The best mechanical pencils 5: Koh-i-Noor Toison d’Or clutch pencils

Among us engineering students, our usual mechanical pencil style was a clutch pencil (sometimes called a lead holder), not a propelling pencil (sometimes called a push pencil). We found it easier to sharpen a 2.0 mm lead to a very sharp point than to struggle with a fine 0.5 mm graphite lead that was often hard and brittle (this was before Pentel Ain Stein leads). We all proudly carried our mechanical pencils made by Staedtler, Faber Castell, Caran d’Ache and many others.

Most of those pencils were a solid color — yellow, mainly, but also green with gold lettering, blue, or black. Some were green with a knurled metal grip, and those were supposed to be better for long drafting jobs. We all had our preferences. But one model stood out from all others: the easily recognizable Toison d’Or, made in Tchecoslovakia by Koh-i-Noor. Its distinctive color scheme – a black lacquered barrel with a cream-colored band between two thin golden rings near the top of the barrel, the sturdy blade clip and the solid metal knurled sharpener that was screwed to the the top of the inner pipe and doubled as the pushbutton for releasing the clutch mechanism – instead of the more common metal tubelike push-in cap – set it out from other pencils. But back then, imports were rare, and it was hard to become the proud owner of a Toison d’Or pencil. Although fairly affordable, they were hard to come by in Brazil then.

The two models: the smaller 5900 (for 2.0 mm leads) and 5905 (for up to 2.5 mm leads).

When I finally acquired my first Toison d’Or I bought the thinner and smaller  model (model 5900), the one that could handle the regular 2.0 mm leads. Later, I also got my larger, sturdier, heavier model, with a much bigger sharpener/button (model 5905) that could hold wider leads up to 2.5 mm.

I still have them, which shows how sturdy those pencils are – they will last for decades. And, attesting to how an excellent design lasts for decades, these same models are still manufactured today – not in Tchecoslovakia anymore, for, alas, that country does not exist anymore, but in the Czech Republic (in the same factory, actually, for the country has changed names and hands, but the old  factory is still there, in České Budějovice, near the Austrian border). The factory, originally Hardtmuth, founded in Austria in 1790, was moved there a long, long time ago.

Back in my college days, we all had little blue plastic lead sharpeners, for although all clutch pencils had some sort of sharpener attached to the pushbutton, the point we got by using them usually was very stubby; with the little blue sharpener, we got the long, fine points we so dearly liked.

The sharp point we all strived for.

In the case of the Toison d’Or pencils, however, we got good enough points with the included sharpeners. Particularly, the sharpener included in the 5905 achieves very long and sharp points.

The included pushbutton / sharpener.

As in all clutch pencils, the thick lead sits loosely inside the barrel. By pressing the button on top, the jaws at the bottom of the barrel are opened, and the lead comes out by the action of gravity. After an adequate size is exposed, the button on top is released and the spring inside the barrel pulls the jaws up to hold the lead in place

The jaws keep the lead in place. (Notice how rotating the pencil keeps the lead sharp. For highlighting, a blunt point like this is better.)


I  use both pencils – the larger one for graphite leads (mainly B grade, but I also use other grades and have a varied assortment) and the smaller one for yellow leads (or leads of other colors) that I use for highlighting. I will use any brand, but I currently use either Faber-Castell or Staedtler leads, for these are easily available in the stores near my home and my office.

Naturally, the disadvantage of using these pencils for writing is that the point soon becomes blunt. For drafting, on the other hand, especially with harder graphite grades, as well as for sketching, by using a light touch the point remains sharp longer, and the graphite markings, after being covered with ink traces, may easily be erased.

The yellow lead I keep in the smaller pencil is ideal for highlighting. I have found this to be an excellent method, particularly for highlighting notes written with a fountain pen or with a pencil, because liquid ink highlighters will smear the traces – dry highlighting with colored leads is the cleanest and best way to go.

Highlighting with the yellow lead: no smearing!

The lacquering is very good. Even after years of use, only some shallow scratches mar the surface of the pencils. More recently, however, I have grown more careful and now I carry the pencils in a leather étui to avoid further scratching them.

Notice that time did not mar the lacquer or the gold lettering.

The Koh-i-Noor Toison d’Or pencils do not come out cheap – they cost anything between US$ 10.00 and US$ 20.00 (in Brazil, from R$ 45 to R$ 80). The included sharpeners are very good, and never become blunt (mine have lasted meany years and do not show any sign of bluntness). But if a long, fine point is required, the small blue inexpensive sharpeners will do the job (but their blades tend to rust and become blunt after a couple of years). Staedtler manufactures a much better (and more expensive) sharpener (model Staedtler Mars 502), available in art supply stores for about US$ 10.00. For convenience, that sharpener (not shown here) has a little can for the graphite shavings.

In Rio de Janeiro, I have found the Staedtler sharpener in Papelaria Calógeras, downtown, and the Toison d’Or pencils in the Casa Cruz physical stores and online in various sites, and I am confident that they can be found in the better art supply stores in major cities in Brazil.

I plan to use these pencils daily for a long time yet. I see no need to replace them with other models. They do the job, they are all metal, very sturdy, they have a great paint job and look pretty, they are hexagonal and do not roll off tables, and they last forever. The larger one, model 5905, is very comfortable in my hand. I can use it all day and never become tired. It is heavier and thicker that the 5900 model, so I use the smaller model for highlighting. For those of us with smaller hands, however, the 5900 may feel more comfortable. For me, the 5905 has the perfect size and a perfect balance.

The balance of these pencils in the hand is outstandingly good. Notice some signs of use after many, many years of daily abuse: scratches, but the lacquering holds out.

Teaser: Next week, I’ll present some of the creativity of Edson, from Perito dos Cachimbos (The Pipe Expert), a small and very well appointed store full of goodies in Rio,  in creating exclusive, customized Lamy Safaris and Lamy Safari / AL-Star hybrids from the store’s parts stock. Meanwhile, you can check the store’s site at the link below, at

And go on writing, always with conviction!

Edson at his desk, where he performs his magic repairing and creating pens.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s