[This post comes from Official Contributor Stephen Watts, with the help of his sons!]
You may have read rumors the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 3B or 4B has the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. I’ve often wondered about this and finally managed to procure Microtomics in the 4B, 3B and, for good measure, 2B grades in order to prove or disprove the rumor.
My son Hunter and I have partnered in a few pencil and pencil sharpener reviews. For this comparison, we brought in a second son and third brain, Hunter’s fraternal twin brother Garrett.
We took turns comparing the Blackwing with the 4B, then the 3B, then the 2B. After the three of us sampled each pair, we shared our thoughts on whether or not the core was the same: Yes, Maybe, Probably Not, No.
All three of us immediately agreed the 2B did not share the same core as the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602; it was obviously harder and scratchier in comparison. Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer to the Blackwing than the 3B; I thought the 3B was closer but I was a “maybe.”
We tried a different approach: We took turns comparing three pencils, the 3B, 4B and 602 with the task being to decide which of these Microtomics was closer, rather than possibly identical to the 602. We had similar results: Hunter and Garrett felt the 4B was closer; I felt the 3B was closer but I wasn’t sure. If a “yes” is one point and a “maybe” is a half point, we were left with an 83% probability the 4B was closer than the 3B to the 602.
We then re-ran the 4B and 602 comparison to determine specifically whether or not they were the same core. Hunter said “yes.” But, in one of those moments when time stands still, we even freaked out the dog when I said “yes” and Garrett said “maybe.” This gave us an 83% probability the Microtomic 4B core is the same as an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Garrett stated the difference was so slight he wasn’t sure it was real or imagined. Hunter and I have previously experienced that effect with the same model and grade pencils. When the difference is that negligible it could be due to imagination, variations in production runs, the state of the points or even odd spots in the graphite. It certainly seemed to us that the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 4Bs and Blackwing 602s use the same graphite mixture.
Don’t get too giddy. In the last year I’ve seen thousands of Blackwing 602s for sale but only a handful of Microtomic 4Bs. The 4Bs, although less expensive if you can find them, are rarely spotted in the wild.
An interesting side note on the Microtomic 4B used in this comparison: It came in a box I’ve never seen before, one I would guess dates to the 1950s. Take a close look at the ferrule: It has a knurled ring. I hadn’t run across one of these before. I thought the Blackwings, Van Dykes and Microtomics shared the same ferrules, but I have not seen this knurled effect on any other Blackwings, Van Dykes or Microtomics.
A rare ferrule housed in a rare box, possibly serving as a stealth delivery system for the most coveted graphite in the world.
Initially, we concluded this myth to be “CONFIRMED” but fortunately, truth intervened.
Sean Malone of Blackwing Pages fame contacted me after running across our thoughts on the Erasable Facebook community. He had the same question regarding the Microtomic and Blackwing cores and he has the real answer, straight from the closest thing to the source: the source’s son. Sean visited Eberhard Faber IV last year. Mr. Faber told Sean the Blackwing core’s formula was invented by his father and is not the same as any of the Microtomic cores.
If I were you, and I were trying to decide whether to believe our test results or the statement of the creator’s son . . . I’d go with the fellow named “Eberhard Faber.”
Sean also asked Eberhard Faber IV if the Blackwing formula might have changed over time: “I asked him if there was any chance that the BW formula had changed over the years, given that the older ones seem a bit softer and darker than the later ones. He said it wasn’t unusual for a formula to be tweaked or updated over the years.”
If you are fortunate enough to obtain both a Microtomic 4B and Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, try your own comparison and you’ll see why the rumors persist. Thanks to Sean Malone, we now know that, while strikingly similar, they are unique formulations.
We conclude this myth to be “BUSTED!”
(Thanks to the Watts for another great post!)