A Box of REAL Blackwing MMX Pencils.


I’d been having a stressful few weeks, with school being back in session, a death in the family, my son starting his first day of pre-school, someone damaging my new Subaru (and then getting the windshield cracked on the way home from getting an estimate! yay!), sickness descending on the family early this year. I came home to a box from CW Pencil Enterprise. I’d ordered something, but my package had already come. This was a surprise.

So I hurried to open the box and found a wrapped package with a gift tag. Inside I found a box of Blackwings, the ones I am a crusade to get renamed the MMX. Someone had written “MMX” in gold on the box, but I still wasn’t ready for what I found inside.

My friend Lenore had ordered a box of Blackwings with “MMX” stamped on them with the Kingsly machine at the pencil shop by Alyx. I sat in my dining room chuckling for a long time before dropping Lenore a message to thank her, whereupon I sharpened one immediately.

We talk a lot on Erasable about how great the community that’s sprung up around Pencil Life is. So I feel silly repeating it maybe. But because of these activities, I have made a lot of wonderful friends, one of whom would order some Blackwings made just for me with “MMX” on them — the only REAL MMX BLACKWINGS in existence. Thanks again, Lenore!

Thoreau Pencil by Analog Supply Co.


Two weeks ago, I was looking at what do get for my next tattoo, and my search turned to Thoreau and pencils. Somehow, the existence of these has escaped me for what appears to be two years. Analog Supply Co. sells Thoreau pencils!

I jumped right to order them, but since this company has been so under the radar, I wondered if they were fulfillling orders currently and kept quiet about it. I ordered on Saturday morning and had these in my hands early the next week. They run $7.50 for 9 pencils, but shipping was only $1 (less than it cost them to send it). This is a fair deal. Here is what Analog says about their pencils:

Raw, unfinished natural wood pencils that feel great in hand. The core is #2/HB for writing and drawing.  Writes with a dark line. Made in the U.S.A.

Named for American author Henry David Thoreau who worked in his family’s pencil factory prior to writing Walden among other famous works.

The pencil, the tool of doodlers, stands for thinking and creativity…Yet the pencil’s graphite is also the ephemeral medium of thinkers, planners, drafters, architects, and engineers, the medium to be erased, revised, smudged, obliterated, lost…

The packaging of this pencil echoes the way that Write Notepads sold their pencils until they started making their own custom boxes — though Write included a little KUM Wedge to fill in the space.

These are raw and made in the USA. That and the sharp hex point right to Musgrave’s custom pencil finishing, which we all know is a mixed bag. The design itself is lovely. We love a raw pencil, and the black ferrule and eraser look sharp. The white text is a nice touch on this light wood and is crisp. I wish that the Thoreau part were larger and further from the business end of the pencil. Before hitting the Steinbeck Stage, all mentions of Thoreau are gone. The branding overshadows the Thoreau part, unless you are really looking for it. It’s lovely, but the focus is clearly more on the brand than on Mr. Henry.

The wood is not cedar, and the smell points me away from basswood even — though I can’t verify that right away. It’s rough for gripping and sharpens well. Whatever it is, the wood smell is very strong, and I enjoyed that. After all, historical Thoreau pencils were never made of the incense cedar of a modern pencil anyway. I like the woodsy and raw vibe of this pencil.

About half of mine had cores that were at least a little off-center, but they averaged better than most Musgrave pencils these days, since 5 of 9 were at least pretty well-centered, and the other four are still perfectly usable.

The core is reasonably dark and almost Semi-Smooth ™, with average Point Durability for an HB. Line Stability (post forthcoming) is quite good, with this pencil making marks that resist smearing and ghosting surprisingly well for the level of darkness achieved, even on smooth paper (such as Write or Field Notes). The rawness of the pencil itself might fool Comrades at first, but this is no Rough Writer.

Still, this pencil wants to be outside. For outdoor writing (read: wet and dirty hands), I enjoy a pencil like this. And, of course, they look amazing with the Write Notepads & Co. Walden notebook.

The eraser, being (I assume) a Musgrave job, is terrible. However, I’m not one to avoid a pencil for having a bad eraser. I don’t use them much anyway. For what it’s worth, it’s attractive and well-attached. But since it brings to mind the General’s Cedar Pointe (which has a great eraser) and then proceeds to disappoint, it really is a blemish on this otherwise nice pencil.

Honestly, any pencil that says Thoreau on it and works reasonably well would win me over anyway. But these stand up on their own as Musgrave pencils with well-designed specs. If you like natural pencils, sharp-hex pencils, or are a Thoreau aficionado, get yourself a pack of these pencils. Get me another pack too.

 

New Blackwing Styling.


All three flagship Blackwing pencils are getting small make-overs. The MMX and 602 are getting new erasers. The Pearl is getting a new eraser and new stamping. If you’re into pencils enough to read this blog, this is notable news!

I’m not sure how I feel about the change of the MMX’s eraser from white to black. I’m used to the white. I still have a few gold-specked pencils from the first run (October 1, 2010), and the ferrule was much less gold, nearly silver. The pencil looked great with a white eraser in that format. More recent versions with the Very Gold Ferrule leave feeling: meh. So maybe I am happy about this change to a black eraser.

The new pink eraser on the 602 makes me happy. That’s all. I like pink erasers, and I’ve come to prefer it on the 602. I think that being such a faithful remake, this is a necessary change.

The Pearl gets the biggest update, with a white eraser and gold stamping. My daughter is obsessed with the Pearl lately, and I’m afraid to show her this. The new logo (with the trees) looks sharp stamped on the Pearl in black, but I like that the gold foil will bring it more aesthetically in line with the MMX and the 602. Three finishes, three cores, and three erasers gives me a nice sense of symmetry. However, that sense is disturbed by one thing:

I want the “original” 2010 Blackwing to display the moniker I gave it as a joke that has been largely adopted by the Erasable Facebook community. My oldest daughter was born in 2010, and it’s a special year to me. Plus, being a product of Catholic schools, I like Roman numbers (and have two tattoos featuring them). The fact that the 602 and the Pearl have extra names after the “Blackwing” text makes the MMX look like it’s missing something.

So far, gentle nudges to get Mr. Berolzheimer and team to officially change the name to the MMX have not been successful. I think they think I’m kidding. I am not kidding! MMX! MMX! MMX! My naming services can be purchased for a mere one gross of the newly-coined MMX pencils. Cheap!

Whatever one might think about the details, I appreciate that the folks at Cal Cedar are still working to improve their pencils. We get new Blackwings four times a year, and they haven’t forgotten about the three that started it all. That makes me feel good for the future of pencils.

Read more at Blackwing’s site.

(Image borrowed from Blackwing’s Instagram account.)

Back To School 2017.


My daughter started the second grade yesterday, and of course we snapped some images of her out-going pencil case. First, this year, no boxes, only cases. She has the Yoobi cat case, which is lined in blue inside.

The list called for ten Pink Pearl erasers. We found a very satisfyingly heavy box of twelve on Amazon and sent that in instead. The newer version of this eraser is softer and actually works, rather than merely sanding your paper.

Running on the assumption that the four dozen pencils we sent in were for the classroom stash, I made sure Charlotte did not go in empty-cased. Hearing the Ticonderoga recommendation, she wanted these neon Tics and a few choice yellow ones. We put them all through the Dahle 133, and this was a fragrant pile.

I also let her pick from a box from the last time we went to New York, and she chose the Apsara Steno (with Arrow topper) and a Blackwing Pearl.

Also included:

Yoobi sharpener with Emojis all over it. I’m not always clear on what happens with sharpeners at school, but I make sure she’s equipped with her own. This one doesn’t look like it will last the year, but she likes it. And it’s good practice.

Yoobi triangular pencils for the classroom. Students were each supposed to bring 48 pencils, with the recommendation being Ticonderoga: “a good investment.” I understand why they suggested these, but I also, ahem, know at least as much about pencils as whomever made this list. I like how “Yoobi gives,” and Charlotte likes their colors. So we brought these for he Big Pile. For the record, they were about the same prices as Ticonderogas and USA Golds on the day that we bought them.

Super cute and alarmingly sharp scissors. Charlotte always loses those silly caps, and these have a nice texture on the handle.

(Posted these photos from my phone and went overboard on the filter. Sorry!)

Rainy Day Art Date.

Escaped for a quick art date with my two older kids on a rainy Saturday. Realized how busy August was, with a lack of updates. But we’re back now.

Plumbago, Volume II.

If you don’t listen to the Erasable Podcast and are not a member of our ever-growing Facebook group, maybe you missed the first issue of Plumbago, the zine edited by Comrade Andy Welfle. You’re in luck. Issue II is about to drop:

At long last, Plumbago is back! At 36 pages long, this zine will be chock-full of writing and illustration. We’re celebrating the spirit of the hackwing; what we call a pencil modded from its original design to suit the user’s style and usage preferences. You’re buying a pre-order to help fund the printing and distribution of this zine.

Just a few features you’ll find here:

– “What I’ve Learned from Field Notes”: A piece by urban sketcher Tina Koyama
– “Rabbinic Musings in Graphite”: about how pencils aid in the intense study environs of rabbi school by Mordechai Lightstone
– “How to Keep Score at a Baseball Game Using a Pencil”: A piece by Gregory Dresser
– “Are You *Too* Obsessed with Stationery:” A quiz to help you measure your sickness
– A comic by the Mad Penciler
– An editorial by Dr. J. Frank, encouraging you to lovingly destroy your pencils
– And lots, lots more.

Pre-order the upcoming second issue, and you will get a PDF of the first issue and maybe another little surprise too. Hurry, and click here to get  your copy, while they last!

Review of Write Notepads Pencil Pouch.

I have never reviewed a piece of Pencil Storage Gear before. I have a few metal and wood boxes, cups, jars, Longaberger baskets, Ikea carts, and pencil cases storing pencils I keep in the rotation. These do not include The Archive. It’s daunting and a testament to my lack of self-control.

Last time I visited Write Notepads & Co. (about a month ago), Chris handed me one of these blue beauties, and I’ve been using it ever since: The Pencil Pouch. There’s not a lot of information about this item on the Write Notepads website, but this is what they say:

We’ve looked long and hard for a zipper pouch that keeps our pencils and utensils in one neat and tidy closure. In the Write vein, we’ve convinced America’s oldest (originator) producer of secure bank bags to produce a water-resistant pencil pouch for us.

-Made 100% in the USA

-5″ x 10″

-Duck cotton with a polymer liner for water-resistance.

-Navy Blue with White screen-printing.

I have been beating this up for a month, and I don’t think you can tell. This pouch is beefy, large, minimalist, and useful all all get-out. I love it.

The Pencil Pouch is made by A. Rifkin Co. in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania — a town with strong pencil connections. The material is much stiffer than the pencilcase I picked up for Charlotte’s back-to-school mountain of supplies this past weekend, but it isn’t much thicker. The tight weave and the interior coating give the sides of the case a nice body.

So while the construction feels really tough, it’s not a bulky case at all. And the coated interior will make cleaning up graphite residue much easier.

The zipper is heavy, glossy, and black. I usually have a little giraffe zipper-pull on mine, and it hasn’t taken off the paint yet. I haven’t gotten the zipper stuck yet, and the stiffness of the material of which the case is made holds the zipper teeth at such an angle that I doubt there will every be an issue with misalignment resulting in a Seize-Up.

This case holds it all. Comrades can fit an entire Blackwing Volumes set in there, subscriber tube and all. It can more than an unsharpened Blackwing, which is not something all pencil cases can boast.

Here it is with a set of Walden/Thoreau books and a crab mallet. You could easily fit 2-3 crabs in there with it this stuff. But make sure to zip it closed very quickly.

I like pencilcases that will also hold whatever notebook I am using — not to mention any Pencil Paraphernalia I might need or want or just have in there. I prefer not to carry a bag on the rare occasions that I get out of the house without a single kid in tow, and I like to just grab everything inside of one case for a quiet jaunt to the coffeeshop or park or just Place Without Yelling. To wit, this is what was contained in my case this weekend, though I most emphatically did not get out with this (it would have been on Instagram!).

The two Blackwings, WNP pencil, stub of General’s Cartooning pencil, pocketknife, notebook, and tiny eraser all fit inside, with room to spare.

However, extra room does not mean that the items were not well-protected. The stiffness of the case does not permit it flop around when it’s only half-full. I’ve taken this out with only two pencils, a sign pen, and a Field Notes (!) in it in the recent past, and it was fine.

This case hits the right notes for me. It’s attractive, durable, easy to clean, roomy (but also works 1/2 empty), made in the USA, and blue. The $15 price-tag is a steal in my book. I just paid 1/3 for a kitty pencilcase for my daughter that won’t last a 1/5 as long as this case. Go get one. After you place your order, be sure to check out Leadfast’s photo-shoot with the Pencil Pouch and Fred’s patch post.

[This pouch was provided as a gift for free, but we chose to impartially review it. All opinions are the author’s.]

48 Sharpened Ticonderoga Pencils.

Charlotte’s school says that I am to bring in 48 pre-sharpened Ticonderoga pencils, because they are super high-quality. The current Chinese-made ones are very nice, but I really resist the idea that the brand makes something special in this situation. I am extremely tempted to send her to school with 48 nice pencils, none of which are Ticonderoga, just to be a poophead. 

Either way, of course, she’s going to school with her pencil case loaded with very excellent, hand-picked pencils from Daddy’s stash.

In Praise of Moleskines.


I’ve been working on (and off) a review of the Moleskine Voyageur travel journal, and my thoughts about Moleskines in general kept slowing me down.

I turned the later into their own essay, and the good folks at The Cramped published it last week.

“I am writing to praise what’s become — to my mind — the humble Moleskine. The brand seems to be flourishing these days. There are always more licensed editions to buy, more planner options, more colors, more accessories. There is even a Moleskine café, and I will marry whomever whisks me away there. While I feel like Civilians are as into Moleskines as ever, within the fancy stationery community (and especially the stationery blogger community), Moleskine can be a dirty word. I might even be guilty of writing them off, but — for me — it all started with a Moleskine.”

Read more, and thanks again to Patrick and Shawn!