Pencil Review: Paper Mate Mirado Classic #2

The Mirado pencil is one of those iconic Yellow No. 2’s that have been around forever. It was originally manufactured, some time in the early 20th century, by the Eagle Pencil Company in New Jersey. They gave it the name “Mikado”, which means “Emporer” in Japan. Then in 1941, Japan suddenly became a little bit un-cool in the eyes of Americans for some mysterious reason, and Eagle re-named their pencil the Mirado. Since then it’s been produced in numerous variations and even released in locally-produced flavors around the world, but some form or another of the Mikado/Mirado pencil has been made for over 100 years.

While the existence of the Mirado may seem to be a reliable fact of life, the only constant in the universe is change. It almost goes without saying that the Mirado is no longer made in New Jersey. It’s no longer even made in the U.S. — current U.S.-market Mirado pencils are produced in Mexico. Over the course of the past century, Eagle was gobbled up by Berol, who was gobbled up by Paper Mate of the Sanford-Newell-Rubbermade cartel. Their U.S. pencil factory shut down, product lines were consolidated, and production was moved south. However, the Mirado is a survivor that has weathered the storm of the ever-changing corporate seas: while numerous other pencils have fallen under Paper Mate’s axe, the iconic Mirado is still being produced.

I’ve been on the lookout for some of these guys for a while. They’re not exactly hard to find, but aren’t as prolific as the Ticonderogas and such, nor are they as appealing to mail-order as weird Asian pencils. They’re in that perfect worst-of-both-worlds zone where they’re easy enough to get ahold of to be taken for granted, but not easy enough that I’d just buy them on a whim. Things finally lined up, though, when I came across current-production Mirado pencils in the university library vending machine, of all places. For a buck fifty, I obtained the half-dozen I needed to perform a review of this mainstay.

Construction Quality

Most of us know what a yellow, classic, No. 2 pencil looks like; and Paper Mate’s Mirado Classic is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Yellow lacquer, crimped tin-can ferrule, pink eraser. The lacquer is relatively thin, and comes in more of an orangey, “American cheese slice” yellow. The gold imprint, while done precisely, is a bit hard to discern against the yellow backdrop (and also super hard to photograph). The defining visual feature of the Mirado is the ferrule: brassy with a thick red band around the center. The red-banded ferrule — which, back in the Berol days, we were told “grantees the finest quality” — is the trademark of the Mirado.

The barrels are about as straight as a person could hope for. They generally tend to roll with a bit of a wobble, but any warping is barely perceptible to the eye even upon a close inspection. The core centering looks pretty good too. It’s actually kind of hard to tell, even though the ends are unsharpened, because the cut end of the wood is black. I have no idea why. But as far as my eye can tell, only one of them is slightly off. The rest are perfect.

Although the casing of the modern Mirado is not cedar, it was a pleasure to sharpen nonetheless. The shavings peeled off effortlessly in a single ribbon with my brass wedge, and the wooden collar finished up relatively smoothly with no chipping or splintering around the core.

Over the course of an entire pencil, I can’t recall a single instance of a tip snapping or a core coming un-glued from the casing and falling out. Any pencil that I can grind through from start to finish without breaking a lead is good in my book. The core is sturdy and firmly attached to the wood.

Performance

The build quality was surprisingly good, but that wasn’t the end of the surprises. Putting the graphite to the paper demonstrated that the Mirado has more to offer than meets the eye.

The Mirado Classic feels hard. It’s quite firm and scratchy, even for an HB pencil. In my experience, Mexican cores seem to be a bit gritty, so this isn’t super surprising, although I should point out that the Mirado’s core is consistent (just consistently hard). It’s not as scratchy as the Mexican Ticonderoga, but it does seem to write with more of a grind than the Chinese Tike, the Cedar Pointe, and the Musgrave Ceres. In general, it also feels like it has a solid and firm consistency — there’s no “cushion” against the paper, so to speak.

All of that is kind of funny, since the Mirado used to be marketed as “the smoothest-writing pencil in the world”.

Based on the hardness of it, you might guess that it has good point retention, and you’d be right. Compared head-to-head, it hung in there at least as good as the Ceres and the Castell 9000 HB, which I both perceive to have durable cores. During daily “real life” writing, I certainly felt like the Mirado stood up well enough that sharpening breaks didn’t seem excess. I’d call the point retention average or better.

Typically, a hard, scratchy, durable core means a faint line, right? That may usually be the case, but the core of the Mirado actually came across as fairly dark for an HB when I first started writing with it. I did some swatches against the Chinese-made Ticonderoga and the Musgrave Ceres; two pencils that I feel are on the darker end of the HB family. Among all of those No. 2’s, the Mirado came out the darkest by a smidge. It’s no, 2B but the core of this Paper Mate lays down a bolder line that you might expect.

The Mirado’s smudge-resistance is about on par with other general-purpose No. 2’s. Compared to the General’s Supreme, the Chinese Ticonderoga, and pencils of that ilk, it’s about in the middle of the road. It really can’t compete with a higher-end pencil like the Castell 9000 HB in terms of avoiding a mess. But if you’re not into buying two-buck art store pencils, the Mirado does OK at keeping things clean.

As far as the pink rubber tip on the end of the pencil, it’s passable, in a borderline kind of way. It does about as good of a job of erasing its own mark as the Pink Pearl does, and for all I know it’s the same material since they’re both Paper Mate products. Anyway, the Mirado’s eraser will mostly erase the writing it makes, but if you’ve got a high-quality block eraser handy, that’ll work better. The Hi-Polymer makes the Mirado’s marks practically vanish.

Conclusions

I have to say that I am surprisingly impressed by how well the Mirado Classic pencil is put together. Some time ago I did a “throwback” review of the early 2000’s Paper Mate American Classic, one of the last of the company’s pencils still made in the USA. That pencil was warped, the cores were off-centered, the imprint was sloppy, and the wood didn’t sharpen as nicely. The circa-2019, Made in Mexico Mirado Classic is definitely an upgrade over that and is just a generally well-made pencil.

The core was also a pleasant surprise. Other than the scratchiness, it’s great! Good durability meets relative darkness — that’s a highly sought-after combination. It doesn’t smudge any better or any worse than I expected, and the eraser (probably a mini Pink Pearl) is mediocre as well. So it’s hardly a perfect pencil. But the Mirado Classic does a lot of things right.

Honestly, I was not expecting to like this pencil. Other Paper Mate products I’ve reviewed have been highly “meh”. My experience so far with Made in Mexico pencils has been underwhelming, and the move of Ticonderoga production from the USA to Mexico is generally considered to be a downgrade. I expected the same from the Mirado. I was wrong. Writing this review was a breeze, because gathering all of the necessary info about a pencil is a lot faster and easier when you actually enjoy writing with it.

I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but here goes: for a budget No. 2, the Mirado Classic is actually a damn good little pencil.

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