Pencil Review: Made-in-Mexico Dixon Ticonderoga (No. 1/B)

Hello again! It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to jot down my thoughts on a pencil. No, I didn’t catch The Rona; however, this “hunker down” thing really threw my routine for a loop. I’m back, though, and approaching this blog with renewed vigor! All I needed was a new pencil to inspire me, and browsing on Amazon the other day, something caught my eye. It was…a Dixon Ticonderoga.

Ah, but not any Dixon Ticonderoga. The world may have been out of toilet paper there for a while, but it’ll never run out of the iconic No. 2, after all. (There’s a poop/No. 2 pun there that I’m missing, I’m sure). But I happened to find a Ticonderoga you don’t often see on store shelves: the B-graded, No. 1 Dixon Ticonderoga. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one of these pencils. I eagerly bounded to the mailbox to retrieve these (once the letter carrier was six feet away, of course) and began my review.

Construction Quality

Most readers of this blog know what the standard Dixon Ticonderoga pencil looks like, and there are few visual cues to set the No. 1 apart from the more common No. 2. It sports the same yellow lacquer with green foil imprint, the same pink eraser, and the two are held together by the same green ferrule with twin yellow bands. The only difference is in the grade designations — in this case, “B”, “1” and “EX-SOFT”.

The most obvious way to find the No. 1 in a cup full of Ticonderoga pencils is to look at the point, because the cores are substantially thicker than the more common No. 2. It’s not unusual that, all else being equal, a B-graded core will have more girth than its HB-graded counterpart; however, the No. 1 Ticonderoga core is pretty damn “thicc,” as the kids these days say. You can see in the image below that the Mexican No. 1 on the right has almost twice the diameter core as the Mexican No. 2 on the left.

Speaking of the lead, I have noticed that it is a little bit prone to breaking while writing. At least a couple times over the course of the pencil, I had a tip snap off for no apparent reason. It wasn’t a routine occurrence, but compared to some other pencils — even softer ones — it was a little bit excessive. So far, I haven’t experienced any sort of weird core separation issues or lack of bonding in the materials, so that’s good.

The core are not perfectly centered, but they’re not too bad — anyway, with a core this fat, does it even really matter? I rolled the dozen across my desk to check for straightness, and they were all within acceptable tolerances. I’ve had some comically bad experiences with banana-shaped “Tikes” before, but these ones are just fine.

Let’s talk wood. This particular iteration of the Ticonderoga is encased in cedar rather than the alternative basswood. It seems like Dixon uses basswood most frequently, but will occasionally do a run in the classic cedar (and stamp it as such on the box). As far as I can tell, which wood you’ll get just kind of depends on random luck, unless you go searching for the cedar ones deliberately. In this case, I did not. I just happened to pull that straw, and didn’t realize it until I opened the box and caught a whiff of what was inside.

The cedar casing lived up to my expectations during my test sharpening. I’ve often rolled my eyes at the cedar purists — in my experience, cedar seems more likely to resist sharpening and end up with a rough splintered collar than many of the allegedly “inferior” woods. However, these Ticonderogas were made of the good stuff. The point was smooth, well-finished, and transitioned seamlessly from collar to tip while leaving behind a mostly intact wooden ribbon. The telltale aroma was, as always, a plus!

With a nice, sharp point ready to write, I put the No. 1 to the test.

Performance

Before going further, I should mention again that these particular pencils were made in Mexico. My previous thoughts on the No. 2 Mexican Ticonderoga were that it was lighter, and more scratchy than the Chinese No. 2. So it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out vs. both the Chinese and Mexican No. 2 Ticonderogas.

At first stroke, the B-graded Ticonderoga really didn’t seem to leave a much darker line than the No. 2. I noticed when making my order that many reviewers on Amazon felt the same, but I decided to see for myself. Unfortunately, it seems that they are correct. I have few B-graded pencils to compare it to (I tend to gravitate toward either HB and 2B) but I think that the Chinese Ticonderoga in No. 2 is actually darker than the Mexican Ticonderoga in No. 1. Or maybe not. I don’t know, it depends on which angle I look at it from. You can judge for yourself in the image below.

I guess it’s about the same as the Chinese No. 2, and to be fair, it probably is a little darker than the Mexican No. 2. However, the difference is certainly not remarkable enough that I’d say it warrants its own grade — or searching low and high to buy the more elusive No. 1. In fact, after using it over a longer span of time and whittling it away down to a nub, I actually began to find it a little bit frustrating. Looking back, I think the Ticonderoga No. 1 core is inconsistent, meaning that it doesn’t seem like the ratio of graphite to clay/etc. — and thus the writing darkness — was the same all the way down the pencil. Some days I could buy that it was a B grade, and other days it looked more like an HB or even an F.

I will say that there is a tangible difference in terms of smoothness, with the Mexican No. 1 smoother than the Chinese No. 2. Compared to the Mexican No. 2 Ticonderoga? It’s wayyyyy smoother. Overall, I’m pretty impressed with how the No. 1 “Tike” feels; a little surprised even. My handwriting looks great with this pencil, and it doesn’t feel waxy or mushy. It’s solid, but not scratchy.

Naturally, the point retention of the No. 1 is less than that of the Mexican No. 2. It really didn’t seem that bad, though; meaning, I wasn’t sharpening every few lines like I would with a very soft pencil like the Tombow 8900 2B. I don’t recall having a lot of smudging issues with the No. 1 Ticonderoga, either. Testing its smearability on paper, it actually held its place better than its Chinese No. 2 cousin. In fact, it left a streak pretty similar to the HB-graded Castell 9000, which is pretty damn good.

The eraser was another pleasant surprise. The Mexican Ticonderoga eraser felt soft yet highly usable, and didn’t let me down when put to everyday use. Testing head-to-head with some common block erasers, it outperformed the Pink Pearl and seemed almost on par with the Hi-Polymer (although the Tike’s nub eraser as definitely messier).

Conclusions

After living with the Mexican-made, No. 1 (B-graded) Ticonderoga for a while, the word I can best think of to describe this pencil is: surprising.

I don’t mean surprisingly good or surprisingly bad. Like most pencils, it’s a mixed bag of pluses and minuses. What I mean to say is that, having written with the various iterations of the Ticonderoga No. 2 for about three decades and running; and having tested out numerous B-scale pencils; I definitely had some preconceived notions going into this. Many of them turned out to be wrong.

All else being equal, the “typical” B-graded pencil generally has the following characteristics relative to an HB: smoother writing, darker marking, smudgier, and with a faster-wearing point. The only one of these attributes that I’d say are accurate for the No. 1 Ticonderoga (at least the made-in-Mexico version) are the smoother-writing one. There’s really not much feedback from this pencil. As for the point retention and the line darkness — okay, maybe that’s technically true, but not really, or at least not consistently so. If you squint and look in the right light, maybe the No. 1 is a wee bit darker than the No. 2 made-in-Mexico Tike; but compared to the world of pencils as a whole (and even the Chinese Ticonderoga No. 2) I’d say this guy leaves a HB-caliber mark. And, yeah, it does wear faster than its No. 2 siblings, but not by much. Finally, as far as smudging goes — this pencil is deceptively tidy. I wouldn’t have expected it from a B-graded pencil.

What else can I say about the Ticonderoga No. 1? It’s cheap. The eraser is good. They aren’t stingy with the graphite. The cedar is above-average in terms of how well it takes to sharpening. The tips break a little more than I’d hoped for, but they aren’t too bad.

There is part of me that is apprehensive about giving this pencil too rave a review. I think it’s because, in my mind at least, a No. 1/B-graded pencil should be darker. I wanted a pencil that left a bolder mark, and I didn’t get it. In fact, depending on some unknown variable that I couldn’t quite pin down, the mark it left behind struck me as pretty faint. So, there’s that.

I’m trying to be objective and leave that behind as I evaluate the other properties of the made-in-Mexico Ticonderoga No. 1. All things considered, it’s not too shabby. It seems like it is generally on par with the Chinese No. 2, but smoother-writing and better built. If you’re a lefty and want a relatively smooth writing pencil that won’t leave your paper looking like it fell down a coal chute, this may be a winner for you. Otherwise, it’s still not the world’s best pencil — but it may be the world’s okayest pencil. And the seemingly random core just kind of left a little bit of a bad impression on me; like I wasn’t really getting what I paid for.

Now, excuse me while I try to find a made-in-China Ticonderoga No. 1!

[Editor’s note: I apologize, but I have to (at least temporarily) do away with the notecard test feature. That portion of the review was dependent upon having access to a high resolution scanner, which I no longer have use of now that I am “hunkered down” due to COVID-19. Hopefully the sample images above will give you a good enough idea of the pencil’s writing qualities.]

4 thoughts on “Pencil Review: Made-in-Mexico Dixon Ticonderoga (No. 1/B)

  1. Josh Haney July 28, 2020 / 9:42 pm

    Did you ever manage to track down a Chinese made #1? I tried some of the Mexican made #1s back in January and was not impressed.

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  2. David W. Dill August 11, 2020 / 1:59 pm

    I have taken my Mexican-made “Tikes” (is it okay if I steal your nickname?) and banded them together so that I never use them again. They are total crap. I have to tell you though that the ones I use are the Ticonderoga Black series, not the yellow. I find the Chinese-made “Tikes” to be very much better than the Mex version. Much smoother writing and drawing. May I suggest that if you are looking for a great #1 pencil give the Musgrave Harvest #320 a try.

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    • Jesse August 11, 2020 / 10:23 pm

      David, I’ve made similar findings. When people ask me about Ticonderoga pencils (the No. 2 tike being often called out by name on back-to-school lists) I say to look at where it is made and buy the Chinese ones. The black version is also my favorite Ticonderoga pencil as well. By the way, my least favorite pencil of all time (no spoilers!) is also made in Mexico. The country is batting 0-for-2 with me so far; small sample size but I am starting to get a little apprehensive about Mexican pencils.

      Like

    • Josh Haney August 11, 2020 / 10:50 pm

      I’ll second David’s recommendation on the Harvest #1, it’s one of my favorite pencils. I’ll happily mail a few to you up North if you’d like, as I have a pretty healthy stash of them.

      Like

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