Though Sampson Mordan and S. Mordan & Co are primarily associated with pencils and the invention of the everpointed/propelling/mechanical pencil, they infact made many other items. Rather appropriately they also manufactured leads for their pencils, these leads were made in various thicknesses and hardness depending on their intended use. Each Mordan pencil would take one particular size of lead, so the intended use of the pencil determined which pencil was purchased. The lead which the pencil took was normally engraved on the barrel at the end of the pencil, these were letters as follows VH, H, M, S, or VS. These letters, which many people believe to be the size of lead the pencil takes, in reality describe the hardness of the lead rather than the thickness.
Pencil lead sizes
In one of S. Mordan & Co's advertisements circa 1828-1829 the following thicknesses and degrees of hardness of leads were described by the company.
VH (very hard) is very small in size.....Seldom required
H (hard) is small.......................Hard and black, for fine drawing
M (medium) is of a medium size......For general purposes
S (soft) is larger......................Black for shading
VS (very soft) is largest....................Very black for deep shading
So as can be seen from the list above, a pencil which has VS engraved on it actually takes the largest size of lead. This is in contrast to what many people think, as they mistakenly believe that VS stands for "very small". The M (medium) lead is equivalent to 1mm thickness and VS (very soft) is equivalent to 1.5mm, I am not too sure about the the thickness of the other leads. There is also another lead which is marked with "W" and I have heard that this is actually the thickest lead (possibly 2mm) used in Mordan pencils, but I have no personal experience of it.
S. Mordan & Co pencil leads were normally sold in small leather or cardboard boxes, the boxes containing either 6 or 12 leads. The leads were protected inside small glass tubes within the box. The boxes always have printed on them the Mordan name and the degree of hardness of the lead. There are several advertisements ( see the advertisements section of this website) where S. Mordan and Co warned customers about spurious leads made by other companies that were trying to pass their lead off as Mordan lead.
Many people have difficulty in finding the correct size of lead for their Mordan pencil, as the modern day lead sizes will not fit the older pencils. There is often genuine Mordan leads for sale on Ebay, still in their boxes and sometimes even still sealed. They usually sell from £25 to £40 for a box that contains 6 to 12 leads. Some collectors like to buy these boxed leads merely to use for display with their pencil collection. However for the person who wants to actually use their Mordan pencil as an everday tool, the cost of these leads can be too much to justify buying and using them on a regular basis.
There is an alternative which I came across on the web somewhere, and if I could remember where, I would give them the credit for the idea.
It is possible to make a modern day lead fit the older pencils. Tools needed, some fine grade emery or sandpaper, a ruler and a pencil lead that is just a little to thick to fit your Mordan pencil. You simply place the lead on top of the emery paper, place the ruler over the top of the lead and move the ruler backwards and forwards gently, rolling the lead over the top of the emery paper. This reduces the lead thickness, you need to keep stopping and checking to see that you dont make the lead to thin to fit your pencil. As the original person said about the idea "it is a bit messy", but it certainly does work as I have tried it myself. Just a fine touch and a small amount of time can produce plenty of the correct size lead for a small cost.
Work in progress, images to follow