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.
Of all the pencils I’ve ordered from China, the Deli brand somehow stands out to me. Perhaps its the sheer volume of different lines they have, or their success in luring me in with branding and aesthetics, but I’d say something about the company also indicates a quality product. Sad to say, and despite the numerous examples I have practically exploding from my to-review drawer, I’ve only actually reviewed one of their pencils (the S905) since I was turned on to them! And that’s hardly enough of a sample size to make an argument with any merit about quality.
So today, that’s going to change. One box of pencils I’ve been sitting on (not literally, ouch) for quite some time is the tri-barreled Deli 37106 in HB grade, which appears to be among a new line of pencils that the Chinese manufacturer began putting out at some point in the last year or so. So here, without further delay, are my notes from my latest pencil experiment.
This is a review that’s been a long time coming. That’s because the Staedtler Noris pencil is so prolific, all over the world — except in North America, for some reason. In Europe, though, the Noris seems to be equivalent to our Dixon Ticonderoga: the go-to pencil 90% of the time. During my recent travels on the Iberian peninsula, I found it harder than expected to locate pencils in general, with the Noris being the one exception. If a shop carried any pencils at all, odds were good that they were Staedtler Noris pencils available in several grades from a display at the check-out counter.
Part of the reason I waited so long to review this pencil — despite the urging of Matthias at Bleistift to write about this favorite of his — is that I knew I’d find some on my trip, therefore it wasn’t a priority to mail-order something I’d likely be able to procure in person. And procure I did! I made sure to grab a few each of several grades. So today I’m going to start the process of writing one of what will hopefully be several reviews of the Staedtler Noris pencil, starting with the obvious place: the HB grade model.
Sometimes I really enjoy scraping the bottom of the pencil barrel. That’s just kind of my approach to life in general; sure, you can drop big bucks on something and know it’s going to be good, or you can experiment and try to find a deal. I enjoy the process of finding diamonds in the rough. And let’s be honest — most people aren’t going to throw down two bucks a pop for a pencil. Sometimes you just need to grab something to write with in a hurry. Sometimes you’ve gotta outfit kids with enough pencils to make it through a school year on a budget. Those situations make it useful to be able to sort the affordable pencils from the cheap pencils. And anyway, what’s the point of writing reviews of things that everyone already knows are good?
That’s why I grabbed a box of Rite Aid “Yellow Barrel” No. 2 pencils on one of my recent trips to Seattle. We don’t have Rite Aid here in the frozen north, so I’ve actually never used one of these (to the best of my knowledge). And a box of them comes with a whopping twenty pencils. I did hesitate for a minute before making the buy — they aren’t the most inspiring subjects. But, what the hell? Let’s get weird. Here comes a review of Rite Aid’s no-name number two.
When you live in Alaska, you end up spending a lot of time in Seattle. It’s just kind of the way it goes: unless you want to drive for several days through rural northwest Canada, going anywhere usually involves flying, and Seattle happens to be the most easily-accessible major city/airline hub from Anchorage. Flights between the two cities are frequent and — if you’re willing to fly at 3 a.m. — cheap. More often than not, Seattle is the go-to whether you are connecting to another flight to points beyond, or just need to go somewhere to “get outside” for a while. On top of all that, the Polar Pencil Partner’s parents just moved to Seattle from back East, so needless to say we are regular weekenders in the Jet City.
We just took a long weekend in Sea-town, and ironically, I brought a pencil back that I’d purchased there months ago: the Mitsubishi (or is it Mitsu-Bishi?) 9825EW, graded HB. Given the prominence of Japanese-American culture in the city, it just seemed like an appropriate pencil to carry around town, so I sharpened up the 9825EW (a variant of the more traditional 9825 “standard” version) and gave it a whirl.
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?