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Koh-i-noor Hardtmuth was founded in 1790 by Josef Hardtmuth, with a view to making earthenware rather than writing instruments.  Lateral thinking will lead into interesting diversions, though, and in 1802 Josef patented a process for making pencil leads out of clay and graphite.  Originally set up in Vienna, in 1848 they moved to České Budějovice, where the head offices remain (for the beer fans, the German pronunciation of the town is Budweis).  The company made both pottery and pencils until 1870, when the earthenware was dropped.  In the later 1800s and early 1900s, the company became a multi-national, with production facilities in the US.  It seems that the company was also responsible for developing the H/B pencil hardness grading system used everywhere except the US.

After the Second World War, the company was nationalized; Czechoslovakia was not technically behind the iron curtain, but it was certainly tangled up in the curtain’s decorative fringe.  The fact that it was not altogether an east bloc nation meant that trade with the capitalist world persisted, allowing Koh-i-noor products to remain available in the “free” world, still mainly in the form of pencils, wooden and mechanical, although they did begin production of ball-point pens in 1956.  With the fall of European communism, the company resumed a privately-held form, and has since 1992 been buying up some of the subsidiaries it lost during the nationalized years and also expanding into other countries.

The modern company does not make fountain pens.  Indeed, I may be cheating a little by including this company in the round-up of fountain pen producers I’m tinkering together here, since my sole pen under their brand is only by the greatest extension of technicality.  I do however have evidence that they were producing a range of hard rubber pens, both lever-fillers and safety pens, in the 1920s and ’30s.

“Koh-i-noor” comes from a vast Indian diamond (semi-legally absconded with by the British crown in 1849) whose name means “Mountain of Light”.  I’m not quite satisfied as to when this element entered the company name, although it was probably not until the late 1800s.  It’s an interesting choice, since apart from being a huge diamond of surpassing brillance, the Koh-i-noor is also reputed to be accursed, causing the collapse of any dynasty whose male head presumes to hold the diamond in his own name.  Given the ups and downs of the company since 1900 (the international holdings were lost to some degree after both World Wars), one might almost give the curse credence.

Models I’ve examined:

Alphabetically By Date
  • Rapidograph (under construction)

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