Legendary Pencil Company, LLC offers distinctive mechanical pencils, writing instuments, and the widest variety of mechanical pencil leads available today for vintage and modern mechanical pencils. The company was established in 2016 by mechanical pencil enthusiast Jonathan A. Veley, author of The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils, The Leadhead's Pencil Blog and creator of the online "Mechanical Pencil Museum."
The Last "Made in USA" Pencil Lead
Panda Pencil's factory in Trenton, Ohio - 2013
The Panda Pencil Company, located in Trenton, Ohio near Cincinnati, was one of the major manufacturers of pencil leads in the United States through the latter part of the Twentieth Century. You may well have never heard of the company, because the products it made were supplied in bulk to many of America's large mechanical pencil manufacturers, including Dur-O-Lite, Autopoint, Eversharp and Eberhard Faber. In addition, many smaller pencil companies which offered their own brands of lead were probably also selling Panda lead.
Panda manufactured leads from traditional blends of clay and graphite. As needle-thin leads became fashionable in the 1980s, imported Japanese leads with a new polymer-based composition were much cheaper to make, once the initial equipment investments were made. Panda wasn't able to afford the required upgrades, so the company discontinued the manufacture of mechanical pencil leads, focusing instead on wood advertising pencils.
By late 2013, Panda's leadmaking machinery had been sold for scrap, and in November, the owners sold the building. Inside were several decades' worth of unsold inventory and leftovers. Since the building had to be cleaned out when the keys were turned over, the daughter of Panda's president began searching for someone to buy what was left.
With just a week left before all the company's stock would wind up in the dumpster, her internet search for people who might be interested in vintage mechanical pencil lead brought her straight to Jonathan Veley, who has written several books on the subject of mechanical pencils, was publishing a daily blog on antique pencils called The Leadhead's Pencil Blog, and who by coincidence lived in Newark, Ohio, only about two hours away. It didn't take any convincing for him to make the trip that Saturday, and it didn't take long when he arrived to see how important Panda's stock was to anyone interested in vintage mechanical pencils.
That afternoon, Veley purchased everything Panda had left -- standard sized .046" and .036" leads, boxed in 1,000 gross cases in numerous hardnesses and colors as well as box after box of leads made in unusual sizes and compositions. The earliest leads appear to date to the late 1920s; the latest, from 1989,
None of these leads are made in the United States anymore. Cheap imports, combined with domestic environmental restrictions, have wiped out the American mechanical pencil lead industry in its entirety. You might be able to find some of the sizes Panda made -- but you won't find any made in the USA.
The Panda pencil stock is probably sufficient to fuel America's appetite for lead for many years to come.. With any luck, the venture of offering it to collectors will become profitable enough to one day explore the possibility of domestic production again.
A New Direction
By the spring of 2022, the Legendary Lead Company had gained a significant following, and Veley's efforts as an author were being recognized; his 2019 book, A Century of Autopoint, won Best Design for a non-fiction book in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
The success of Veley's book about the Autopoint Company had consequences far beyond his interests in industrial history and collecting vintage pencils. Unbeknownst to Veley, the Autopoint Company (Autopoint-Janesville, Inc. by that time) was in the process of failing just as the book was being published. Autopoint defaulted in its rent payments, and the owner of Autopoint's factory was forced to evict the company. Autopoint negotiated more time within which to sell the company's stock, parts and machinery, but was unable to do so. The entire works was left behind.
The owners of the building researched who might have interest in these assets, and before long they made contact with the man who literally wrote the book about the company. In May, 2022, The Legendary Pencil Company, LLC was formally organized to acquire the failed Autopoint's assets, and by late June 2022, Legendary Pencil began manufacturing pencils using NOS parts on hand, and with an entirely different business model.
"Your pencil should be more. Make art with a piece of art," the company's first advertisement read. Made in the USA, Legendary Pencils are unique in the industry, combining modern convenience and proven reliability with classic designs not found anywhere else.