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!
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.
The Netherlands. What comes to mind when you think of good ol’ Holland? Legalized cannabis and sex work? Wooden clogs? Europe’s best baseball team? Don’t try to tell me you thought of pencils — unless, of course, your favorite pencil ever happens to be a pencil from the Bruynzeel company. Then I might believe you.
For the rest of us, yes; believe it or not, there is a Dutch company that manufacturers pencils. Bruynzeel has been mass-producing wood & graphite writing instruments since 1948. They are still turning out a few different lines of woodcased pencils, and for today’s review I picked up a twelve-pack of their No. 1605 “Burotek” pencil in grade 2B. So get your finger out of that dike, crank up your windmill and slice open a wheel of Gouda cheese, because we’re about to talk Dutch pencils.
I’m surprised I haven’t written a review of this pencil sooner. My stash of Tombow 8900 pencils has been languishing in a drawer for a while as I’ve sampled all of the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) goods that the pencil universe has to offer; but prior to starting this blog, the Tombow 8900 in 2B was one of my go-to pencils. So, yeah, I may have gone into this review with a tiny bit of a preconceived notion.
However, when I first stumbled upon the 8900 pencil, I was a dumb new guy. I knew that Blackwing pencils were great, Ticonderoga pencils were good, and as far as I could tell everything else was garbage. It might have been Tombow’s workhorse “general writing” model that opened up this Pandora’s box. So, now that I’ve been around the pencil block and have a few more notches on my wood-and-graphite belt, I want to revisit it, and see if a more systematic, critical review will yield the same satisfaction I experienced during my original honeymoon period with the 2B Tombow 8900. So, here goes. I’ll try to leave my bias behind, starting with the next paragraph!
I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m a little burnt out on reading about a certain pencil from a certain company that sells its products for two bucks a pop and periodically releases special editions that send the pencil nerdosphere into a Beanie Baby level craze. So for this week’s review, I’m going to go in a completely different direction. Something cheap. Something Made in China. Something nobody is buzzing about. And yet, something reminiscent (in some ways) of the aforementioned, unnamed company’s flagship offering. I’m talking about the Marco Grip-Rite 2B (model 9002).
A product of Axus Stationery in Shanghai, the Marco brand is most well known in the west due to a strong following for their affordable colored pencils. Their Raffine and Renoir colored sets have a positive reputation among artists. However, Marco is no slouch when it comes to the graphite game. They produce several lines of graphite writing pencils, and today we’re going to zero in on one that looked particularly enticing when I recently dug through my to-review drawer: the Grip-Rite 9002 in a 2B core.
Japanese pencils: most pencil snobs think they’re awesome. I mean, even the Blackwing pencils (everyone’s favorite) are made in Japan. And among the various Japanese pencil-makers, Mitsubishi — maker of the 9800 and the very fancy, highly-fawned-over Hi-Uni — has a reputation for making a very, very nice pencil.
Mitsubishi Pencils aren’t just for pretentious Americans, though. In Japan, their product lines reach all the way down to the everyday pencil-pusher (like me!) and even the elementary school desk, where kids grapple with writing for the first time. That’s where you’ll find pencils like the 4563. Does Mitsubishi’s quality trickle down with it? I got my hands on a box of the 2B grade pencils to find out.
This is a pencil I’ve been wanting to review for a long time, but it just hasn’t ever seemed like the right “fit” in my blog post flow. Whatever that means. But as I finished publishing my review of the Lyra Groove Slim, I decided it was time to give Miss Kimberly a long-awaited test run.
The Kimberly is a high-end offering from General Pencil Co. As such, it’s marketed toward artists, but we all know that there’s no reason a person can’t write with a drawing pencil. And even for a high-end, made-in-USA product, the Kimberly comes in at budget-friendly price, at least compared to the competitors in the drawing pencil world. So, I handled several of them in the store, and took home a couple each of the HB and 2B to test out.
In February of this year, my partner and I took our first ever trip to Thailand. In fact, it was the first time either of us had been to Asia. We had a great time, made a lot of memories, picked up a little Thai, and learned a lot about their history and culture. Oh, and their cuisine, of course! We really tried our hardest to stay as far away from the tourist areas as reasonably prudent, and engage ourselves with the locals. Much to my delight, I learned that Thai folks seem to have an appreciation for stationery shops, and I made it a point to wander as many of the dusty, cramped, mom & pop pencil and notebook stores as I could. That’s where I found, for the low low price of 35 baht, a dozen sharp-looking, dipped-end, 2B Elephant Blacklead pencils (with a free eraser, even).
Elephant Blacklead Pencils are made by DHA Siamwalla Ltd. of Bangkok. DHAS has been in business for over 100 years, and is a manufacturer of many of the office supply products found in Thailand, as well as a distributor of many international brands there. Although the Elephant Blacklead Pencils are made by a Thai company, for Thai distribution, they are actually made in China and come in both 2B and HB form. They also, apparently, come either eraser-capped or dipped. I happened to pick up a pack of dipped 2B pencils. And now, after hoarding them for months, I’m finally ready to sharpen them up and write up a review!
Some pencil snobs might bristle at the notion of ordering pencils off of AliExpress. But what can I say, I like to live on the freshly-sharpened edge. I’m also always in search of a good deal. And, finally, I began to think about how remarkable it is that the People’s Republic of China has so many pencil factories that are making products specifically for export to other countries, but even in the world of pencil snobs we seldom hear about their domestic products. Surely people in China write with pencils. What kind of pencils do they use? How do they compare to the ones they’re exporting, and the ones the rest of the world makes?
Those are the things that motivated me to order ten Chung Hwa 101 grade 2B pencils. I had never heard of Chung Hwa pencils before — in fact I just ordered them on a whim from AliExpress without having any clue what to expect — but a little research indicated that they are made by the Shanghai-based China First Pencil Co. The 101 is positioned as Chung Hwa’s “drawing” pencil, and as such as available in a full spectrum of grades; its sibling, the 6151, is better known for writing purposes. Nonetheless, it seems that the 101 gets regular use as a writer in China, where both product lines are fairly prolific — in fact, in 2008 a Chung Hwa pencil was launched into space with the crew of China’s Shenzhou 7.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I don’t know if the German nobility has an analogous turn of phrase, but if so, it would certainly apply to the Castell 9000 pencil. Since 1905, Faber-Castell has been producing this iconic writing implement in more or less the same form.
Much like other high end pencils in the post-internet age, the Castell 9000 is marketed as an artist’s pencil, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t charmed many a writer over the past 100 years. Today I’d like to have a look at these fine instruments, and see if they can work some magic for us!