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Class, please take out a No. 2 pencil… © Luke Sharrett/Getty Images
In some parts of the US, students have already returned to the classroom, while others are frantically squeezing the last drops of freedom from summer break as they prepare to start a new school year. One school supply that unites most students is the classic, yellow-coated, No. 2 pencil. For centuries, the pencil was a tool so vital that many would use theirs until only a tiny stub remained. An entire market for various pencil accoutrements existed in the 18th and 19th centuries, including a pencil grip called an ‘extender’ that allowed you to use the last bit of a pencil so as not to waste what was, at the time, a precious commodity. Think of it in terms of all the things you buy to enhance your mobile phone or tablet, and then imagine that the pencil once held equal value as a communication device. (In our hearts, it still does.)