Posted in Writing Life


My 8 year old informant, who shall remain nameless at her request, informs me that, for some months, her cohort has been deeply immersed in the collection of–who could have guessed–pencil lead. Not the lead that comes in retractable lead pencils, but the tips of ordinary pencils that are sharpened with a sharpener, and sometimes break (or can be made to break in the case of avid collectors).

Not everyone is a collector. Some of the classmates are workers, who work for a collector, without pay, but out of a sense of duty or loyalty or some other non-monetary compensation. The leads range in value from 1 to 5, the number denoting the quantity of #1 leads which would be expected in a trade. Rare colours, valued at 5, include hot pink and light blue. A certain shade of green is quite common and therefore a 3. A number 1 would be a blunt black HB point, a number 2 a long sharp black point.

The containers used to hold the collection vary: sandwich bags, pencil cases, and boxes. There is also theft, I am given to understand. No names were named, but there is a run of nicking leads from desks. Consequently, one of the collectors keeps a small sandwich bag of lead in school, taking the day’s acquisitions to add to her stash at home. My informant is neither a collector, nor a worker, but has agreed to hide a classmate’s collection because my informant is so good a hiding things and is, as she tells me, sneaky. I shall not reveal the hiding place. However, I can say that she designed and made a nifty box for her classmate’s collection out of cardboard and masking tape, which has a movable flap.

It really takes the eyes of an eight year old to see the value and beauty in pencil lead, though it also speaks to the acquisitiveness of human nature. My informant says that there was a whole thing going on last year with Leggo, but I’ll leave that for another time.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

11 thoughts on “*Collectibles

  1. When my son was about that age it was sticks. They all spent their playtime hours in the hunt for the perfect stick, and then they dug under the nearest tree with them. Childhood is another world.

  2. Lilian, one of the things I love most about this covert operation is its utter simplicity, which really exposes how unnecessary is so much of what kids are surrounded by today. They can make fun – competitive, quite sophisticated fun – out of pencil lead, or, as LL says, even plain old sticks. It speaks volumes and warms my heart.

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