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.
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.
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.
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?
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.