Having thawed out on the Mediterranean for a bit, I’ve returned to the Great White North and my desktop computer where I can properly review pencils and blog about them. Thankfully, I also came back with a couple fists full of fresh pencils to review! Today, I’d like to dip into my Spanish pencil haul to have a look at a model I’d never heard of until about a week ago: the Alpino Junior.
I have to confess that until I found this pencil, I was still trying to figure out if any pencils are actually made in Spain. Thankfully a chaotic little papeleria in Madrid settled things for me when I stumbled upon the Junior in both dipped-end and eraser-tipped format, the latter of which clearly bears the name of its homeland. I think it’s very fitting that, upon return from my Spanish vacation, I should resume my pencil review duties with a look at the Alpino Junior, a pencil that’s actually from Spain.
One of my constant fears since starting to go full-steam on this blog has been that eventually, some day, I’ll run out of pencils to review. Let’s do the math: if I average a pencil review per week, that’s about 50 different types of pencils a year. It seems like I’m on pace to exhaust the possibilities within a few years; or at least the easy ones. I feel like I’ve already picked a lot of the low-hanging fruit.
Needless to say, I was excited when I walked into a local chain-brand supermarket and found something I’d never seen before. Just this fall, a company called Written Word Pencil Co. has started putting out several lines of USA-made pencils that they’ve branded America’s Finest. I eagerly snagged the two versions available — naturally-finished “American Arbor”, and accurately-named “Prestige Black” — to have a look a closer look at them.
Recently, I published a review of a Thai pencil made in China (the Masterart Wood 2B). So, it seemed like the natural next review would be a German pencil made in Thailand. Perfect timing, because a package of Staedtler Norica pencils just arrived in the mail!
Staedtler is known among pencil nerds for its venerable Mars Lumograph line of high-end graphite pencils. On the other end of the spectrum are products such as the Rally, marketed toward more of the general-purpose, use-it-and-lose-it crowd. The Norica seems to sit somewhere in between: a pencil geared for the typical everyday writer who wants an upgrade in quality without splurging on a fancy drawing pencil. Let’s see how well it fills that niche.
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?
A while back I took the Paper Mate Mirado Classic — which I did not expect to actually enjoy — for a spin and found it to be quite a nice little pencil. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because that unassuming little schoolhouse-yellow, office-desk-drawer-inhabiting pencil has a slightly more adventurous sibling: the Mirado Black Warrior.
The Black Warrior is one pencil which, under one brand name or another, has been around for quite some time. It was part of the Eagle family prior to 1969, when the company was bought by Berol; it then passed hands to Sandford and eventually the Newell-Rubbermaid conglomorate that makes pencils under the Paper Mate brand. Somewhere along the line, it got coupled up with the Mirado pencil to become the Mirado Black Warrior, and here we are. The classic iterations of the pencil have been a favorite of numerous writers over the years, but how does the present-day version stand up? Let’s take a look at it and see.
Imagine my surprise when I fired up the old WordPress dashboard this morning to find my review of the Musgrave News, a pencil that I kind of pooh-poohed, became the most-viewed post on this blog almost overnight. That’s actually appropriate, because the whole reason I went there was to post a little bit more about my experiences with that particular pencil. In the review I panned the News for the purposes of writing, but conceded that it may have niche purposes that I haven’t found.
Well, I think I found one: carpenter pencil. As it turns out, these guys are great for use when marking measurements and cut lines on lumber, sheetrock, and other building materials.
It makes a nice, dark mark which is easy to find when you go to make your cut. I use a lot of lumber which I reclaim from other things I demolish around the house and yard, and the wood is often weathered and gray — the perfect camouflage for hard-leaded pencil marks. Not with the Musgrave News! Its rich, black graphite really stands out, which saves me a lot of time and frustration when I don’t have to scour the length of an 8-foot board to find my mark.
The fact that the lead is soft doesn’t seem to matter, because all pencils lose their point fast in this line of work. In fact, the soft lead might even be a plus: other, more brittle pencil tips often snap off when marking on things like wood, but the News doesn’t.
I reckon I’ll be putting my box of Musgrave News pencils out in the tool shed!
Thailand, I discovered, is a great place to be if you’re a pencil dork. Things there generally run a little cheaper than they do in the west, which is always nice. The state of the Thai retail economy is such that the distribution of goods generally seems to flow through market vendors and Mom & Pop shops moreso than big box stores. I also perceived there to be a greater appreciation for stationery-type items, and learned that there are several pencil factories in Thailand which make products for both the domestic and export (to them) markets. All of this combined means that a leisurely stroll down a shop-lined street will often result in stumbling upon a small, dusty stationery shop stocked with a variety of hitherto unknown pencils, all to be had for just a few Baht.
Case in point: the twelve-pack of Masterart Blacklead Wood 2B pencils I picked up in Bangkok for 30 Baht (less than $1, USD). Made by DHA Siamwalla — the same company that makes the Elephant — these are Thai pencils made for Thai writers. I’ve had them stashed in my drawer for over six months, waiting for the right moment to give them a whirl. Today, I’m excited to share my findings with you.
I have a confession to make: I have been starting to feel like all pencils are pretty much the same. Sure, there are minor differences to most of them, and some of them deviate from the mean significantly; but it’s definitely been a while since I saw something that was was really, surprisingly different.
And then I met this little guy: The Musgrave News 600 pencil. The Musgrave website alluded to the fact that this ungraded pencil writes a bit different than the rest of their products, even going so far as to say that it is “very soft”. But I wasn’t at all prepared for what was in store for me when I finally got around to giving it a whirl!
Of the few pencil-makers still producing writing sticks in the USA, Moon Products, Inc. is probably the most stealthy. Their Tennessee plant cranks out countless lines of promotional and inspirational pencils, as well as pencils sold under other brands’ labels. The product lines that Moon puts out under it’s own name mostly fly under the radar, needles in the proverbial haystack. However, among the few models of pencil that they christen with their brand is an iconic American classic: the Try-Rex.
The Try-Rex is actually an invention of Richard Best Pencils, way back when, and was the first triangular pencil produced in the United States. Eventually Best’s outfit was bought up by the J.R. Moon company (which was later bought out itself) and its catalog folded into Moon’s holdings. However, the Try-Rex lives on, with homage paid to its originator in the B46 model number — B for “Best” — and is still made in the States, where it all began. I picked up a few of the standard-sized models so that I could give Moon pencils some love on the ol’ blog. Here, without further ado, is my review of the Try-Rex.
Don’t tell Donald Trump that I told you this, but I’ve been ordering more pencils from China. It’s also been a minute since I’ve delved into my giant stash and reviewed one of them. Sure, I’ve reviewed a few pencils that were made in China in recent weeks, but I think it’s high time to look at a another pencil made for China.
A while back, I took a look at the Chung Hwa 101; a pencil which is marketed as a drawing pencil, but is often used for writing. However, China First Pencil Co. also makes a dedicated writing pencil, the Chung Hwa 6151. I picked up a package of these to have a look at, and gave them a thorough review.