Developed by IBM in 1937 in conjunction with the first test scoring machine, the IBM Electrographic mark sensing pencil came to be. The core was made from electro graphite—artificial graphite made by heating carbon in an electric furnace (otherwise known as graphitized carbon). Not only did this make the electrons in the graphite smaller and therefore easier to pick up by the machine, it also created a darker, shinier graphite. These days tests are taken with #2 pencils which effectively do the same job on modern, less sensitive machines but enthusiasts still love the line that the old test-scorers allow.
There are still two official test-scoring pencils made in the US, one by General’s of Jersey City, New Jersey and one by Musgrave of Shelbyville, Tennessee. They might not be quite as sophisticated as their predecessor, but do they really need to be?
Let’s talk about these pencils. Upon first use, the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 model feels more noticeably smoother and darker than any old pencil and does leave a bit of a sheen. It sharpens well and retains its point excellently, though the design of the pencil may be a bit of an eye-sore with its sloppy silver paint and spread-out text. Many users complain about the sharp hexagonal barrel being uncomfortable, and after writing with it for a straight 20 minutes or so I can attest that this is very true.
As for the General’s Test Scoring, it does the job but to the untrained pencil user feels and looks the same as your trusty #2. However, aesthetically it’s simple, nostalgia-inspiring and is superior to the Musgrave in wood quality, sharpenability, point-retention and eraser quality.
But really, as far as test-scoring pencil go you can’t beat the genius and writing ability of IBM. Aside from that, it was first and only pencil to ever be developed by a tech company and its place in pencil history is truly irreplaceable.