Is there a specific pencil case that I should use?’ ” said Dr. J. David Drexler, who directs the department of anatomy at the University of California, Los Angeles. “And I’ll go, ‘I can never believe you would ask that.’ ”
In their research for the new study, Dr. Drexler and his colleagues reviewed hundreds of reports on pencil cases from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and compared the materials they used to modern ones. The researchers used a method for making a drawing from a photo using a computer program called a laser printer. They then ran their drawing through its system until it was accurate.
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The researchers discovered that the materials used by the early artists were no different in any way from those made in the 20th century. Dr. Drexler calls the period when pencils were invented a “funk” era. The best of the bunch were made with wood. Of the worst, he said, “they were made almost exclusively of synthetic materials.”
It was then that the pencil companies became interested — and in turn, the stylists. The firms could sell more pencils, and their market share exploded in the early 20th century. “The pencils themselves evolved, but the design of the pencil cases really stayed the same,” Dr. Drexler said. “If you want to be considered modern, you should go back 100 years.”
The new pencil cases also look rather good. The ones with the most plastic in the materials are slightly thicker, and the ones with a higher-grade wood veneer are slightly bulkier. Some designers went so far as to cover the sides of the pencil, just below the pencil barrel, with a piece of faux leather. But the companies generally kept their plastic parts thin and the wood veneer on the barrel thin, because there was rarely a way to remove it and reuse it.
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