Stationery stores are one of life’s small pleasures, and I particularly like shopping for pencils. This is a short guide to pencil spotting in the wild, illustrated with plein air paintings of some of the species I have encountered on the hunt.
The Palomino Blackwing 602 is the modern remake of the venerable Eberhard Faber Blackwing, which went out of production in 1998. The original Blackwings had a pink eraser, and the modern ones have dark grey erasers to match their slick paintwork.
Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dalton Trumbo etc. etc. used these pencils, and the paean to the Blackwing in Henry Petroski’s book The Pencil helped make it a much sought after classic. Must confess I think any decent 2B does much the same job for far less money, and the bulky eraser makes the end of the pencil lurch about alarmingly. I certainly am not about to pay $40 for one of the originals on ebay.
By the way, ‘Blackwing 602’ has to be about the best possible name for a pencil. Eberhard Faber’s naming department also came up with the ‘Mongol 482’, which is the focus of Leonard E. Read’s jaunty hornpipe to free markets ‘I Pencil’. I do not agree with everything Read says, or indeed much of it, but it is thought provoking to realise no single person knows how to make all the parts of a pencil. The essay is free online (natch), and I recommend it to you.
Any person who went to school in Australia pre-digital will recognise the chocolate top and scarlet body of the Columbia Copperplate. A very good HB and at one time the only pencil manufactured in the Southern Hemisphere. Sadly no longer made in Australia, these now come from Indonesia, and the red is less orangey-scarlet and smooth than it used to be. Are they also smaller? Or are my hands just bigger?
Tasted delicious when you chewed the end: woody high notes with a refreshingly astringent, bitter after-taste. If they had not meant you to eat them, why did they make them look so edible?
The Staedtler Tradition Eraser Tip. I was surprised when I painted this just how nearly orange the eraser is. I had thought it was pure pink, but I was wrong. I was also surprised by how extravagant the ferrule is when you look at it up close. Like everyone who has tried to erase something with the ‘eraser’ on one of these pencils, I can only assume it is intended to be decorative rather than functional. All it did was spread the mistake around the page and surround it with a hazy pinkish halo.
I once read a Richard Price novel that likened a woman’s nipple to an eraser tip. I have not looked at these pencils the same way since.
Staedtler is from Nuremberg, which means it shares the same hometown as Faber-Castell – on which more below.
Taste terrible and the eraser sort of crumbles in the mouth. The ferrule is hell on the teeth. Maybe this is why children have milk teeth – so they can learn what not to do with their permanent teeth.
The Faber-Castell Goldfaber 1221 has an aristocratic bearing and is, so far as I know, the only graphite pencil with a picture of jousting knights impressed into its side. Originally known as A.W. Faber, the manufacturer of these pencils became Faber-Castell after Baroness Ottilie von Faber married Count Alexander von Castell-Rüdenhausen. The Count had to renounce his title in order to marry and carry on the pencil business; as a noble, he was forbidden to traffic in commerce, so a morganatic marriage was not on the cards. Later the former count was granted a new title of Count von Faber-Castell. There is a Faber-Castell castle, which looks just like it belongs on the lid of a box of pencils. How romantic this all is.
One of the Faber family scions moved to New York to make his fortune. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he chose to make … pencils. He built his pencil factory where the UN building now stands. This was John Eberhard Faber, and his company was called Eberhard Faber. And if you have read this far, you may remember that Eberhard Faber made the Blackwing pencil, and so this post draws a full circle.