I don’t go in much for mechanical pencils but of the four or five that I own, these flat-lead pencils (sometimes called “flat-ribbon lead pencils”) are very interesting.
They are both examples of the A.W. Faber-Castell TK 9600: The one in the foreground was made in the U.S. and has “Patent Pending” stamped on one side, the other was made in Germany. They are distinguished both in terms of weight (the former is considerably heavier) and by the mechanism which holds and propels the lead.
The American 9600 resembles the design found in this patent:
This patent was assigned in 1955 to the General Dynamics Corporation, but the German 9600 was designed by one Harald Bachmann, whose patent was assigned to A.W. Faber-Castell the following year. Several other companies issued flat-lead pencils, including Caran d’Ache, Tombow, and Alvin to name a few. If the design itself wasn’t impressive enough, you have to wonder how the lead was manufactured—I imagine there was a need to fabricate new machines out of whole cloth to produce them.
If regular, round graphite cores are passed through a die under tremendous pressure I suppose the same holds true for these flat leads. But how do you keep them flat and straight? Were they made of larger sheets and then cut to size? If so, were they printed on before or after that?
Here is another example of flat-lead refills from A.W. Faber-Castell: The tube is made of glass and topped with a cork:
Looking at this packaging creates an image in my mind’s eye: A factory employee asking a harried coworker, who is poring feverishly over a phone book, whether he’d like to go to lunch. . .
“Berthold, come take a break—it’s lunchtime.”
“Not now, Gerhard; I must find someone who makes very small corks.”
If the flat-lead pencil was invented in the mid-1950s then it didn’t have a very long life, and I don’t know whether their discontinuation had to do specifically with this design, or with the general decline in the use of drafting pencils. But if you consider everything that had to be invented just to manufacture them, I bet there is an interesting story waiting to be told.