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Drafting Pens and Pencils

Technical drawing required sturdy writing implements rather than, for instance, the sharpened quills that were frequently used as pens for correspondence and record-keeping until the 20th century. Metal pens existed in ancient Rome, but they were not manufactured in large numbers until the 17th century. Objects in the NMAH mathematics collections suggest the diversity of drawing, or ruling, pens made in Europe and North America from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Drawing pens were mainly used for creating straight lines of various widths. Additionally, instrument makers devised specialized pens for creating curved and dotted lines.

Surveyors, navigators, and draftsmen also used pencils and crayons in holders such as those seen in the dividers and compasses and sets of drawing instruments object groups. The objects on the following pages were made from steel, brass, German silver, and other metals; ivory; slate; wood; graphite; and plastic. By the end of this time period, computer-aided design supplanted drawings made by hand. Some of the most recent pens were employed for promotional purposes rather than for technical work.


The digitization of this group of artifacts was made possible through the generous support of Edward and Diane Straker.