I became interested in this pencil after reading that it compared favorably to the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. The text on one eBay auction even went so far as to say that the lead formulations are the same, except that the Contak has less wax. Of course, sellers’ descriptions aren’t necessarily bastions of accuracy, but after using the two pencils side-by-side that claim seems reasonable.
Finding some Contak pencils, however, proved to be quite challenging. In fact, they come up for auction much less frequently than genuine Blackwing pencils (I’ve only seen them 2 or 3 times). I don’t know when they first appeared in the Eberhard Faber catalog, but like many other E.F. pencils, the Contak survived Faber-Castell’s corporate acquisition of Eberhard Faber in 1988. Here is an excerpt from the 1989-90 Faber-Castell catalog:
Here are the descriptions for the Blackwing 602 and the Contak 440 in the Faber-Castell catalog:
Based on this description it seems that the Contak 440 was meant to occupy the same retail space as the IBM Electrographic. What surprises me, however, is how different those two pencils are. The Contak has a softer lead, but the softness is expressed in a brittle and powdery way as opposed to being soft in the “traditional” sense (i.e. a thicker, waxier lead like a 3B or 4B). The IBM pencil is very much like a standard No. 2.
The Contak’s lead is a bit darker than that of the Blackwing, but it should be said that the Blackwing doesn’t have a particularly dark lead to begin with. On anything but the smoothest paper (e.g. Clairefontaine), the Contak’s point gets eaten-up quickly. I can see how it might work well with test-scoring sheets, though I don’t know if its conductive properties make it any more useful or reliable than a standard No. 2 (but who knows, maybe you should refrain from using them during a lightning storm…).
All in all it’s a very interesting pencil: its scarcity and uniqueness drive my interest, but also because I like writing with them. If you adopt a lighter touch, the Contak 440 doesn’t require any more frequent sharpening than, say, a No. 1 or B pencil.