Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Cumberland Pencil Museum

You may recall that I have a thing for pencils. In fact, I've used them in quilts from time to time, as here in a Twelve by Twelve quilt (the challenge color palette was purple and yellow)

and here, in this quilt (which I apparently never photographed finished, so you are seeing the top here) called Daily Detritis:

So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that when we were in England in the Lakes District, we were near the Cumberland Pencil Museum, "home of the world's first pencil!" Helen happened to mention that there was a pencil museum in the area and I suspect she is still puzzled about why I was so eager to go there.  I guess you have to have the school supply/stationery store obsession to understand.

In any event, on one rainy day when we'd planned to visit Castle Howard (where Brideshead Revisited was filmed), we abandoned an afternoon of walking around sodden gardens in pouring rain in favor of an indoor visit to the pencil museum. I was thrilled. 

I will apologize now for the poor quality of the photos.  It was dim enough inside that I had to use the flash and although there are probably some Photoshop tricks for removing those horrid flash glare spots, I don't know them.  But look past the bad photography at the exciting PENCILS!

There is something about items lined up that appeals, too -- so this display of a variety of very old pencils just enthralled me.  The museum had exhibits about how, in the Cumberland mines, they discovered graphite and started using it to make pencils, and there were exhibits showing the machinery that formed it into tubes, inserted it into wood blocks, and carved it all into an actual pencil.  You can read about how pencils were made here, on the Pencil Museum's site.

If you are now thinking, "this woman is a weird pencil geek!" I understand.  And I agree.  But that's okay. 

But back to the pencils.  They was a wall showing pencils from different periods.  It's kind of astonishing how little pencils have changed over the years, isn't it? I guess a good, functional design is worth keeping.

And look: pencils "thought to be" the world's oldest colored pencils!

And those nifty flat pencils:

and old advertising signs:

and displays of vintage pencil tins, including one produced to commemorate the marriage of Charles and Diana:

There was even a display of pencils arranged like a quilt block, don't ask me why.  (I looked for the explanatory placard and didn't find it.)

As this is the company that makes Derwent Fine Art Pencils, there were art displays featuring the uses of Derwent colored pencils - even a limited edition colored pencil portrait of Will and Kate that came with a beautiful wooden box filled with all of the types of pencils Derwent makes, for the low price of about £500.  (I was tempted, but I resisted.)  

I learned that one of my favorite Christmas books and movies, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, was drawn with Derwent colored pencils.

And then there was a gift shop, with discounts and pencil seconds. After much consideration (and contemplation of the baggage weight allowance issues), I purchased a very nice box of Derwent's Inktense pencils.

The other item I couldn't resist was a necklace made out of colored pencils.

It has a very pencilly smell so when I wear it, I flash back to that very fun day.  Isn't it funny how the oddest side-trips can turn out to be vacation highlights?  I loved this quirky place, and my family and Helen and Dennis all admitted that it was more interesting than they thought it would be.

Even if you're not quite as pencil-obsessed as me, you might find this an entertaining outing if you're nearby.  There were lots of great kid activities there too, with a hunt-for-information game and a drawing station so they could try out all of the supplies.  Oh, and there was a cafe for tea and cake!

Honestly, what more could one want?  History.  Technology.  Art Supplies.  And cake. 


  1. Thanks for this lovely post Diane. I’m pencil-obsessed as well and have a wonderful two layer box of derwent pencils. Love the necklace!

  2. Oh, it was almost like we got to visit the museum with you, Diane. Thanks for that! Sounds like it's a wonderful place and I hope to visit myself one day!

  3. That was so interesting. Thank you for sharing. Once you know all of this about pencils you can not help but see the attraction!

  4. A perfect day out!!

  5. This sounds very exciting to me. I visit England ever few years but most of my visit is centred in the south. I wish the pencil museum was way down south in Dorset. I could drop my SIL off at the tank museum and visit the home of my Derwent Inktense pencils.

  6. Now that is cool! I would love to visit that museum!

  7. What a fun museum! And your two pencil quilts are fabulous!

  8. I was once in that neck of the woods, but couldn't get my non-pencil-geek companions to go to the museum with me. :-( I would totally geek out with you had we been there together. And I WANT that pencil pendant! you should wear it when we meet in Houston.

  9. How fun! I love colored pencils, and I grew up with a box of Derwent pencils as they were my mother's favorite. She wanted to give us the best tools for drawing, always carrying a box of pencils and paper with her when we kids came a long to a "grown up" party. Still I get excited when I open my box: The colors, the feeling of drawing and coloring on paper...
    I did the same for my kids, - a big box of Derwent pencils, refilling it as time went by.
    The one you bought looks really interesting. I'll look if I can get them here.

  10. How fun! Now I love my Derwent pencils even more than before--if that is possible.

  11. Have you read The Pencil by Henry Petroski? If you love pencil facts you will find lots more of them in this book.
    I have all of Petroski's books. He is one of my favorite authors. I started with To Engineer is Human.

  12. I forgot to say that I think your pencil quilts are wonderful.

  13. What an interesting place you have found and not at all far from me....

    Best wishes
    Kay in Scotland
    (Scottish Borders)