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.
I’m back! I’ve returned to the Great White North after a week-plus stint on the Gulf Coast to try and thaw out a little bit, as well as a little bit of a grad-school-induced hiatus from blogging. Anyway, a lack of money and time on my part, combined with an apparent lack of interested in the woodclinched graphite writing instrument on the part of the fine folks of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle, resulted in a net gain of negative-one pencils on this trip. The good news is that I still have a huge backlog on hand to review, including some from last fall’s trip to Spain. Today I decided to break into that stash and sharpen up one of my European finds: the Lyra Robinson, in this case with a 2B-graded core.
Lyra, as you may recall, is a German pencil-maker that produces numerous lines of writing implements, including the previously-reviewed Groove Slim. Their graphite pencils are a little bit hard to come by here in the States — I imagine that being a FILA affiliate, their parent company isn’t trying to steal market share from Dixon Ticonderoga. That makes testing out one of their products a rare treat for me, so today I’m going to jump right in to it. Here we go!
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.
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.
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.
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.