Box of American Lead Pencil Co. Venus Pencils

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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
date made
American Lead Pencil Company
place made
United States: New York, New York
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
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Mendel L. Peterson
Drawing Instruments
writing implements
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Pens and Pencils
Data Source
National Museum of American History


This is a beautiful piece of American history. I am thankful Mr. Peterson made the decision to donate to preserve this richness of my family history. I can only hope that I will one day before my death be able to travel and witness this artifact myself.

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