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.
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 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.
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…
In ancient Roman mythology, Ceres was the goddess who made civilization possible. Before her intervention, humanity lived a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Then, one day, Ceres bestowed upon us the knowledge of ploughing, sowing, harvesting, animal husbandry, and all of the skills we would need to practice agriculture, settle down and become modern folk.
If a person were to look at a satellite image of the countryside surrounding Shelbyville, Tennessee and the wider area southeast of Nashville, they wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that Musgrave Pencil Co. — one of America’s last remaining domestic pencil manufacturers — pays tribute to Ceres with it’s mainline yellow #2, model number 909. Perhaps the folks at Musgrave had the agricultural outskirts of the “Pencil City” on their mind when they named this mule of a pencil. So, is the Ceres pencil a worthy namesake for a Roman goddess? Let’s pull out a sharpener and see.
The Dixon Ticonderoga pencil has been around for ages, and seen numerous iterations — especially in the past decade or two, as production shifted from the U.S. to Mexico and China, production lines were changed and materials were tinkered with. The recent Chinese iteration of the well-known and often-used pencil was the subject of my first-ever review on this blog, and since then I haven’t felt particularly compelled to go back and revisit them, at least not to any extent worth writing about.
That is, until now. At this point in time I’ve got umpteen different pencil makes and models available to me, clogging up multiple desk drawers, but (in the States at least) the Dixon Ticonderoga has a funny way of hanging around and finding a way into your hand. In this case, the Ticonderoga pencil that events conspired to lead me to was one marked for its environmentally-friendly qualities and natural aesthetic: The Ticonderoga Renew.
This review was inspired in part by a post exploring the rise, fall, and perhaps second rise of the Ticonderoga by our Glorious Comrade Johnny, who stands at the vanguard of the invincible world Pencil Revolution. I’ve had this post cooking on the back burner for a while, actually; and given the aforementioned Ticonderoga buzz and the fact that my review of another pencil that shall remain nameless is taking a while, I figured it was high time to have a look at the Ticonderoga Renew.
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?
In the last Throwback pencil review, the subject of which was the Faber Castell Velvet, we discussed the convoluted series of mergers by which the lion’s share of American pencilmakers became concentrated in the hands of Newell Rubbermaid (by way of Sanford) who then proceeded to kill off their product lines, one by one. It was basically like the Hunger Games for pencils.
Actually, it was more like the formation of a black hole. Numerous pencil brands collapsed gravitationally inward creating one super-massive object from which none could escape. Sandford gave that black hole the name Paper Mate, which prior to the mega-merger was a pen manufacturer. Today, only the few Mirado lines of pencil are made under the Paper Mate banner, but that was not always the case.
[Actually, since writing my initial draft of this post, I have found another current-production Papermate pencil. Foreshadowing!]
Today we’re going to look at the American Classic, a Made-in-USA product of the early 2000s. I found a package of these, still in the wrapper, tucked away in a desk drawer, so you bet bottom dollar I swiped them and gave them a try.
Not long ago, I reviewed India’s Nataraj Bold pencil. In the interest of promoting peaceful coexistence between the countries of the world, I would be remiss if I didn’t also give some press to their neighbor and fellow pencil-producing country: Pakistan.
Uniting over a shared love of pencils may not be enough to stave off the spectre of nuclear war, but Shahsons Ltd. put Pakistan on the pencil map alongside its neighbors in 1953, when the current Director’s grandfather, Shah Saeed, established it as the his homeland’s first pencil manufacturer. Today Shahsons is the manufacturer of several pencil lines and are the flagship writing-instrument producer of its country.
There are many pencils made in China. In fact, something like 50% of the world’s pencils are manufactured there. However, approximately 80% of them are manufactured for export — pencils such as the Dixon Ticonderoga, for example. But if you’ve read my review of the Chung Hwa 101, you know that I’m very curious about Chinese domestic brands. One of those brands is the curiously-named Deli company.
I have a bit of a hypothesis that it’s probably the brands that we in the West have never heard of that make the highest-quality pencils in China. It makes sense to me that those are the products that Chinese people want to buy, and that the random factories churning out shoddy pencils have to resort to exporting no-name products to the big box stores for pennies, because no one there wants to buy their crap. So where do products from Deli fit into all of this? Is the Deli S905 a solid product that we are missing out on here in the States? Or is it a cut-rate excuse for a writing instrument? Or is my hypothesis totally bunk?