There’s no mistaking today’s pencil, that icon of space age design, the Tekagraph 9603 by Faber-Castell. Instantly recognisable by its two dramatically different halves – a curvilinear grip section colliding unceremoniously with a clinical metal tail – no other manufacturer had anything quite like it. And for good reason: the Tekagraph design was patented.
The basic concept behind the Tekagraph’s revolutionary appearance was quite straightforward. Most leadholders were roughly the same thickness along their entire length, due to the mechanism needed to operate the collet or clutch.
This made them top heavy, especially when they were of metal construction, and harder to handle for precise work or freehand drawing.
Faber’s idea was to concentrate the pencil’s mass only where it was needed, in the grip section. The rest of the pencil was to be made as thin and lightweight as possible, with the result that its balance was shifted towards the drawing point.
Unshackled from the rest of the pencil, the grip section was free to adopt a more sculptural, ergonomically-responsive form, almost three-sided in section (surely a design inspiration for day seven’s Pentel Sharp 7).
The mechanism cleverly exploits this change in geometry to its advantage, as seen in the patent drawing.
For such a revolutionary concept, there appears to be remarkably little online about the Tekagraph or its development. Beyond the patent documentation, I have found little more than the odd snippet in old archived magazines, such as this advertisement from 1964. Faber-Castell were clearly proud of the design at the time, as it appears on promotional material including this decorative plate.
A Portuguese brochure for the “new Tekagraph” dated February 1959 gives a clear idea of the cultural backdrop to the pencil’s atomic design aesthetic (see front and back below).
Although it had no direct imitators at the time due to Faber’s patent, it is interesting to compare the design of the Tekagraph 9603 with that of other tapering leadholders that were to follow.
Another curiosity that I unearthed from my archived images is this 52/30 Tekasharp battery-operated Bakelite lead pointer, seemingly designed to accompany the Tekagraph pencil. It looks a bit flimsy – basically a single blade lead pointer rotated by a small electric motor driving a plastic gear – but still something I feel that I need to have.
The Tekagraph was available in both black and green versions, some with the lead grade imprinted at the end of the plastic section. Mostly they were supplied in a minimal plastic sleeve, but I have seen the odd boxed example. My two pencils also suggest that there were at least two different generations, the likely earlier one with a plain push button, while the other is ridged.
I’m sure there must be a fantastic resource somewhere out there that answers all of our Tekagraph questions, but unfortunately I haven’t found it yet. If you happen to come across it, please let me know.