Number one with a bullet!

In my previous blog post about uses for stubby pencils, I mused openly about acquiring a bullet pencil to help me make use of (and keep track of!) the last few inches of a pencil before casting it into my big ol’ stub tub. Well, I finally pulled the trigger (pun intended) and ordered an antique bullet pencil of my own!

If you’re not familiar with bullet pencils, I’ll give you the rundown. They are basically an old-school combination of pencil extender and carrying case, shaped like a rifle cartridge (hence the name). In fact, the original bullet pencils were actually made out of surplus ammunition casings. The “bullet” pulls open to reveal a short pencil, which can be plugged back into the casing that acts as a holder. Back in “the day” bullet pencils were, apparently, quite the common promotional item given away for free at the feed store counter or whatever. As far as I can tell, no one is making them anymore — except for a few current-production models that are attempting to revive the format at something like $20 or $30 a pop.

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THROWBACK Pencil Review: Paper Mate American Classic

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.

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THROWBACK Pencil Review: Faber Castell Velvet 3557 #2

The Velvet 3557 had a long and convoluted history during its run. It was originally the Venus Velvet, before Venus was bought by Berol, who was eventually bought by Faber-Castell USA. In the mid 1980’s, FCUSA also bought Eberhard Faber, and by 1994 had applied that brand to its pencils rather than the Faber-Castell brand. Finally, the American branch of the Faber-Castell company was gobbled up by Sanford, which eventually merged its numerous pencil brands and product lines into the handful that now compose the Papermate lineup. And that’s the story of how the Velvet 3557 pencil was shuffled around from company to company until it finally went extinct.

But, as luck should have it, I happened upon a lone survivor of the Velvet line. We can deduce from the above timeline that this particular pencil was probably manufactured way back in the late 1980’s or the early 1990’s — almost as old as I am. Is this another vintage classic that fell victim to corporate consolidation? Or was it a weaker species that was doomed to fall to the wayside once natural selection ran its course?

Let’s sharpen it up and see!

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