Friday, March 20, 2020

Vintage Colored Pencils: Staedtler Mars Lumochrom

Vintage Staedtler Mars Lumochrom pencils
I used to assume that colored pencils were always intended for making art. But since I began collecting vintage colored pencils, I’ve come to realize that in other eras, they had more industrial purposes. Some copyeditors and teachers, of course, probably still use red pencils to mark copy. But at some point, drafters, engineers and other makers of technical diagrams used colored pencils.

Recently a very generous friend in the pencil community gave me a beautiful set of vintage Staedtler Mars Lumochrom pencils. Instead of the typical colorful artwork on the box, the conservative blue tin shows only the Staedtler logo and an icon that clearly represents a technical diagram. Apparently it wasn’t too long ago that drafters still color-coded their work with pencils like these. Lumochrom pencils were in production from 1973 through about 2004. My set is from before 2000.

After Staedtler stopped making Lumochroms in woodcased form, the German company began using the Lumochrom name for its colored leads for mechanical pencils (though lately colored leads are being sold in packages without the Lumochrom name, so perhaps the name is no more).

As many older pencils had, the Lumochroms have lovely endcaps. I adore the white scallop – such a nice touch that reminds me of some contemporary Japanese pencils.
Lovely endcaps!
My set is printed with branding and color numbers in the right-hand orientation, but my friend included a couple of older Lumochroms with a lefty orientation. I have some vintage Staedtler Mars Polycolor and Stabilo Schwan pencils also with lefty printing, so maybe it was a German thing back then (Staedtler’s modern pencils all have right-handed orientation).
A couple of older Lumochroms with lefty orientation
Although I suspected they would be too hard to draw with easily, I gave them a whirl anyway. Indeed, they are very hard – maybe just a smidge softer than vintage Verithin pencils, which are among my picks for colored pencils that are hard enough to write with. The pigment, however, is smooth and transparent, and of course the hard cores are ideal for drawing small details. I’m sure that technical people enjoyed using these to make diagrams and to write with.

3/7/20 Lumochrom pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
(It may seem frivolous to talk about old colored pencils while a deadly virus attacks the globe. But sequestered at home, I find comfort in being surrounded by color and other things that bring me joy. I hope you are staying well and coping in whatever way makes you happy.)


  1. I, for one, am thrilled to see your posts on pencils. Especially now! It lifts my spirits to see the color. Thank you!

    1. I'm really happy to hear that, Anne! And I've got plenty more to show you! ;-)

  2. I think it is really important to focus on the lovely right now. I brought home flowers with my last grocery order for just that purpose. The delight me.

  3. I have a very old set that I only use for special occasions. Like fine China. I am such a dork. How do I find what they are? Or, more so, WHEN?

    1. What do you mean by "find out what they are"? You don't know the brand or the name of the pencil? If you want to send me an image, please use the email address shown on the right side of the blog under "contact me."

  4. Hey MiataGrrl,

    my father in law gave us a box with all kinds of colored pencils for my children to draw with. I tried them all and found 3 Staedtler Mars-Lumochrom 104 pencils, but the ones produced before 1973 (with the old logo). I was blown away by the way they draw. As you described, they have a very smooth pigment. And the color intensity varies very proportional with the applied force over the whole range. I can easily draw a evenly distributed gradient over 7-8 cm. I now have these in my office.

    Thanks for the post, enjoyed it.

    1. That's very cool that you received such old Staedtlers and yet found them to still be useable and useful! Thank you for sharing, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post.


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