In my previous blog post about uses for stubby pencils, I mused openly about acquiring a bullet pencil to help me make use of (and keep track of!) the last few inches of a pencil before casting it into my big ol’ stub tub. Well, I finally pulled the trigger (pun intended) and ordered an antique bullet pencil of my own!
If you’re not familiar with bullet pencils, I’ll give you the rundown. They are basically an old-school combination of pencil extender and carrying case, shaped like a rifle cartridge (hence the name). In fact, the original bullet pencils were actually made out of surplus ammunition casings. The “bullet” pulls open to reveal a short pencil, which can be plugged back into the casing that acts as a holder. Back in “the day” bullet pencils were, apparently, quite the common promotional item given away for free at the feed store counter or whatever. As far as I can tell, no one is making them anymore — except for a few current-production models that are attempting to revive the format at something like $20 or $30 a pop.
However, vintage bullet pencils can be easily found from antique dealers at much lower prices — and, in my opinion, are much cooler products! While searching on Bonanza for rare, foreign pencils to review, I stumbled upon Jerry Burton’s Paper and Pen — an awesome dealership of vintage stationery (he also has a store on Etsy). I was drawn to this example because it looked pretty Union-esque, which set my commie red heart all aflutter. $5 was all it took to set this antique bullet pencil on its way to me (take that, Midori!) and it literally arrived within one or two days. No joke.
The only downside to an antique bullet pencil is that the eraser is fossilized, but for quick notes and such it does the job.
You can reload it with your own pencil stubs, but they have to be pretty short to fit. About 2.5 inches of pencil can fit inside the main casing, plus about half an inch within the “bullet” before the taper. So, that’s a grand total of about 3 inches. On the other hand, the bullet holds approximately one inch total of pencil, and obviously there has to be enough sticking out to at least accommodate the length of the point. So, it’s no magic bullet (oh man, I’m on a roll!) that allows you to grind a pencil stub down to nothingness, but it can help you eke another half inch or so out of it (depending on how blunt or long you sharpen it).
I think the best feature is its function as a protective carrying case. It’s a hassle to reach into my man purse to get a pencil out of my pencil case every time I need to jot something down, but pencils don’t often fare too well in my pocket — typically breaking and/or stabbing me in the butt or leg. This takes care of that issue, while remaining much lighter and compact than I expected when I ordered it. I can carry it around in my jeans pocket daily, and I hardly even notice it’s there, but the pencil — including the tip — remains intact until it is needed. It also adds a little girth to the pencil, making it harder for it to roll away undetected or fall in a crack somewhere, and generally just making it easier to find.
I love my new (old) bullet pencil. Make sure you shoot (bada bing!) on over to Jerry’s Bonanza Booth to get your own, or perhaps one of his vintage pens or mechanical pencils. If you want to know more about bullet pencils in general, Pencil Revolution, Pencils.com and Woodclinched have some great blog posts to read on the subject.