A little bit of history Back in the early Twentieth Century, there were all sorts of experimental designs for mechanical pencils. Eversharp, as the name suggests, started with a perennially-pointed design (or so the adverts would have you believe), and the Japanese spin-off even became an electronics company in the end – that’s how Sharp got its name. After a few mergers (including the assimilation of Edward Baker, one of whose pencils Matthias reviewed), and a few factories either being re-purposed for war production or flattened by someone else’s materiel, there was just the one brand left – the masters of the propelling pencil, Yard-o-Led.
How it looks The Yard-o-Led pencil has a variety of finishes, all of them looking carefully hand-engineered, and very shiny. Sometimes, as in the example below, that has been achieved with interesting alloys (in this case ‘platinine’, probably an copper/nickel/zinc mix), but these days only Sterling silver makes the grade.
How it feels Obviously that depends upon the size and shape to some extent – the new Diplomat below has a square barrel! But generally, these are lighter than they look, and nicely balanced, so really rather pleasant to write or draw with.
How it fills With twelve three-inch graphite sections, which if placed end-to-end would constitute a Yard of Lead (geddit?). One is in the chamber and ready to fire, while eleven spares lie in wait spaced around the sides of the barrel. It’s a clever system and you’re highly unlikely to run out of lead while out on a job with one of these. The only downside to the now rather unusual gauge (1.18mm) of lead is that it’s now rather hard to find refills in any hardness other than HB or B – which is a pity, as with a softer lead these would make excellent sketching tools.
How it writes… Tolerably well, although the lead may be a bit thick to write with if you’re used to the now more familiar 0.5mm standard width.
What is the propelling pencil good for? It’s good for drawing and doodling, and looking like a vintage hipster while you’re doing it. Because of the limited range of lead types available in 1.18mm, it’s perhaps not brilliant as a sketching tool, but it definitely wins points for being cool.
VFM Today’s Yard-o-Led pencil is a silver item made by the same specialist jewellers who make the excellent pens which we reviewed last week, and they are similarly priced at the ‘luxury’ end of the price scale. They are real works of art, and worth saving up for as an heirloom if you like the thought of passing on something both very beautiful and somewhat practical. If you just want one to doodle with and don’t mind a few dings, there’s about a century’s worth of second-hand stock out there on the auction sites and the like, and they can sell for a lot less. A bit of research is certainly worthwhile.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… There’s not much direct competition these days! Your main choice here is between new and ‘pre-loved’ propelling pencils.
Our overall recommendation If your cherished descendants can’t be trusted with a fountain pen but might just get some mileage from a pencil, this is as good as it gets. The mechanism is very robust, so if you just fancy one to play with then a second-hand (or possibly third-hand) one will probably also still be working when the time comes to kick the shiny, hallmarked, delicately hand-tooled bucket.
Where to get hold of one The Writing Desk (coming up soon!) were YoL’s first online retailers, although the Yard-o-Led website now sell directly too, and you could also do a lot worse than check out Pure Pens or The Pen Shop. Alternatively, if you happen to be strolling through St.James’s and fancy popping into Fortnum’s, their pen desk offers ample hands-on testing opportunities, albeit at prices which make the posh scones look relatively affordable.
This meta-reviews references:
- Scribble Monboddo’s hand-written review
- Rob Smith’s text-and-photos review
- Matthias Meckel’s text-and-photos review
Thanks to The Imperial Yard team for hosting our inquisitive visits and lending us the Diplomat to review!