Review of PaperMate American Naturals.


Personally, I have always been a sucker for pencils, but I really got interested in them last summer after reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Walter Harding’s biography of Henry David Thoreau, The Days of Henry Thoreau. I immediately got the urge to write with some graphite. There were some junky yellow pencils around the apartment, but I wanted something nicer and not yellow. So I popped out to the shop and picked up a dozen Papermate American Naturals pencils, because I liked the lack of a finish on the wood and the blue foil lettering. So it is only natural that this review comes next.

The technical stuff:
Material: Some non-cedar, white wood that smells like grade school.
Shape: Hexagonal.
Finish: Unfinished.
Ferrule: Plain metal.
Eraser: Pink vinyl.
Core: HB (#2) graphite. Ceramic, non-waxed.
Markings: Blue Foil. “PAPERMATE AMERICAN NATURALS.”
Packaging: Varies. Usually a cardboard box of ten or a dozen. Also avaiable in twelve dozen (one gross) boxes.
Origin: Jelutong (or Pulai, similar species; both grow in Indonesia), manufactured in Lewisburg, Tennessee, USA.
Availability: Widely available in office supply stores and online. Office Max is your best bet.


Considering that the target market for this pencil is “children and schools” and that some companies seem to (for some reason) market junk to kids for pencils, these pencils are a pretty nice find. The core is dark, and as my friend Dan in Baltimore puts it, “They feel right in your hand.” The plain wood, blue letters and plain ferrule combine to make one attractive pencil. The sanding is not as smooth as some unfinished pencils, but it is made up for by the fact that you can get a serious grip on this pencil. Whether you are sweating or whether you just ate half of a pizza, the raw wood will stay put in your paw. I’ve done some long writing with these, and they work just fine. Sharpening is smooth and clean, almost as much as cedar.

The two major drawbacks of this pencil are the smeariness of the core and the terrible eraser. While considerably dark, the core tends to smear onto your hands, the opposite page, and anything else that comes near it. While pencil marks will last until you actually erase them, this is not always so with this graphite. It is also considerably brittle and dry and almost feels like charcoal at times. The eraser is probably the worst pencil eraser I have ever tried to use. It is billed as being smear-proof, but all it really does is smear the graphite around the page and make a mess of itself. Of course, one could object that this is because the core smears. But I tested erasing the markings of this pencil with a nice Pink Pearl, and it did just fine. Similary, I erased some Forest Choice with the eraser, and it made the same mess, which we know is not from the Forest Choice core.

However, for the price ($1-2) a dozen and the ease of availability, American Naturals are still pretty good pencils, largely because of the finish. I tend to like them for putting behind my ear while reading a novel or running around the library, and I almost never read Hemingway’s more adventuresome novels without an American Naturals pencil behind my ear or between my teeth.

April 2006 appendix:

Comrade Ashley has this advice to offer:

[Comrades] have mentioned several times the deplorable, inexcusable excuse for an eraser that is found on PaperMate American #2 pencils.

Recently in a pencil pinch (on vacation), I bought some of these pencils. As
pleasantly surprised as I was by the lead (dark and soft), and the matte,
easily gripped lacquer, I was nevertheless devastated by those erasers! I came
up with the following two solutions:

1) Remove the bad erasers and replace with good erasers from other pencils that I do not like or use.

2) Place the ferrule of the PaperMate pencil beneath my heel, I snap it off
and replace with an eraser cap. I remove the ferrule to compensate for the
imbalance and weight of the eraser caps.

[Photos copyright John 2005.]

25 Replies to “Review of PaperMate American Naturals.”

  1. Another excellent review. The American Naturals don’t sound, however, as if they compare favorably to the Forest Choice pencils. Given the smearing and the poor eraser noted in the review, I think I’ll stick to the Forest Choice pencils.

  2. Speaking of kids and schools, maybe you could review the old standard Dixon Ticonderogas. My wife bought me box because, being a former 1st grade teacher, she said these pencils worked the best for her kids. She mainly bought them for me because she knew I had not bought any new pencils since I started to regularly read the blog. It is nice to use the pencil again.

  3. The wood used in these American Naturals is Jelutong (or Pulai which is a similar species. Both grow in Indonesia. Traditionally the American & American Classic pencils of was part of Eberhard Faber line later acquired by Faber-Castell USA and used cedar as well as other higher quality materials.

    Once Newell’s Sanford division acquired Faber Castell USA and a year later Empire-Berol they were left with many different pencil lines of similar qualities. As they worked to rationalize the various brands around a good-better-best set they repositioned the American brand at the lower end for wood cased pencils changing eraser, ferrule, wood. Transitioning from Eberhard Faber name to Sanford and finally PaperMate once they acquired this brand. As Prevo iindicates The American line is designed to be good enough for the price.

  4. And I’ll bet these are the very same pencils that are sold as Canadiana Naturals here. I wasn’t impressed, but being European, I’ve never liked pencils with erasers attached. The balance is all shot, and we weren’t supposed to use erasers at school anyway.

  5. Has anyone reviewed Focus natural finish round pencils? Are they available any more? Who makes them? They have a metallic blue ferrule and a white eraser. I have maybe 15 of them and don’t remember if they were from a major brand. Just curious.

  6. Have grown fond of the EF American Naturals. Of course, they are nowhere to be found in Baltimore once I discovered them and need to reorder .Now I’m done my gross, and the replacement Papermate American Naturals have such a smudgy eraser, I thought they were just old rubber. Appears not so…all my EF’s have worn down erasers…the Papermates…well, forget the eraser

  7. Anyone notice the subtle difference in lead when they changed over to PaperMate? The Sanford ones i have dont smear quite as much and the eraser is better. When the papermates came along i had to stop buying these pencils because it just got worse with every batch i picked up.

  8. I don’t understand how Papermate can brag about the quality of woods used on their pencils, then turn around and put a lousy stub of plastic in the tip to resemble a “real” eraser. It actually fooled me “visually” into thinking it worked like an eraser should, so I ordered them for our department. I used it on an important legal draft–what a mess!!YUCK! I thought “one bad one in the batch” are you kidding??? They’re all bunk. How stupid do you think consumers are??? Poor 2nd graders! I’m spreading the word! For now on… SMUDGE PROOF PENCILS ONLY!!

  9. I have 29 second grade students and pencil quality is a MAJOR problem. I sharpened 72 papermate yellow pencils. Of the 72, 21 would not sharpen and another 12 sharpened with only a very small amount lead peaking beyond the wood. A child won’t be able to write much more than there name with those. That leaves only 39 decent pencil. Pretty poor but better than the Chinese and vietnam pencils which are totally worthless! Ticonderogas fare better in our studies.

    1. Yes, the Dixon Ticonderoga and Mirado Brands are by far the best Premium Pencils yet. Try Pencil.com, they got good Pencils for cheap like some Palomino Brands.

  10. I have batches of different generations of Eberhard Faber, Sanford and PaperMate American Naturals. Sanford American Naturals are by far the best: the softest graphite and darkest line, the finest feel and smell of the wood casing, the smoothest sharpening. The Eberhards have the strongest wood, but very light line; PaperMates vary a lot: some have better wood than others; some have light lines, others are softer and darker. I don’t care about the eraser–you can always use Sanford magic Rub, the best by far, or simply strike your text. I wish I could find the old Sanford American Naturals; please email me if you have any leads (lmazen@yahoo.com).

    1. You gotta keep looking. What You’re looking for will eventually come up for Sale. After all these Years, I’ve finally found and bought the Sanford Logo 1 and 2. The Pencil itself is rare and hard to find; a little pricy too!

  11. Maybe the Pencils where a defect. I’ve always said that the quality of the Eraser should match the quality of the Pencil. you will not find a poor Eraser on most Mechanical Pencils!

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