Made in the Czech Republic – Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth

A wealth of art supplies in the window of a Koh-I-Noor shop in Brno's centre.
A wealth of art supplies in the window of a Koh-I-Noor shop in Brno’s centre.

Supplying Artists since 1790

Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth, one of the world’s most respected names in art and drafting supplies, has been in existence since the Czech lands were firmly under control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Founded in Vienna in 1790 by Architect and Entrepreneur, Joseph Hardtmuth, the company was taken over by his sons in 1848 and relocated to South Bohemia. To this day, Koh-I-Noor Hartmuth remains headquartered in the South Bohemian city of České Budějovice and produces a range of award winning professional and hobbyist quality art supplies as well as school, office and technical drawing supplies.

This is a company which has taken two world wars, the Socialist era and the transition from Socialism to Capitalism in stride. While certainly seeing a fair bit of restructuring along the way as required, it has maintained its world class reputation consistently from its founding to the present day.

With a world wide distribution, chances are very good that you have used, or at least seen, Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth products.

The modern pencil: A Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth innovation from the 1800s
The modern pencil: A Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth innovation from the 1800s

Perfecting the Pencil

The pencil is, by far, one of the most common and unassuming items around schools, offices or artists’ studios and has been for a very long time; long enough that we take it quite for granted.

However, there was time when pencils were expensive luxury items due to the labour intensive procedures involved in making them. The core was made of pure graphite cut to shape and fit into individually carved wood shells. The pure graphite was very high quality and the skills required to cut it to shape were part of what made early pencils command high prices.

This all began to change when Joseph Hardtmuth developed a process which mixed lower quality graphite powder with varying amounts of clay and shaped the mix into rods. The new process was much more time and cost effective than using pure graphite and was the beginning of putting pencils within the financial reach of the masses.

Hardtmuth took out a patent in 1802 on his new method for producing pencil leads and the company steadily manufactured more refined pencils through the 1800s. A critical part of the developments was varying the mix of clay to graphite to create leads of different degrees of hardness which could, in turn, result in a wide variety of marks with varying densities. Harder leads were more suited to drafting and technical tasks while softer ones were more suited to artists, mid range leads became standard for everyday writing.

In 1889, the company introduced their 1500 series pencils. This series encased the graphite in a cedar wood shell which was painted yellow. The 1500 series quickly became the benchmark of modern pencils worldwide; the company still makes the 1500 series today using methods unchanged for over a century.

The elephant trademark has appeared on Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth erasers since 1896.
The elephant trademark has appeared on Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth erasers since 1896.

The Elephant Eraser

In 1896, the company commenced production of its own line of natural rubber erasers. The erasers were aimed specifically at the needs of artists and illustrators and could be used for not only completely removing a pencil mark, but also for blending marks together for shading purposes.

The eraser was marked with the image of an elephant and this line of erasers is still produced today with the same elephant image. Registered in 1896, the image of the elephant on these erasers is one of the world’s oldest recognized trademarks and is protected in over 70 countries.

The result of a few hours of sketchbook fun playing around with Koh-I-Noor drawing inks.
The result of a few hours of sketchbook fun playing around with Koh-I-Noor drawing inks.

A Splash of Colour

Of course, this company has much more than fine quality pencils going in their favour.

Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth’s name can be found on a wide range of equally high quality colour art mediums such as drawing inks, coloured pencils in traditional and water soluable forms, oil and chalk based pastels, fibre pens and paints of various bases including watercolour, acrylic and oil among others.

Beyond the implements needed to make and artistic mark, the company also makes a wide range of paper, canvas and board based support media to make said artistic marks upon. As one might expect, superior quality is also present in these items.

A bit of sketching done at the Brno technical Museum and the 1500 series pencils used for it.
A bit of sketching done at the Brno technical Museum and the 1500 series pencils used for it.

On a Personal Note

I never practiced any sort of brand loyalties during my previous career as a graphic designer in my native Canada; however, I do know a lot of Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth products passed through my hands and I don’t recall ever having a negative experience with them.

Needless to say, living in the Czech Republic as I do now, this company’s products are everywhere, accessible in the extreme and I often find myself purchasing them for use in personal artistic pursuits.

Even when not drawing, I often find myself encountering their products when I go to work or visit a client. Very frequently, there is at least one or two whiteboard markers around with the company’s trademark on them.

Learning More

To learn more about Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth, its present and historical activities plus some interesting company trivia; one need look no further than the company’s own web site:

http://www.koh-i-noor.cz/en/introduction

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