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Koh-i-Noor and the History of the No. 2 Pencil

Published on May 26th, 2016 in Shopping

  • Pencil set and packaging, Czechoslovakia (photo:

  • Koh-i-Noor pencils (photo courtesy of

  • Frantisek Kupka painting for the Koh-i-Noor logo, c.1920 (photo:

  • Koh-i-Noor advertisement with logo (photo:

  • Koh-i-Noor advertisement (photo:

  • Koh-i-Noor colored pencils (photo courtesy of Koh-i-Noor)


The Czech company Koh-i-Noor Hartdmuth is a world leader in the manufacture of high-quality art supplies – charcoal, pastels, crayons, chalk, oil and water colors, and, their specialty, first-rate pencils.


Koh-i-Noor has been in the local media quite a bit lately. In August 2015, they moved operations back to České Budějovice after 11 years of outsourcing their production to China.

In Feburary 2016, the demand for the company's water-soluble sketching pencils was almost 600% higher than their production capacity due to the adult coloring book craze!

Another fun fact: their Versatil mechanical pencil, which was very unique for its metal clutch lead holder and clip-on sharpener when the company introduced it in 1945, is a bit of a cult favorite among pencil geeks.

But what I have always found most interesting about the company is the historical role that it has played in the development of a rather iconic American product, the yellow #2 pencil.


That's right, the same pencil you may recall from years of test-taking and handwriting exercises has Czech origins.


Koh-i-Noor colored pencils (photo courtesy of Koh-I-Noor) 


Koh-i-Noor's role in the story of the #2 is, fittingly, two-fold. In 1802, the company – which was founded by Josef Hardmuth in Vienna in 1790 and relocated to České Budějovice in 1848 – patented the first pencil lead made from a combination of kaolin and graphite, a technique that allowed for the hardness of the graphite to be varied.

This led to pencil makers everywhere being able to classify a pencil's graphite core (in the US, pencils with a softer lead were graded #2; anything above that had a finer point).

The company was also the first to produce a yellow pencil. In 1889 at the World's Fair in Paris it introduced a new line of pencils containing the world's finest graphite from the Far East. The pencils were painted yellow and allegedly named Koh-i-Noor after the famed Indian diamond. Imitators soon followed and eventually pencils everywhere were yellow.

You won't find a #2 in Europe since pencils here use a lettering system with HB standing in for #2, but you will find a variety of pencils and other Koh-i-Noor art supplies at the company's flagship store in downtown Prague (we also stock a small selection in our ARTĚL stores).


Na Příkopě 24
tel 739 329 019
hours Mon-Sun 10:00-20:00
metro A to Mustek/B to Namesti Republiky