Hello again! It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to jot down my thoughts on a pencil. No, I didn’t catch The Rona; however, this “hunker down” thing really threw my routine for a loop. I’m back, though, and approaching this blog with renewed vigor! All I needed was a new pencil to inspire me, and browsing on Amazon the other day, something caught my eye. It was…a Dixon Ticonderoga.
Ah, but not any Dixon Ticonderoga. The world may have been out of toilet paper there for a while, but it’ll never run out of the iconic No. 2, after all. (There’s a poop/No. 2 pun there that I’m missing, I’m sure). But I happened to find a Ticonderoga you don’t often see on store shelves: the B-graded, No. 1 Dixon Ticonderoga. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing one of these pencils. I eagerly bounded to the mailbox to retrieve these (once the letter carrier was six feet away, of course) and began my review.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.