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.
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!
Most of us are probably familiar with the Dixon Ticonderoga pencil. I think pretty much everyone in the United States over the age of six has used one at some point in their lives, and I imagine that anyone reading a blog about pencils and writing supplies from abroad are at least aware that they exist.
However, you wouldn’t be blamed if you had no idea that other Dixon pencils not named “Ticonderoga” exist. The Ticonderoga is a pretty decent (but not amazing) pencil, and in the Dixon world, it’s their flagship. There is the Dixon Oriole, which I can’t comment on other than to say that it’s perceived to be a rung below the Ticonderoga [note: I do have a box in line to review at a later date, though.]. And then, below that, there is a pencil that hasn’t even earned a model name. It’s known simply as the Dixon No. 2/HB pencil.
I have no idea where I got these, because it seems pretty rare to come across them in a retail location. However, I’m certain they were very cheap, and they came in a box of 20. So the question is: what does it say about you when you’re the third-string quarterback on a team whose starter is just “pretty good”? I would guess it means that you’re either pretty lousy, or your talents are being overlooked. Let’s have a look at the Dixon “No-Name” and see which scenario best describes it…