buy 4000 pencils: more than a four year supply for even the most prolific writer or artist. In four years your computer will be out of date. Which, then, is the better-engineered tool?
Invented in England in the 16th Century, the pencil's demise has been repeatedly and wrongly predicted. Not pens, automatic pencils, typewriters nor computers have made pencils obsolete. The octagonal yellow pencil first appeared in the 1850s. Any major deviation from this design, other than colour, has failed to hold up. What other feat of engineering and design has lasted as long? Your iMac or Lancia sure won't.
A pencil is a complete sensory experience. The travelling finger encounters a geography of hard, sharp, yet delicately powdery carbon, firm wood, smooth laquer, the coolness of brass and soft, pliable rubber. The sound of graphite on paper is crisp and cheerful. Even its smell is deliberate. Any pencil which is not made from red juniper wood is scented to smell like juniper, because we expect pencils to smell like that!
When I see a pencil I see elegance of form, I see history and self-expression. No, there is nothing as lovely as a pencil!

This article appeared in MEDIA Magazine, August 2002 | ©2002 Larry Feign