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.
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.
The American-made pencil just might be making a comeback. I wanted to call it a “renaissance” at first, but that’s hardly the word. There doesn’t seem to be anything fancy, artistic, or revolutionary about the pencils still made in the USA today; most of them seem to be largely utilitarian in nature. Nonetheless, the industry that was on the brink of drying up in the States not long ago seems to be slowly expanding and diversifying.
One pencil that’s been on the forefront of the re-establishment has been the Golden Bear. Sold under the Palomino brand — yes, that Palomino — the Golden Bear is a Made-in-America No. 2 pencil with a little bit extra. With an eye-catching appearance and a brand name that suggests quality among the wood-and-graphite faithful, here’s a pencil that set out to prove that American No. 2’s don’t have to be so, well, yellow. I grabbed a dozen to see what was under the lacquer and how it stood up to the competition.
Today’s review is going to get a little weird, because it’s going to involve two pencils. But, actually, maybe just one. Clear as mud? I’m talking about the “No. 2/HB” store brand pencil(s) from Walmart. One is a “throwback” thrift-store find from the Casemate brand; the other is current-production material of the Pen+Gear make.
Why review them both simultaneously? In order to answer that, a little backstory is necessary. A few years back, Walmart’s Casemate brand started putting out cheap “no-name” yellow pencils that were made in India. Rumor on the internet was that these pencils were actually made by Hindustan Pencil Co., maker of the Nataraj Bold pencil (which I really like). At some point Walmart dropped the “Casemate” label in favor of “Pen+Gear”, and — rumor also has it — started to source their store-brand pencils from another manufacturer. Rumor also has it that they kinda went to hell at this point. Well, I happened to come upon both old and new models of their pencils and noticed that they are almost identical with only minor changes. So, what’s going on here? Are they the same pencil with different branding? Are they different pencils? And, most importantly…are they any good?