The adult version of the lead pencil
Pen pencils came about not as result of technology updating an obsolete design, but because the process of sharpening pencils wastes most of the lead. In fact, two-thirds of the lead ends up in the trash in order to keep a writable point on your pencil.
So it was that in 1869 this wastage was put to rights by pen maker, A. T. Cross with the invention of the world's first mechanical pencil. This bright spark of inspiration to combine the pen and the pencil failed to sound the death knell for the humble pencil which, as we all know, is still very much with us today. What it did do was offer the convenience of the pen with the erasibility of the pencil.
Also rather neatly, the pen pencil idea served to progress the pencil in a manner similar to its origins. For it's believed that a lightning strike during a fierce storm in the England of 1564 gave birth to the first pencil. After the storm, shepherds checking their flocks noticed globules of a dark metallic substance around the base of an uprooted tree.
To begin with, it was thought this strange substance was lead ore. During investigation of the globules it was discovered they left distinct markings on wood. Before long the 'lead' was being cut into strips, sharpened to a point and placed in wooden or metal sleeves and sold as writing instruments. The pencil was born.
Over the next three centuries, pencils became ubiquitious. It was eventually discovered that the substance used was not lead after all, but graphite, a very pure form of carbon not dissimilar to diamond.
With the exception of the 'lead' mix of graphite and clay allowing the introduction of differing grades of hardness, the pencil underwent very little change. The big leap in technology came with A.T. Cross and the mechanical pencil.
Unless you own a pencil case - which is quite likely full of pencil sharpenings and scented erasers - the pen pencil is the adult version of the lead pencil. Smart and business-like, with a point that's never dull, the pen pencil is the ideal alternative to ink.
Manufacturers, of course, cottoned onto this long ago and took their lead from A.T. Cross and piled into the market with their own versions of the mechanical pencil. For generations a gift stalwart has been the presentation pack of fountain pen and pen pencil. Who, after all, doesn't own one of these?
Now, the pen pencil is being marketed as the environmentally-friendly writing instrument. Refilling a mechanical pencil is much less expensive both financially and environmentally than buying a dozen wooden pencils. Give a tree a break. Buy a pen pencil.