Hello again! It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to jot down my thoughts on a pencil. No, I didn’t catch The Rona; however, this “hunker down” thing really threw my routine for a loop. I’m back, though, and approaching this blog with renewed vigor! All I needed was a new pencil to inspire me, and browsing on Amazon the other day, something caught my eye. It was…a Dixon Ticonderoga.
Ah, but not any Dixon Ticonderoga. The world may have been out of toilet paper there for a while, but it’ll never run out of the iconic No. 2, after all. (There’s a poop/No. 2 pun there that I’m missing, I’m sure). But I happened to find a Ticonderoga you don’t often see on store shelves: the B-graded, No. 1 Dixon Ticonderoga. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one of these pencils. I eagerly bounded to the mailbox to retrieve these (once the letter carrier was six feet away, of course) and began my review.
It’s springtime in Alaska. It’s no longer 45 below. It’s actually, like, 55 above. And there’s not much to do outside of the house given the whole global pandemic thing and all. So, me and this ol’ General’s Layout no. 555 are out doing some projects! They make great carpenter pencils, by the way (except that they are circular and tend to roll away). I am even working on my hand sharpening skills. Hope you’re all staying healthy and same out there…and check back soon, because I actually have a new pencil review almost all written up.
I’m back! I’ve returned to the Great White North after a week-plus stint on the Gulf Coast to try and thaw out a little bit, as well as a little bit of a grad-school-induced hiatus from blogging. Anyway, a lack of money and time on my part, combined with an apparent lack of interested in the woodclinched graphite writing instrument on the part of the fine folks of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, resulted in a net gain of negative-one pencils on this trip. The good news is that I still have a huge backlog on hand to review, including some from last fall’s trip to Spain. Today I decided to break into that stash and sharpen up one of my European finds: the Lyra Robinson, in this case with a 2B-graded core.
Lyra, as you may recall, is a German pencil-maker that produces numerous lines of writing implements, including the previously-reviewed Groove Slim. Their graphite pencils are a little bit hard to come by here in the States — I imagine that being a FILA affiliate, their parent company isn’t trying to steal market share from Dixon Ticonderoga. That makes testing out one of their products a rare treat for me, so today I’m going to jump right in to it. Here we go!
In my quest to burn through all of my money and leave time at work as quickly as possible, the Polar Pencil Partner and I have booked our next international adventure. This August we’ll be winging it across the Pacific to Japan! As a result, I am taking a pretty big plunge: attempting to learn Japanese.
Trying to learn other languages has always made me feel frustrated and vulnerable, but I think making a good-faith effort to pick up what you can of the local tongue(s) is courteous and respectful when visiting a country whose predominant first language isn’t your own. I bristle when I am abroad and encounter other Americans who so obviously don’t share this viewpoint, and I actually get a little offended when I attempt to start a conversation in the local language and the other party switches to English without at least letting me try. And anyway, from a purely practical standpoint, I’ve found that even if you only know a little bit of the local language, and a local with whom you’re conversing knows only a little bit of yours, you can often meet them halfway and manage to piece together a semi-coherent conversation.
Sorry for the relative radio silence, but I’ve been touring the gulf coast, writing lots of postcards, and Mardi Gras-ing it up! I should be back to the office and the daily pencil-sharpener grind soon, so hang tight.
The yellow, general-purpose “No. 2” pencil is an American staple. Ask someone who grew up in the States to describe a pencil, and they’ll probably say it has a yellow barrel and a pink eraser. It’s a safer thing to bet your life on than a game of Russian roulette, anyway. As much as we try to brag about how good we are at innovation, we Americans also tend to love it when all of the choices available to us are exactly the same. One time my ex-wife and I flew from Anchorage to Miami for vacation. What did we eat for lunch when we got there? Subway. We traveled across four time zones to experience something identical to what we’d have back home. That’s the American way. Pencils are no different. They’re supposed to be yellow. Everyone knows that.
Other countries, such as Japan, aren’t as stuck in a rut about this stuff as we are here in the States. They’ve got all of these wacky colors like red and green. Japanese pencils tend to be pretty good, and Tombow is a particular favorite of mine, but I can imagine the considerable anxiety and distress many of my fellow Americans might feel if I suggested they give something like the 8900 a try. Thankfully, Tombow has the solution to that problem: model number 2558. This yellow, general-purpose, everyday writing pencil comes in three grades (H, HB, and B) but only one color of lacquer — yellow! — and even has a pink eraser nub attached to the end. Just like we like it. So, I grabbed a few HB and B models (sorry, hard pencil lovers, I haven’t reviewed the H version…yet!) to see how the Japanese take on our favorite pencil scheme stands up.
When I think of BIC, I think of one thing: ball-point pens. Sure, they make other products, and they’ve got some skin in the pencil game. But their forays into pencilism seem to be limited to the Evolution-type pencils (e.g. extruded plastic) and the mechanical variety; two things that I frankly find a little repulsive.
That said, I did finally come across a BIC product that I think I might be able to appreciate: their foray into the block eraser market with the simply-titled “BIC Erasers”. I picked up a four-pack of their simple blocks on the cheap and, since I haven’t done an eraser review in a while, decided to take them for a spin today.
Cal Cedar and the Palomino brand have done a lot to make pencils cool again. By reviving the classic Blackwing product line, they introduced a gateway drug to aspiring writers everywhere; one that hooks them with the addicting realization that writing with pencils doesn’t have to suck. Then, by throwing their weight behind the Golden Bear pencil, they took a step further and proudly proclaimed that pencils can be — and still are — made in the United States of America.
But the next move was the one that really surprised me. Having already staked out their turf in the high-end segment, and put a product on the market that appeals to Made-in-USA purists, they set out to prove that there are pencils made in developing Asian economies that also don’t suck. This statement came in the form of the Made-in-Thailand edition of the Golden Bear No. 2 pencil, which I’ll be reviewing for you today.
It won’t be long before professional pitchers and catchers report for spring training, and that has me thinking of how handwriting and baseball have a lot in common. In either case, they’re much better when the cylindrical instruments used are made of wood. The baseball season ends early in Alaska, when the collegiate players who come up for summer ball return to their campuses before the semester starts (and the snow flies). Thus, I caught my last in-person game in Seattle last August. Let me just say, I’m a purist when it comes to baseball. I think the Designated Hitter rule is garbage. I think a Greg Maddux complete game is infinitely more exciting to watch than anything Bryce Harper will ever do. So, you know I kept score. And you know damn well I used a pencil to do it.
Unfortunately, the problem with keeping score on paper these days is finding a scorecard to do it on. I was lucky that Mariners included a scorecard in their program for their bout against the Blue Jays (two teams I care nothing about), but when I went to see the University of Washington Huskies play nearly a year ago, the whippersnapper staffing the merch booth gave me the “what’s that?” look when I asked for one. Obviously, I need to buy a scorebook.
Then the question becomes: which scorebook? I’m sure I could grab whatever is on the shelf at Play it Again. I fancy myself a connoisseur, though. Any other baseball/writing lovers have a favorite? I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, I’ll keep scouring Amazon in search of a contender for the pennant.
Of all the pencils I’ve ordered from China, the Deli brand somehow stands out to me. Perhaps its the sheer volume of different lines they have, or their success in luring me in with branding and aesthetics, but I’d say something about the company also indicates a quality product. Sad to say, and despite the numerous examples I have practically exploding from my to-review drawer, I’ve only actually reviewed one of their pencils (the S905) since I was turned on to them! And that’s hardly enough of a sample size to make an argument with any merit about quality.
So today, that’s going to change. One box of pencils I’ve been sitting on (not literally, ouch) for quite some time is the tri-barreled Deli 37106 in HB grade, which appears to be among a new line of pencils that the Chinese manufacturer began putting out at some point in the last year or so. So here, without further delay, are my notes from my latest pencil experiment.