Box of American Lead Pencil Co. Venus Pencils

This set of six short wood and graphite pencils is in a square white cardboard box with a gold-colored metal pencil holder. The holder is marked: VENUS PENCILS. Five of the pencils are marked: VENUS AMERICAN (/) PENCIL CO. N.Y. They are also marked with the hardness of their leads: H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 8H. These correspond to a chart of lead hardnesses that is both on the top of the box and inside the box lid. The chart is also marked: "VENUS" PERFECT PENCILS: (/) Made in 17 Black and 2 Copying Degrees: (/) each degree guaranteed never to vary. (/) AMERICAN LEAD PENCIL CO. (/) London. New York.
The sixth pencil appears to be a later replacement. It is marked: VENUS COPYING AMERICAN (/) PENCIL CO. N.Y. 165. Empty space in the box suggests it originally held eight pencils, from H to 8H. The American Lead Pencil Company began operating in New York City around 1861. In 1956 it changed its name to Venus Pen and Pencil to reflect this popular brand of its products, which it started manufacturing in 1905. Faber-Castell USA purchased the firm in 1973.
The owner of these pencils, Mendel Lazear Peterson (1918–2003), earned degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and Vanderbilt University. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and served in the Pacific theater, where he developed an interest in underwater archaeology. He remained in the service after World War II. From 1958 to 1973, he was a Smithsonian curator in historic archaeology and armed forces history. He likely acquired the pencils during his military career.
References: Bob Truby, "American Lead Pencil Co.,"; Bart Barnes, "Smithsonian's Mendel Peterson Dies," Washington Post, August 28, 2003.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
American Lead Pencil Company
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
cardboard (overall material)
wood (overall material)
graphite (overall material)
overall: 7.6 cm x 7.4 cm x .6 cm; 3 in x 2 29/32 in x 1/4 in
place made
United States: New York, New York
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Pens and Pencils
Science & Mathematics
Drawing Instruments
writing implements
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Pens and Pencils
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Mendel L. Peterson
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.