In February of this year, my partner and I took our first ever trip to Thailand. In fact, it was the first time either of us had been to Asia. We had a great time, made a lot of memories, picked up a little Thai, and learned a lot about their history and culture. Oh, and their cuisine, of course! We really tried our hardest to stay as far away from the tourist areas as reasonably prudent, and engage ourselves with the locals. Much to my delight, I learned that Thai folks seem to have an appreciation for stationery shops, and I made it a point to wander as many of the dusty, cramped, mom & pop pencil and notebook stores as I could. That’s where I found, for the low low price of 35 baht, a dozen sharp-looking, dipped-end, 2B Elephant Blacklead pencils (with a free eraser, even).
Elephant Blacklead Pencils are made by DHA Siamwalla Ltd. of Bangkok. DHAS has been in business for over 100 years, and is a manufacturer of many of the office supply products found in Thailand, as well as a distributor of many international brands there. Although the Elephant Blacklead Pencils are made by a Thai company, for Thai distribution, they are actually made in China and come in both 2B and HB form. They also, apparently, come either eraser-capped or dipped. I happened to pick up a pack of dipped 2B pencils. And now, after hoarding them for months, I’m finally ready to sharpen them up and write up a review!
The Elephant Blacklead 2B pencil is probably one of the most eye-catching pencils I’ve encountered. The orange and black color scheme seems a little odd and Halloweenish at first, but it’s really grown on me. It’s certainly unique. The matte black lacquer with the orange pinstripes and dipped end are distinctive and sharp. The orange lacquer is a little thin, and the black bleeds through in areas, but it’s not a big deal. The end dip is very clean and nice. I really appreciate the lack of junk cluttering up the barrel: it says only “Elephant” and “2B” in simple, white screen printing. These are one of the most attractive pencils I’ve purchased so far.
The pencils are fairly hard to roll, but that is mostly due to how severe the hex shape is. In fact, the Elephant pencil is quite straight. On the flip side, the core centering is not especially great. It’s not super bad, either, but at least one of them seemed to be on the cusp of potentially causing problems. Fortunately it didn’t.
Predictably, the Elephant Blacklead pencil casing seems to be made of basswood, or a basswood-like species. Whatever it is, a good hand sharpener makes quick work of the wood, shaving it away into a single beautiful ribbon. A helical sharpener also polishes the tips off nicely. The finished product has a nice, light, solid feel in the hand.
Sadly, one pencil right out of the box was missing a pretty significant amount of core! I had to sharpen it about half an inch down just to get a tip. So that didn’t bode well as far as tip strength and bonding goes. However, having burned through an entire pencil (and then some), I have not experienced any other problems since then, so I’m willing to blame that breakage on the baggage handlers between Bangkok and Anchorage.
I could tell immediately upon putting the paper to the page that this was exactly my type of pencil.
The Elephant 2B is dark. Darker than its 2B grade implies. I didn’t even bother comparing it to HB grade pencils because it doesn’t take a keen eye to see that this is a bold writer. I think it sits right up there with the Blackwing; and I mean the Blackwing, full stop…not the Pearl, not the 602, just the plain ol’ super soft Blackwing. And like the Blackwing, this is one of the smoothest pencils around. It glides right over the page like silk and sounds nearly silent.
Smooth, dark writing isn’t the only thing the Elephant 2B and the Blackwing have in common, though. The downside of those types of pencils is that they tend to be soft-leaded, which means the awesomeness of its writing comes at a cost of point retention. I went ahead and did a side-by-side comparison of the two pencils and they both started writing a feathery line about equally as fast. And, then there’s smudginess. We all know soft pencils lay down a lot of graphite…graphite that likes to smear all over when sweaty palms or thumbs slide across it. The Elephant 2B performs similarly to the Blackwing in that regard, too; which is to say, not great.
Finally, there’s the eraser test. Because the only Elephant Blacklead pencils I came across were eraserless and dipped, there is no built-in nub to try out. But, sometimes dark pencils can be difficult to erase, so I grabbed my trusty Pentel Hi-Polymer to see what it could do. I’m happy to report that it was able to make quick work of the Elephant markings and cause them to practically disappear. A good eraser can handle this pencil. By the way, a Pentel white eraser cap fits snugly atop the dipped end, so if you like having eraser tips, that will work just fine.
Bonus Review: Elephant Eraser
Despite the lack of a built-in eraser, the box of Elephant Blacklead pencils did come with a free block eraser, which is always appreciated. The included eraser seems like your standard rubber affair, but is significantly firmer than some floppy erasers like the Pink Pearl. One thing I appreciate about it is that it’s black, so when the corners absorb a bunch of graphite and turn black, it doesn’t look all nasty-like.
In practice, the Elephant eraser is functionally equivalent to most rubber pencil erasers out there. It does a pretty decent job of getting rid of hard lead markers, although it struggles against darker pencils (like the ones it came with!) and does a job that’s barely adequate. It leaves behind the typical amount of rolled-up rubber. It’s no Hi-Polymer but it does OK. For free, I’ll keep it handy. It’ll be nice to throw in my pencil bag since I know that all of the graphite dust won’t stain it.
My impression, in a nutshell, is that if you like the way Blackwing pencils write, you’ll like the way the Elephant Blacklead 2B writes as well. It has a very soft and dark lead, the 2B grade notwithstanding. It writes silky smooth. The trade-off is that it smudges easily and doesn’t hold a point for more than a few lines. I’m pretty sure that if a person did a blind comparison (and couldn’t feel for the tell-tale ferrule, or lack thereof) you would not be able to tell the difference writing with an Elephant 2B, or a Blackwing, and I am not at all exaggerating.
As I pointed out above, I picked up a dozen of these pencils for 38 baht. If you’re not familiar with the Thai currency, that’s about $1.25 USD or 10 cents per pencil. Blackwing pencils are about two bucks a pop. The Elephant is a steal. Maybe that’s why the only sellers who carry them on Amazon are charging about $20 a pack with shipping, which is a total bummer.
In case you can’t tell, I love the Elephant Blacklead 2B pencil. The Blackwing was what got me back into graphite after growing frustrated with ink, and helped me find my stride when writing. But paying two bucks per pencil can get spendy quick. Finding a pencil that really, truly, no-bullshitly writes like a Blackwing for pennies is amazing. Not to mention, it looks pretty rad. The build quality isn’t quite up to exacting Palomino standards, but it’s not sloppy enough to cause any legitimate problems. The only problem is you can’t get them in the US without paying an arm and a leg. So if you’re ever in Thailand, know someone who is, or otherwise happen upon a package of Elephant Blacklead 2B pencils, do NOT pass on them!