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8:19AM

Pencil time

I told Richard Bartrop I was getting some pencils and he said…

Working hard on your hipster badge, I see.

Or words to that effect. The reason being that I’d decided on some Palomino Blackwing pencils, which have a slightly odd history.

Eberhard Faber produced the Blackwing pencil, a pretty standard pencil with black painted body, novel flat eraser holder (Called the Ferrule), stamped “Twice the speed, half the pressure” in reference to the lead’s nice dark colour and smooth glide on paper (Most pencil lead is graphite and clay, the Blackwing’s lead contained a little wax to make it smooth).

Because it was a generally OK pencil, it got used by a lot of people, and since a few of them became famous and at some point mentioned they used the Blackwing 602, it developed a reputation.

And then Faber stopped making them.

Faber had bought a machine, second hand that made the pencil’s special ferrule that held the oblong pink erasers with a special tension clip that meant that you could whip the eraser out and replace it with your own, making the pencil ideal for actually rubbing things out. The machine though, was broken when it was bought and either wasn’t economical to fix or couldn’t be fixed – But it did come with a large supply of already made components, and so the pencil was made until the ferrule supply ran out.

Which is when the pencil, dubbed by it’s admirers as “The best pencil in the world” started to get it’s own cult and mythology.

In the minds of certain people, it was the magic tool that’d allow them to be a great artist or composer or writer, just like the famous creators who’d used their Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencils to sketch out famous works.

It became a talisman, a fetish (Of the little voodoo doll meaning of the word), and so when un-sold boxes of the pencils started showing up on eBay, prices skyrocketed, with people paying $20 or $60 for an original Blackwing.

A note about the Blackwing, Old and New.

The original Blackwing’s eraser was pink and either due to the material used or age is now generally reported to be “Not so much an eraser as a graphite smearing device”. The new eraser is white and quite generic and capable, with one small caveat that I’ll save for later.

Bother the old and new pencils use Cedar – the new “Palomino Blackwing” uses California cedar and is manufactured by the California Cedar company, which makes it easy to remember…

This means the pencil is made of a renewable wood that’s been grown for commercial use, and it also means that the wood is nicely dense, fine grained  and has a homogenous texture, which is important for the purpose of sharpening. This is pretty important in a pencil. It also smells nice, which is a trivial point but if you’re going to dick around with pencils instead of using a pen mechanical pencil or computer, you might as well enjoy the æsthetics of it fully.

The main event though is the lead. The new lead may not be the same recipe as the old (and the manufacturer is re-formulating it to produce a harder, firmer lead for writing), but it is a very dark, smooth experience. The current softer lead is quite nice for artists or if you favour an especially dark pencil, though as ever, darker means softer and more prone to snapping and blunting.

However, due to the smoothness, which presumably is created by adding in oil or wax of some sort to recipe, the eraser which works quite well on normal pencil marks can’t seem to completely remove the marks left by the Blackwing.

I suspect that the harsher eraser of the original Blackwing may have been closer to the ones used by secretaries to remove typed text by ablating the ink and layers of paper away, which may be the only way to completely remove the ghostly marks left by even a thorough rub down with the eraser or even with my collection of very competent pencil erasers.

Verdict

It’s a pencil. It writes nicely but so does a Zebra gel-ink pen or a B6 art pencil. The eraser arrangement is nice but not up to actually fully eradicating the marks.

On the up side, it’s not that expensive and quite pleasant to work with.

Price: $19.95 for a 12 pack from Pencils.com