The Velvet 3557 had a long and convoluted history during its run. It was originally the Venus Velvet, before Venus was bought by Berol, who was eventually bought by Faber-Castell USA. In the mid 1980’s, FCUSA also bought Eberhard Faber, and by 1994 had applied that brand to its pencils rather than the Faber-Castell brand. Finally, the American branch of the Faber-Castell company was gobbled up by Sanford, which eventually merged its numerous pencil brands and product lines into the handful that now compose the Papermate lineup. And that’s the story of how the Velvet 3557 pencil was shuffled around from company to company until it finally went extinct.
But, as luck should have it, I happened upon a lone survivor of the Velvet line. We can deduce from the above timeline that this particular pencil was probably manufactured way back in the late 1980’s or the early 1990’s — almost as old as I am. Is this another vintage classic that fell victim to corporate consolidation? Or was it a weaker species that was doomed to fall to the wayside once natural selection ran its course?
Let’s sharpen it up and see!
The FaberCastell Velvet looks exactly like the classic yellow #2 pencil that came in literally hundreds of different iterations back when I was a kid. The hex-shaped barrel has a cheddar-cheese finish with a navy blue imprint; a pink eraser (because of course) held on by a gold-tinged aluminum ferrule with one navy blue stripe, and a faintly embossed stamp that reads “U.S.A. BONDED” near the tip.
I only have one lonely survivor of the Velvet lineage, but it rolls perfectly, indicating a straight barrel. I can tell from sharpening that the core is fairly off-center. The color, grain, and smell all exude the unmistakable characteristics of cedar. Despite being a relic, it smells awesome. Unfortunately, the wood didn’t really sharpen that well. It seemed quite brittle, and chipped away at the throat of the core, exacerbating the off-center core.
The good news is that despite not having much wood to hang onto, the point seemed to stick to the casing fine.
Having sharpened this bad boy up, I eagerly went to write with it….and….I was expecting more.
The Velvet 3557 writes about like a modern #2 pencil, or harder. It’s a little bit scratchy. The line is about the same shade as a typical HB pencil; maybe even a little fainter. It holds up to a smudge pretty good — better than the General’s Supreme, even. The point retention seems pretty awesome. I try to avoid the H side of the HB scale like the plague so I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d almost say it feels more like a grade F or H pencil.
The eraser is rock hard, but what do you expect? It’s at least twenty-five years old. A Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser gets rid of the mark with ease, though.
Honestly, I was not blown away by the FaberCastell Velvet. The assumption going into this review was, “they don’t make ’em like they used to!” Globalization, smart-everything, and the like supposedly ended the glory days when every pencil was awesome. Pre-NAFTA pencils should, therefore, be great. This version of the velvet, though, is nothing special. The wood is brittle, the core is centered okay-ish, and it writes hard and scratchy for its grade. It’s not bad, but if anyone longs for the return of the late-80’s Velvet, it’s probably got more to do with nostalgia than actual writing quality. I hate to say it, but when it was time for Sanford to cull the herd, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that the Velvet didn’t make the cut. Don’t drop your life savings on a case of these off ebay.
But don’t worry. I’ve got a whole stash of vintage pencils to burn through. Perhaps there will be a hidden gem whose performance outweighs the nostalgia factor!