I often memorialize the victims of the Rubbermaid Pencil Massacre on this blog, but I have yet to give a proper eulogy to one of its most prominent: The Eberhard Faber company of Brooklyn, USA. Thankfully I managed to acquire an example of one of their products from a thrift store grab bag, and have decided to give that lone pencil — the American EcoWriter in No. 2 grade — the Throwback Pencil Review treatment.
Back before the aforementioned mega-merger, Eberhard Faber produced more than one third of the pencils made in the United States. Shortly before they met their demise, in the early 1990’s, they began experimenting with ways to make a more earth-friendly pencil. One such experiment was the EcoWriter, a “wood substitute” pencil made not of extruded plastic, like many others (sidenote: did people really used to think that disposable plastic products were good for the environment?), but rather some amalgamation of recycled paper and cardboard. Pencils using this construction method can occasionally be found in current production, but it seems that the EcoWriter was the first to take a stab at it — or at least the first attempt by a major manufacturer to bring it to the masses.
But let’s address the elephant in the room: was the EcoWriter actually any good?
The Eberhard Faber American EcoWriter looks exactly like what you would imagine one of the USA’s largest producers of pencils (at the time) would come up with if they wanted to take the standard office pencil and make it more environmentally-friendly. Its semi-hex barrel is lacquered in yellow — thin enough that the pulpy texture of the casing is clearly visible — and bears an imprint done in green. The generic tin-can ferrule holds an eraser that eschews typical pink in favor of (surprise!) green.
Based on a sample size of one — actually, more like half of one — I conclude that these pencils are straight and the cores are well-centered. OK, so obviously I don’t have much to go on, but for what it’s worth, it looks pretty good.
Sharpening the EcoWriter is…interesting. I’m all about the planet, and really wanted to think that making pencil casings out of recycled paper products was a great idea that was just ahead of its time. However, sharpening one of these guys with a hand-held blade sharpener is pretty disappointing. The pulpy consistency just kind of crumbles away around the throat of the core, leaving lots of it exposed. My helical-blade hand crank sharpener, which is always much more forgiving, produced a high-enough quality point.
Unfortunately, it didn’t hold that point for long, because the tip snapped off before I could even write a line of notes — and took a pretty substantial chunk of core with it. It looked like the core was bonded well, but the pulpy casing just didn’t have the integrity to hold the lead in when subjected to the stress of my heavy-writing hand. Bonus points: it was the first pencil to ever get a broken lead stuck in my Deli No. 0610 hand-crank sharpener, and it managed that feat not once, but twice. Before I knew it, my EcoWriter was but a remnant of its former self, and destined for the Tub O’ Stubs. Thankfully, I had just enough pencil left to take a stab at reviewing the core performance.
I had really high hopes for the EcoWriter. I was pretty underwhelmed by the quality of the (non) wood casing, but the core had to be good, right? After all, this pencil was from the illustrious Eberhard Faber company (RIP), made in the good ol’ US of A, from back before everything went to hell. So, I was expecting something great. And….I was disappointed.
The EcoWriter is scratchy and hard. The line it leaves is a lighter shade of grey than any HB-graded pencil I can recall seeing. It seems inconsistent as well, often fading into a line so fine and faint that it seems barely legible. As far as the feeling, damn. Like grating a rock against the page.
I guess the good news is that the point retention seems great! Could I have gotten the grades mixed up? Maybe this is a No. 1 pencil, which would explain why it’s so hard? Nope. It says No. 2, clearly, on the barrel. But anyway, that’s one good thing about it — and it resists smudging a little better than the typical No. 2 as well.
What was once nice-looking, earth-friendly green eraser has long been worn down below the ferrule, but I usually don’t test these ancient erasers anyway since it wouldn’t be fair to judge a petrified, decades-old rubber. Apparently someone got good use out of it! Hopefully because it’s a good eraser, and not because it wore down faster than the actual pencil.
I have to say, the Eberhard Faber American EcoWriter was a big letdown. The core writes like it’s made of marble. The recycled-paper casing falls apart when sharpening and barely holds the lead in. It’s just…not good.
Perhaps the aging process has not been kind to this unique formulation? According to Comfortable Shoes Studio, they were the best pencil ever. What a stark contrast to my opinion (that they’re kind of the worst pencil ever). Different strokes, I suppose.
Of course, now the EcoWriter is a thing of the past, so it probably doesn’t matter. I would not recommend dropping a small fortune to order dozens of these off eBay or something, however. As much as we like to complain about how woodcased pencils have supposedly gone downhill in the past twenty or thirty years, a lot of them (like the EcoWriter, if you could call it “woodcased”) were pretty awful.