Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part IV.

Part III was not It. Not over. Cause it ain’t over. From Stephen and Hunter, we are happy to present Part IV in what has become a very popular series among pencil fans.
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Father and Son Pencil Review IV: What? IV?

For all three of you following Hunter’s and my pencil review trilogy, you’ll recall that in our “final chapter” I had promised there would be no more installments. When it comes to promises, though, sometimes life intervenes. After Hunter and I finished making the rounds of the pencil talk shows, after we’d given interviews on BBC World News, Fox News, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, after we’d hosted Saturday Night Live, the residuals eventually dried up and Hunter and I found ourselves living on the streets in taped-together half-gross boxes of Dixon Ticonderogas.

We’d resigned ourselves to our fate, but then I remembered how Sean Connery had famously said he’d “never” do another James Bond film after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Yet he returned not only for Diamonds Are Forever but also the unofficial and aptly titled Never Say Never Again. Hey . . . we could be like James Bond! Ah . . . perhaps not.

In fact, not much of the above is true other than the bit about James Bond. What really happened is Mr. Gary Varner at Notegeist had a sale, and I thought, what the heck, I’ve been wanting to try the Palomino ForestChoice #2 because I kept reading how much other people liked them. And then I saw he also had the Field Notes No. 2 pencils on sale, and I didn’t think I’d like them but people kept saying how much they enjoyed them, and then Gary also had the Staedtler 123 60 2 HBs on sale. They caught my eye because, like the General’s Cedar Pointes, they appear to be unfinished though the Staedtlers take the concept to the extreme; they have neither eraser nor end cap. I didn’t think I’d like them but Gary unhelpfully wrote on his site something like “these are hard to get in the U.S.” So there was this aura of rarity, and I felt guilty about how I had previously called the Mars Lumograph an “icy German,” and now we had the formula Good Sale + No Self-Discipline = Purchase. So I threw that infuriating new Staedtler into the cart, too.

When I confessed to Hunter that I’d purchased three new varietals, I told him we wouldn’t do a fourth review. I told him we’ll just try them out but not run them through the ranking. Hunter said “OK” but then he looked at me a fraction of a second too long, which caused me to say “Well maybe we should” and he quickly nodded his head “yes.” Argh.

We’ve ranked our pencils in terms of the overall quality and darkness of the line they leave as well as how effortlessly they move across the paper. Our rankings do not take into account aesthetics or how long pencils hold their points. We’ve previously provided thoughts on which pencils we really like once we throw in livability and aesthetics and will do that again at the end of this review. Finally, we have always tested on both hard and soft surfaces by using legal pads and a couple of sheets of paper on a hard surface.

Our previous ranking encompassing 18 pencils lined up as follows:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
  2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
  3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
  4. Tombow 2558 HB
  5. Palomino Blackwing 602
  6. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  7. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  8. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
  9. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  10. Faber-Castell 9000 2B
  11. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
  12. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
  13. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
  14. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
  15. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
  16. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
  17. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB
  18. U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

Before I remark on the new entrants, I’d like a moment of silence for our dearly departed sweetheart, the General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1. Thanks to Johnny’s tip about this pencil, and Gary Varner’s addition of this selection to his site, I purchased a box and felt I had finally found a made-in-America pencil with which I could settle happily into a long-term relationship.

So of course, General Pencils Company promptly announced the end of the line for the #1, the finest item to ever come out of their factory. Gary Varner learned General sold fewer than 100 dozen last year, and it appeared the boxes we’d run across were probably very old stock they were still trying to sell off. General hadn’t even bothered to make a dedicated box for the #1s, instead plastering #2 boxes with #1 stickers. I did manage to snap up a few remaining boxes but it seems the entire Internet is devoid of available remaining stock. Still, I’m better off for having known this delightful and woefully underappreciated bit of cedar and graphite. Unfortunately, it now joins the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 as a representative of the past in our ranking.

Where do these three new entrants place? Hunter and I suspected the ForestChoice would outrank the Staedtler which would do better than the Field Notes, and we were right. But how did they fare against the returning veterans? Here is the final, and I do mean final, ranking of 21 pencils:

  1. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B
  2. Tombow Mono 100 2B
  3. Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602
  4. Tombow 2558 HB
  5. Palomino Blackwing 602
  6. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  7. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  8. Staedtler Noris 122 HB
  9. Staedtler Norica HB 2
  10. Palomino ForestChoice #2
  11. Faber-Castell 9000 2B
  12. Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB
  13. Staedtler 123 60 2 HB
  14. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1
  15. Palomino Blue Golden Bear #2
  16. Field Notes No. 2
  17. Dixon Ticonderoga HB 2
  18. Musgrave Test Scoring 100
  19. General’s Semi-Hex 498-2 HB
  20. General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 2 HB
  21. U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB

I’ve always believed the Staedtlers to be sneaky little devils. Note how they cling together in tight little bunches. It’s a curious pattern that only encourages suspicion.

We really liked the ForestChoice and I’m happy it sailed past the Cedar Pointe #333 – 1. Now there’s a naked-looking pencil I like that will probably be around for a while. And hey, you can get these things for less than $30 a gross. The ForestChoice appears to have a thin layer of clear lacquer unlike the truly bare General’s, and I was surprised to see a “Made in Thailand” imprint on the barrel, but it’s a fine pencil that stands just fine on its own as a spokesmodel for CalCedar.

Hunter and I like ending our reviews with a list of 21. Would you like to know, though, what we list as our top five pencils for daily writing use (this question is rhetorical, because I’ll tell you anyway)? These are lists of our favorites we’d live with day in and day out, so aesthetics, point-holding abilities and other less tangible qualities come into play. Here is where Hunter and I drift apart a little bit. Hunter’s ranking of his top five daily writers:

  1. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  2. Palomino Blackwing 602
  3. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  4. Tombow 2558 HB
  5. Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B

Wow. Hunter placed the Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB at the very top of his list. Sacrilegious, no? He loves the blue nicely lacquered finish with the clean design including the classy gold stipe and ferrule. And he said the white eraser is excellent.

It was very difficult for me to pick out my top five daily writers. If I didn’t stipulate our top five must include currently available pencils, the General’s Cedar Pointe #333 – 1 would be my #5. Since I have to leave it out, my substitute is a sacrifice of sharpening frequency for both looks and writing quality.

  1. Palomino Blackwing 602
  2. Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB
  3. Mitsubishi 9850 HB
  4. Palomino ForestChoice #2
  5. Tombow Mono 100 2B

Hunter and I share three pencils in our top five daily writer lists. The Tombow 2558 HB and Mitsubishi Hi Uni 2B require more frequent sharpening than I prefer, but for Hunter the writing quality made this an easy tradeoff.

Hunter and I agreed prior to beginning the review that we would not do another comparison of all the pencils to see if our order had shifted yet again. But as we worked our way up from the bottom with the three newcomers, when I hit that Musgrave Test Scoring 100 I tried to convince Hunter to just put the blasted thing at the bottom. Hunter held his ground and said that if you get past the point breaking and crumbling, it writes well compared to the three below it. In my opinion, the Musgrave is hopeless. It’s virtually unusable. My wife wandered into our review while I was griping about the pencil, snatched it out of my hand and immediately said “this pencil is uncomfortable.” But we’ll leave it where it landed previously because Hunter is 17 years old and feels like he no longer has to listen to his father.

One follow-up to the U.S.A. Gold Natural 2 HB: In our last review, I commented on the unusual finger-jointed slats. I don’t know if this manufacturing process induces this weakness, but I accidentally discovered that approximately 1/3 of my box of 12 were significantly warped. As in won’t-even-roll-across-the-desk warped. That’s a problem. Those warped pencils ended up in the supply cabinet at work because, of course, you just can’t throw away pencils, even if they are shaped like bananas.

Why are pencils so fascinating to some people? You may have read Adventures in Stationery: A Journey through Your Pencil Case by James Ward. It is an excellent book, and its U.S. version has now been published, titled The Perfection of the Paperclip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius, and Stationery Obsession. Mr. Ward spectacularly summed up the obsession some folks have with not just pencils but office products in general:

For some people (myself included) buying new stationery is a joy. Visiting a stationery store, you are surrounded by potential; it’s a way of becoming a new person, a better person. Buying this set of index cards and these page markers means I’ll finally become the organized person I always wanted to be. Buying this notebook and this pen means I’ll finally write that novel.

He rephrased these thoughts in an interview on Post Office Shop’s blog:

 I think part of the appeal of stationery is that it has this sense of potential. When you walk into a stationery shop, everything in there could change your life. This notebook could be the one in which you write that novel that you’ve always wanted to write. These files and folders could help you finally sort out your paperwork and get organized. This highlighter and set of Post-it Notes could help you pass that exam. That sense of potential is magical.

He’s on to something there, at least in my case. Maybe that’s why we just added three pencils (but no more!!) to our ranked list. Just in case we hadn’t yet run across the pencil that would change everything for us; that would make everything better; that would allow us to become our most perfect selves. Or, maybe, this is just a way to procrastinate, suggests James in The Independent:

When you want to get organised, says Ward, the first thing you do is come into a shop like this and buy all the stuff that helps you get organised. It’s a way of assuaging your guilt over your own inactivity. It makes you feel like you’ve done something, when all you’ve actually done is buy a pack of Post-it notes. But there’s also inherent beauty in this stuff, he adds. A simplicity of design, a pristine quality.

I’m not much for introspection so I’ll leave it for others to analyze my motivations. All I know is that I still like the Palomino Blackwing 602. That’s all I need. And the Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB. The Palomino Blackwing 602, The Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB, and that’s all I need. And the Mitsubishi 9850. That’s all I need. I don’t need one other thing. Not one . . . I need the Palomino ForestChoice #2. The Palomino Blackwing 602, the Palomino Blue Eraser-Tipped HB, the . . . .

[—–>Thanks to Stephen and Hunter for their tireless work and for sharing it with the rest of us!<—–]

6 thoughts on “Father and Son Pencil Ranking, Part IV.”

  1. Thank you for your fun and informative reviews on all these great pencils. I recommend that you actually do quit your day jobs and take your incisive pencil testing on the road. Could be a much needed boon to the industry, now seeing that General’s has abandoned their nifty No. 1 Cedar Pointe. Sad. Anyway, regarding the Palomino Blackwings (all three of them), I think that their erasers aren’t very good. In fact, they suck. They do not clearly erase the fine lines their graphite ends leave behind. Same goes with the erasers on their Palomino cousins. Have you found this to be the case?

    1. Hi Dean,

      Glad you’ve enjoyed the reviews! I agree the Palomino Blackwing erasers are not very good. Although I’ve purchased replacement pink erasers for the 602s, I haven’t tried them yet, but Hunter said they are definitely better. He ranks the pink best, black 2nd, and white dead last. As far as the other Palominos go, all I can comment on is the Palomino Blue eraser-tipped HB. We agree its white eraser is still not great, but it seems to be better than the Blackwings. If you were to put it in a matchup with the white eraser on the Mitsubishi 9850 HB, well, the Mitsubishi eraser would blow it away.

      So, obviously, my love for the other qualities outweighs my ambivalence toward the Palominos’ erasers.

  2. Hurrah! Is this Pencil Rankings: A New Hope, then..?

    I really enjoy these articles!

    Anyway, the point re: Stationery Shops, I think, for me, it’s the hope that if I discover the *perfect* pencil, sketchbook, set of pastels, paints &c, it will finally enable the transfer of my thoughts to paper. That quoted line about assuaging guilt speaks, nay, sings to me – I should practice more, I should find the time to draw and paint instead of (for instance) re-watching Battlestar Galactica. But on the other hand, maybe a different 2B is the key to it all…

    1. Exactly, John. It’s not our fault. We’ll get started as soon as we get the right tool. That’s all. But, maybe we should spend some time researching this . . . wouldn’t want a false start just because we didn’t expend a little extra energy up front to make sure we had the correct implements the first time around.

  3. I’m kinda new to all of this. And kind quite grasp what the difference is between Uni and Hi-Uni pencils. They look like they’re made from the same company. Or is one a knock-off of the other? Please give details.

    1. They are indeed made by the same company. The Hi-Uni is a more expensive model that some find justifies the price. It’s like a fancier version of the Uni and the Uni-Star.

      (Hope that’s helpful.)

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