Howdy, folks! Guess what? I’m not dead. I just kind of turned into a potato thanks, in part, to COVID. After falling off of my routine over the past year or so, I’m trying to get my butt back in gear — including blogging. So, I figure, what better way to pick it back up than to jump right in by finishing a review that’s been a long time in the making?
It seems like only yesterday that it was back to school time here in Alaska, whether that be literally going to a school or studying from home. Back to school means one thing — inexpensive school supplies, including pencils, everywhere — so I jumped on the chance back then and picked up some new review fodder. I’ve already reviewed some of the more common “schoolhouse” pencils out there, such as several iterations of the Dixon Ticonderoga, the Staedtler Noris that is the standard in Europe, and a few others. Today I want to review a pencil from a company whose products are perhaps as universally-used as either of those, but much lesser known: J. R. Moon.
I’m not a complete stranger to Moon pencils; in fact, I wrote a review of their Try-Rex some time ago. It would seem that the bulk of their sales, though, originate from elementary school teachers who buy the company’s colorful, cheery motivational pencils. Thus far I haven’t felt inclined to review their “Fifth Graders are No. 1!” model, or one of the numerous other similar options, so I haven’t written a whole lot about the company’s offerings. However, I recently picked up a fresh dozen of the pencil maker’s entry into the nudist pencil category — Moon’s Bare Wood. Here’s my take on it…
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.
I’m back! I’ve returned to the Great White North after a week-plus stint on the Gulf Coast to try and thaw out a little bit, as well as a little bit of a grad-school-induced hiatus from blogging. Anyway, a lack of money and time on my part, combined with an apparent lack of interested in the woodclinched graphite writing instrument on the part of the fine folks of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, resulted in a net gain of negative-one pencils on this trip. The good news is that I still have a huge backlog on hand to review, including some from last fall’s trip to Spain. Today I decided to break into that stash and sharpen up one of my European finds: the Lyra Robinson, in this case with a 2B-graded core.
Lyra, as you may recall, is a German pencil-maker that produces numerous lines of writing implements, including the previously-reviewed Groove Slim. Their graphite pencils are a little bit hard to come by here in the States — I imagine that being a FILA affiliate, their parent company isn’t trying to steal market share from Dixon Ticonderoga. That makes testing out one of their products a rare treat for me, so today I’m going to jump right in to it. Here we go!
The yellow, general-purpose “No. 2” pencil is an American staple. Ask someone who grew up in the States to describe a pencil, and they’ll probably say it has a yellow barrel and a pink eraser. It’s a safer thing to bet your life on than a game of Russian roulette, anyway. As much as we try to brag about how good we are at innovation, we Americans also tend to love it when all of the choices available to us are exactly the same. One time my ex-wife and I flew from Anchorage to Miami for vacation. What did we eat for lunch when we got there? Subway. We traveled across four time zones to experience something identical to what we’d have back home. That’s the American way. Pencils are no different. They’re supposed to be yellow. Everyone knows that.
Other countries, such as Japan, aren’t as stuck in a rut about this stuff as we are here in the States. They’ve got all of these wacky colors like red and green. Japanese pencils tend to be pretty good, and Tombow is a particular favorite of mine, but I can imagine the considerable anxiety and distress many of my fellow Americans might feel if I suggested they give something like the 8900 a try. Thankfully, Tombow has the solution to that problem: model number 2558. This yellow, general-purpose, everyday writing pencil comes in three grades (H, HB, and B) but only one color of lacquer — yellow! — and even has a pink eraser nub attached to the end. Just like we like it. So, I grabbed a few HB and B models (sorry, hard pencil lovers, I haven’t reviewed the H version…yet!) to see how the Japanese take on our favorite pencil scheme stands up.
Cal Cedar and the Palomino brand have done a lot to make pencils cool again. By reviving the classic Blackwing product line, they introduced a gateway drug to aspiring writers everywhere; one that hooks them with the addicting realization that writing with pencils doesn’t have to suck. Then, by throwing their weight behind the Golden Bear pencil, they took a step further and proudly proclaimed that pencils can be — and still are — made in the United States of America.
But the next move was the one that really surprised me. Having already staked out their turf in the high-end segment, and put a product on the market that appeals to Made-in-USA purists, they set out to prove that there are pencils made in developing Asian economies that also don’t suck. This statement came in the form of the Made-in-Thailand edition of the Golden Bear No. 2 pencil, which I’ll be reviewing for you today.
Of all the pencils I’ve ordered from China, the Deli brand somehow stands out to me. Perhaps its the sheer volume of different lines they have, or their success in luring me in with branding and aesthetics, but I’d say something about the company also indicates a quality product. Sad to say, and despite the numerous examples I have practically exploding from my to-review drawer, I’ve only actually reviewed one of their pencils (the S905) since I was turned on to them! And that’s hardly enough of a sample size to make an argument with any merit about quality.
So today, that’s going to change. One box of pencils I’ve been sitting on (not literally, ouch) for quite some time is the tri-barreled Deli 37106 in HB grade, which appears to be among a new line of pencils that the Chinese manufacturer began putting out at some point in the last year or so. So here, without further delay, are my notes from my latest pencil experiment.
This is a review that’s been a long time coming. That’s because the Staedtler Noris pencil is so prolific, all over the world — except in North America, for some reason. In Europe, though, the Noris seems to be equivalent to our Dixon Ticonderoga: the go-to pencil 90% of the time. During my recent travels on the Iberian peninsula, I found it harder than expected to locate pencils in general, with the Noris being the one exception. If a shop carried any pencils at all, odds were good that they were Staedtler Noris pencils available in several grades from a display at the check-out counter.
Part of the reason I waited so long to review this pencil — despite the urging of Matthias at Bleistift to write about this favorite of his — is that I knew I’d find some on my trip, therefore it wasn’t a priority to mail-order something I’d likely be able to procure in person. And procure I did! I made sure to grab a few each of several grades. So today I’m going to start the process of writing one of what will hopefully be several reviews of the Staedtler Noris pencil, starting with the obvious place: the HB grade model.
Sometimes I really enjoy scraping the bottom of the pencil barrel. That’s just kind of my approach to life in general; sure, you can drop big bucks on something and know it’s going to be good, or you can experiment and try to find a deal. I enjoy the process of finding diamonds in the rough. And let’s be honest — most people aren’t going to throw down two bucks a pop for a pencil. Sometimes you just need to grab something to write with in a hurry. Sometimes you’ve gotta outfit kids with enough pencils to make it through a school year on a budget. Those situations make it useful to be able to sort the affordable pencils from the cheap pencils. And anyway, what’s the point of writing reviews of things that everyone already knows are good?
That’s why I grabbed a box of Rite Aid “Yellow Barrel” No. 2 pencils on one of my recent trips to Seattle. We don’t have Rite Aid here in the frozen north, so I’ve actually never used one of these (to the best of my knowledge). And a box of them comes with a whopping twenty pencils. I did hesitate for a minute before making the buy — they aren’t the most inspiring subjects. But, what the hell? Let’s get weird. Here comes a review of Rite Aid’s no-name number two.
When you live in Alaska, you end up spending a lot of time in Seattle. It’s just kind of the way it goes: unless you want to drive for several days through rural northwest Canada, going anywhere usually involves flying, and Seattle happens to be the most easily-accessible major city/airline hub from Anchorage. Flights between the two cities are frequent and — if you’re willing to fly at 3 a.m. — cheap. More often than not, Seattle is the go-to whether you are connecting to another flight to points beyond, or just need to go somewhere to “get outside” for a while. On top of all that, the Polar Pencil Partner’s parents just moved to Seattle from back East, so needless to say we are regular weekenders in the Jet City.
We just took a long weekend in Sea-town, and ironically, I brought a pencil back that I’d purchased there months ago: the Mitsubishi (or is it Mitsu-Bishi?) 9825EW, graded HB. Given the prominence of Japanese-American culture in the city, it just seemed like an appropriate pencil to carry around town, so I sharpened up the 9825EW (a variant of the more traditional 9825 “standard” version) and gave it a whirl.
The first thing I did when I rolled into the office this Monday was pick out a new pencil to test. I poked around a little bit through my cheap big-box pencils. I picked up a few Japanese ones. Then, it occurred to me…it’s been a little bit since I’ve tried out a pencil from India. Ah! We have a winner: the DOMS X1.
This ungraded pencil has been sitting in my stash for a while. Somehow I accidentally ordered two boxes, so not only will this review satisfy any readers particularly interested in pencils from India, but it will also clear two boxes out of the to-review drawer (which has actually overflowed onto the top of my desk and could probably occupy two drawers now). It’s a win-win. So, without further ado, let’s find out of the DOMS X1 itself is a win…