It’s World Stationery Day today, so we’ve found some intriguing facts about pens, paper, pencils and the written word
1. Why are so many pencils yellow? Because in 1847 a high-grade graphite mine was discovered on the Russia-China border. Pencil-makers decided to use yellow, the Chinese royal colour, for their pencils to show that they were top quality. Other manufacturers copied this, but forgot about the quality.
2. Because Niccolo de Niccoli got tired of writing slowly in the square, formal upright style of Renaissance Italy, he created the slanting joined-up cursive style that we know today as the Italic script.
3. Playing Paper Scissors Stone became a legal way to settle a dispute or make a binding contract in England, according to a law issued in 1842. The Paper Scissors Stone Club was founded in London so that people could enjoy the game purely as a pastime rather than have constables policing the proceedings.
4. The UK leads the world in writing greetings cards – we wrote almost 900 million greetings cards in 2014, adding up to a market of £1.6 billion.
5. In the 1980s, chain store Woolworths tapped into the TV merchandising trend. Their Dr Who Talking Pen promised ’10 seconds (approx) of speech and sound effects’ and ‘thermal transfer of your favourite characters’. The Little Britain Talking Pen offered ‘phrases from your favourite characters’. How did that work?
6. The British Library has the only surviving playscript written in Shakespeare’s own hand. Three pages of The Book of Sir Thomas More have been identified as Shakespeare’s, based on handwriting, spelling, and vocabulary.
7. A 4800-metre or 15748-foot long letter written on continuous paper by schoolchildren in Cumbria was part of the Lake District’s National Park bid to make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8. Fountain pens with gold nibs have a kind of innate memory, in contrast to steel nibs. As gold is a softer metal the nib will adjust to your writing style.
9. Thomas Edison invented an ‘electric pen’ which was patented in 1876. It turned out to be no use as a writing instrument, but led to an unexpected development – New York tattoo artist Samuel F O’Reilly produced an electric tattoo needle based on Edison’s pen.
10. Ruled paper was first produced by machine in England in the 18th century. John Tetlow was granted a patent for the machine in 1770, and the paper was used for writing music, and for account books. Before this all the rules had to be drawn by hand.