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Instead, the casing supports a separate, mobile piece of pigment core that can be extended or retracted through the casing tip as needed; these pencil casings can be re-loaded with a new core (usually graphite) when necessary. Prior to 1565 (some sources say as early as 1500), a large deposit of graphite was discovered on the approach to Grey Knotts from the hamlet of Seathwaite in Borrowdale parish, Cumbria, England.

The words for pencil in German (bleistift), Irish (peann luaidhe), Arabic (قلم رصاص qalam raṣāṣ), and some other languages literally mean lead pen.

England would enjoy a monopoly on the production of pencils until a method of reconstituting the graphite powder was found in 1662 in Italy.

However, the distinctively square English pencils continued to be made with sticks cut from natural graphite into the 1860s.

The most common type of pencil casing is of thin wood, usually hexagonal in section but sometimes cylindrical, permanently bonded to the core.

Similar permanent casings may be constructed of other materials such as plastic or paper.

Graphite pencils are used for both writing and drawing and result in durable markings: though writing is easily removable with an eraser, it is otherwise resistant to moisture, most chemicals, ultraviolet radiation, and natural aging.

Other types of pencil core are less widely used, such as charcoal pencils, which are mainly used by artists for drawing and sketching.

France was also unable to import the inferior German graphite pencil substitute.

It took the efforts of an officer in Napoleon's army to change this.

In 1795, Nicolas-Jacques Conté discovered a method of mixing powdered graphite with clay and forming the mixture into rods that were then fired in a kiln.

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