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.
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.
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.
The Mirado pencil is one of those iconic Yellow No. 2’s that have been around forever. It was originally manufactured, some time in the early 20th century, by the Eagle Pencil Company in New Jersey. They gave it the name “Mikado”, which means “Emporer” in Japan. Then in 1941, Japan suddenly became a little bit un-cool in the eyes of Americans for some mysterious reason, and Eagle re-named their pencil the Mirado. Since then it’s been produced in numerous variations and even released in locally-produced flavors around the world, but some form or another of the Mikado/Mirado pencil has been made for over 100 years.
While the existence of the Mirado may seem to be a reliable fact of life, the only constant in the universe is change. It almost goes without saying that the Mirado is no longer made in New Jersey. It’s no longer even made in the U.S. — current U.S.-market Mirado pencils are produced in Mexico. Over the course of the past century, Eagle was gobbled up by Berol, who was gobbled up by Paper Mate of the Sanford-Newell-Rubbermade cartel. Their U.S. pencil factory shut down, product lines were consolidated, and production was moved south. However, the Mirado is a survivor that has weathered the storm of the ever-changing corporate seas: while numerous other pencils have fallen under Paper Mate’s axe, the iconic Mirado is still being produced.
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!