The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a slate book–two wooden framed slates hinged with the original cord–together with a pack of noiseless Scholar’s Slate Pencils “for clever boys and girls.” A listing in the New York Times from 1893 gives the cost of slate pencils VS lead (graphite) pencils.
According to Stone magazine, v.10 (1895) “Only one firm in the United States is making slate pencils from native slate. There are imported many slate pencils—that is, pencils made of slate—from Germany, and also some soapstone pencils from abroad. The native soapstone pencil industry languishes, according to those interested, because of the recent reduction in the tariff upon imported soapstone pencils.
Millions of pencils made of slate are turned out at a quarry in Pennsylvania. The rough slate is sawn into suitable pieces by machinery, and from each piece a special machine cuts six pencils of standard length, 5 1/2 inches. These pencils come out rounded, but not pointed. Deft boys take them by twos and threes and quickly point them at an emery wheel rapidly revolved by machinery.
The pencils are then put up in pasteboard boxes of 100 each, and these boxes are placed in wooden cases containing 10,000 pencils. The wholesale price of slate pencils is only $6.75 per case. Pencils that break in the making are made up into “shorts,” measuring 3 1/2 or 4 1/2 inches, and the shorter pencils are made also from small fragments of slate.
Pencils wrapped in the American flag printed on paper cost about $2 a case more than the ordinary standard bare pencil, and pencils wrapped in gilt paper come somewhat higher. It is an easy bit of ciphering to make out that pencils at $6.75 a case of 10,000 are worth about two-thirds of a mill or one-fifteenth of a cent each.”