Sunday, 29 August 2010
Where have all the round pencils gone?
I mean good quality pencils, not the cheap ones you buy as souvenirs. I recently found out about stenographers' pencils such as the Staedtler 101 and the Faber-Castell 9008, which of course do not appear to be available here in the UK. I've seen them advertised on Amazon.de and ebay.de but my German isn't good enough to make enquiries about postage costs to the UK, a pity really because the Staedtler Stenofix looks like a very smart pencil indeed, and I don't mind the fact it's available only in HB.
It seems obvious to me that a circular, rather than hexagonal shape, is more comfortable for long spells of writing, whether it's another chapter of a novel or just some notes taken in a meeting. Yet, none of the top brands appears to offer them any more, or if they do, they sell them only to select places. One has to go cheap to find round pencils, a situation set to continue as the Stenofix and 9008 appear destined for the dustbin of history if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, even when Staedtler still advertises the model on its global website.
Obviously, in an office environment where most people write their own correspondence on PCs, stenographers are an endangered species and the steno pencil also looks set for extinction. Another possible reason for the near-disappearance of steno pencils is the wastage of wood used in production. It seems that for a given slat, nine hexagonal pencils can be cut against eight round pencils. Clearly manufacturers have to pass on this cost to the customer, making a quality round pencil more expensive than its hexagonal competitor. I have some trouble believing this as it would then follow that all cheap, no-name pencils, or souvenir pencils, would be hexagonal too when clearly they are not.
For the "name" manufactuers, operating in a market where the humble pencil is considered a disposable commodity, it would be difficult to charge a premium to recover the extra material costs. For most users, there is no apparent advantage to using a round pencil over other shapes and the manufacturers have no stake in changing that attitude. It is possible now that most pencils are hexagonal because people expect them to be.