Legendary Lead Company
Legendary mechanical pencil leads to suit nearly any pencil
The Legendary Lead Company offers the widest variety of mechanical pencil leads available today for vintage and modern mechanical pencils. The company was established in 2016 by mechanical pencil enthusiast Jonathan A. Veley, author of The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils, The Leadhead's Pencil Blog and creator of the online "Mechanical Pencil Museum,". The Legendary Lead Company was made possible when Veley acquired the remaining lead stock of the last American pencil lead manufacturer when it closed its doors: The Panda Pencil Company.
The Last "Made in USA" Pencil Lead
The Panda Pencil Company, located in Trenton, Ohio near Cincinnati, was one of the major manufacturers of pencil leads in the United States through the latter part of the Twentieth Century. You may well have never heard of the company, because the products it made were supplied in bulk to many of America's large mechanical pencil manufacturers, including Dur-O-Lite, Autopoint, Eversharp and Eberhard Faber. In addition, many smaller pencil companies which offered their own brands of lead were probably also selling Panda lead.
Panda manufactured leads from traditional blends of clay and graphite. As needle-thin leads became fashionable in the 1980s, imported Japanese leads with a new polymer-based composition were much cheaper to make, once the initial equipment investments were made. Panda wasn't able to afford the required upgrades, so the company discontinued the manufacture of mechanical pencil leads, focusing instead on wood advertising pencils.
By late 2013, Panda's lead making machinery had been sold for scrap, and in November, the owners sold the building. Inside were several decades' worth of unsold inventory and leftovers. Since the building had to be cleaned out when the keys were turned over, the daughter of Panda's president began searching for someone to buy what was left.
With just a week left before all the company's stock would wind up in the dumpster, her internet search for people who might be interested in vintage mechanical pencil lead brought her straight to Jonathan Veley, who has written several books on the subject of mechanical pencils, was publishing a daily blog on antique pencils called The Leadhead's Pencil Blog, and who by coincidence lived in Newark, Ohio, only about two hours away. It didn't take any convincing for him to make the trip that Saturday, and it didn't take long when he arrived to see how important Panda's stock was to anyone interested in vintage mechanical pencils.
That afternoon, Veley purchased everything Panda had left -- standard sized .046" and .036" leads, boxed in 1,000 gross cases in numerous hardnesses and colors as well as box after box of leads made in unusual sizes and compositions. The earliest leads appear to date to the late 1920s; the latest, from 1989,
None of these leads are made in the United States anymore. Cheap Asian imports, combined with domestic environmental restrictions, have wiped out the American mechanical pencil lead industry in its entirety. You might be able to find some of the sizes Panda made -- but you won't find any made in the USA.
The Panda pencil stock is probably sufficient to fuel America's appetite for lead for many years to come. With any luck, the venture of offering it to collectors will become profitable enough to one day explore the possibility of domestic production again.