Comrade Dan is always on the lookout for old office tools. He recently sent these images from Pencil Revolution’s Mayfield Outpost, where he found them in The Garage under some tools and building materials.
He tells us that it worked well without hesitation despite being of unknown age and origin. There’s an old, apocryphal story from the fall 2000. In this story, your humble editor attempts to shoot someone playfully with a staple gun on the set of a play and, instead, shoots it straight into his (my) left palm (the gun discharged from the opposite end, it turned out). Dan pulled the staple out with a multi-tool, in this story. But I think it inspired his career choice as a fireman and EMT.
In 2011, when the Palomino Blackwing 602 came out, Pencils.Com graciously sent us a box. I was literally about to move (I think they came on moving day) from one apartment to another, and we never reviewed them. Add to that the plethora of reviews already out and some controversy. Inspired by the upcoming Blackwing Pearl, I think I’m finally ready to throw my review out there. But what can I say about the Palomino Blackwing 602 that hasn’t already been said? It’s beautiful and smooth and features a unique ferrule and eraser. The cedar is top-notch, and Comrades are sure to start conversations using one in public or at work.
When I review a pencil, usually there is one thing that is the star of the pencil. USA Gold and Silver pencils, which we reviewed recently, feature their nice cores as the star. Some pencils feature a wonderful core and also impressive finishes, such as the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and, say, a Staedtler Lumograph 100 or Faber-Castell Castell 9000. Some pencils feature something unique, like the dyed leads in a No Blot “ink pencil.” The Blackwing 602 is different. Its starring attributes are its appearance, its core and its “different” features (the squared ferrule/eraser).
What I like best about the finish of the Blackwing 602 is that the color and sheen mirror graphite itself. Rare are the photos that really capture its sheen. (I can’t do it.) I know next to nothing about lacquers, but it looks like several layers are used here, different colors that blend together for the sheen. The stamping is crisp (but doesn’t last long; see below), featuring the famous slogan, “HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED,” and the graphics are gracefully few. It does not suffer from the “flaking” that plagued the first Palomino Blackwing. It’s gorgeous.
The core is just, wow. It’s hard to describe the darkness because I find that I can get a lot of different tones out of this pencil, depending on the pressure I use and the pointing method. Sharpened in The Machine and written with normal pressure, this core produces dark, crisp lines. With a shorter point and less pressure, it feels like a smooth sketching pencil. Pressing with a long point produces seriously dark lines which resist smearing impressively. I’ve read that it mirrors other cores in the Palomino line, but I find the…color of the core a little different. It’s “colder” somehow, looking a little more blue-ish than other leads, where I find the Palomino range to be a little “warm.” Certainly, there are other cores out there that feel a little like the Blackwing 602. But, to me, nothing feels exactly like it, for better or worse. Certainly, this is not the only pencil that makes me feel that way. I suspect that users of the original Blackwing 602 may feel that way about the discontinue model. I see that Eberhard and Faber-Castell Blackwing 602s still fetch pre-Palomino Blackwing prices on eBay. I don’t own one myself, to compare them. Point retention, for the darkness, is fantastic. I can get a few pages out of a long point without resorting to shorting the pencil again.
The eraser and ferrule are, truly, just cool. But they are not the selling point for me. The sharp piece that holds the eraser into the ferrule pokes me when I use the Blackwing 602 as a Pocket Pencil sometimes, and it does make using a short pencil a little uncomfortable because rotating the barrel to keep a point gets hitched by the square ferrule between my thumb and index finger. But, like I said, it’s too cool for me to be bothered by it. And it does start conversations, some of which have led to me confessing to having a pencil blog (hello to you if you got here that way!).
I don’t find that the eraser is, well, sufficient for the pencil in which it is housed. It works well enough. But scratchy pencils “work” well enough, and this is certainly not one of those. This is a Blackwing. I’m not sure what such a worthy eraser would be like or how one could get a Mars or Faber-Castell plastic eraser onto a pencil (are they too soft?). While I have long been a fan of Cal Cedar’s pencils (we featured the first Palomino review ever in 2005), I have always been disappointed in their erasers. Truly, I rarely use erasers on pencils anyway. I usually strike-thru when I make a mistake, and half of the time, I’m carrying an eraser-free pencil anyway.
I do have a few other minor gripes with the Blackwing 602. The gold stamping, as others have mentioned, does come off freakishly easily. The “regular” Palominos in Cal Cedar’s range only exhibit this after some serious use. I assume that it’s possible to “fix” the printing better. The pretty ferrules on a few of mine have small gaps between the finish and the ferrule; they show a little naked wood. This is strange on such a premium pencil.
These days, I am completely tickled by any pencils that come in a box (not a blister pack). Don’t get me wrong. But the box holding the Blackwing 602s is a little flimsy. The newer Golden Bear and Prospector boxes are sturdy, and the plastic boxes that now house Palominos are very nice. I wonder if my Blackwing Pearls will come in a different box? The Blackwing line should have the best boxes in Cal Cedar’s line-up, I think.
Sure, Blackwing 602s are expensive for pencils. But these are something entirely different from what one thinks of when we think of a “pencil,” no? These are well-crafted and useful objects for writing and drawing, not scratchy yellow pencils to stick in a forgotten cup for the occasional crossword puzzle. I assume that most people who have wanted to try these have already done so by now. But, if not, I think they really are worth $20 a dozen. I use mine to little nubs.
Selected reviews from other sites, in alphabetical order (certainly not a complete list):
No Pen Intended
Office Supply Geek
I certainly don’t mean to open a Hipster Shooting Gallery, firing at hipsters or other people. Nor — given the fact that hipsters seem to adopt things I like (beards, rye whiskey, bikes, etc.) and the subsequent fact that I probably look like an older and wider hipster — do I necessarily exclude myself from the School of the Hip. Even if I’d rather be counted out.
But I have noticed something that I’m sure many Comrades have noticed. There’s this whole “artisanal” and “craft” and “small-batch” movement going on. There’s no question. But I’ve noticed that pencils are fitting into this in bigger and bigger ways. Pencils are showing up more and more in advertising for products and services aimed at the hip crowd. I read somewhere (I forget where) that a lot of the low-fi stationery trends are “hipsterish” and that brands like Field Notes have been extra successful as a result.* To be sure, the shops that seem to cater to hipsters around my house all have a decent stationery section.
If paper is cool, certainly no ordinary writing implements will do. No Bics or gel pens. Wood and graphite and the accoutrements/accouterments thereof all the way! Take this ad (above) from a local watering hole in Baltimore. There are myriad examples I will let Comrades find on their own, for enjoyment and/or scoffing and/or edification.
I live in a pretty hip spot, and there are benefits (good coffee shops, stores with stationery) and obnoxiousness (kids telling you about the neighborhood in which you grew up like their discovered it). I’m waiting to hear someone in expensively battered boots wax philosophical about the benefits of using a “simple” pencil’s eraser as a smartphone stylus in our of our hipper coffeeshops.
I’ve been known to employ Blackwing erasers on my non-smart-but-touch-screen-phone. But never in public.
*[I might point out that Field Notes have also been successful because of their level of service.]
Hen sent some very nice pencils for my daughter this week, and I realized how great it is to run a blog like this one. I am fortunate to be on the receiving end of folks all over the world just being plain NICE.
Since this blog started in summer 2005, I have been lucky enough to:
- Try new pencils before they come out and even to try some pencils that never quite made it to the market
- Receive wonderful packages of pencils varying from pencils we just can’t get in the USA (from Daniel in Brazil, Dave in New Zealand, Matthias in the UK, Hen from Rad and Hungry), to very cool vintage pencils, to very nice pencil gear (Shane from Utah)
- Receive encouragement from folks when times get tough & the trolls get tougher
- Connect with pencil and stationery enthusiasts all over; I have quite a few internet friends I would otherwise never know
- Learn! I’ve gotten recommendations for books, films and articles that have changed my thinking on many subjects (childhood summers, environmental issues, trade issues, etc.)
- Hoard pencils a bit; I won’t lie: our stationery stash contains a few dozen free pencils, notebooks and sketchbooks, a few sharpeners, some protectors, a book, etc.
- Share some art, writing, and reviews from very talented and generous Comrades who have reached out to us or been gracious when we’ve reached out to them
- Realize just how nice a lot of people can be, especially when they stick their necks out for you or heal with kind words
The last seven and a half years have been very different and much better for the folks I’ve come to know because of this humble blog, even when posting was…slow. Myriad thanks to everyone who has been kind to us with pencils or encouragement or compliments, to everyone who has shared their work, and to all of our dear Comrades the World Over who read this site and keep using pencils to record, to create and to inspire.
Harvard University is hosting an exploration of note-taking called TAKE NOTE. Comrades can view the exhibits online, if you are too far from Cambridge to see them in person. One of the exhibits features the Brazil notebook of one of my very favorite philosophers, William James, and Thoreau’s pencils are also on display. This exhibit and conference are among the myriad reasons I wish I could visit my home (Massachusetts) of two years this autumn.
There are various vessels containing pencils (and accoutrements) all over our house. This, one of the most recently added, was a box that held hankies (I bought the latter). I only realized recently that it holds pencils perfectly. It’s contained assorted stuff on my dresser for a few years and is pleasantly banged up. It also disguises some of the mess around HQ.
(My summer Field Notes are all full, all six.)
This is not especially pencil-related, but it is written by frequent Pencil Revolution contributor Brian Manning, who works at the central brand of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City. Folks calling the library Telephone Reference Service get their answers via paper books, contained on a custom-built device designed to make finding books faster and easier.
Call the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Telephone Reference Service (TRS) with a question—ranging from the correct spelling of “insurrection,” to what the heck is in scrapple?—and librarians are waiting to answer your questions using both computers and books. But while computers are prone to their glitches, fusses, and viruses, there is a tried-and-true partner for these information detectives that is spinning into its 45th year of operation: the information Wheel (a.k.a. “information carousel,” or “Lazy Susan”).
Despite the proliferation of computers in society in general and libraries in particular, computers cannot replaces the Information Wheel, “which is still a necessity in this modern age because the internet does not have a reputable answer for every question.”
We’re not making this up! Comrades can call 410-396-5430 to have their questions answered. Of course, let’s not jam up the lines and time of the hard-working folks at Charm City’s main library.
It’s no secret that John Steinbeck was one serious pencil user. Still, reading East of Eden recently, I found this passage about writing letters in pencil remarkable:
Tom opened the drawer and saw a table of Crane’s Linen Lawn and a package of envelopes to match and two gnawed and crippled pencils and in the dust[y]* corner at the back a few stamps. He laid out the tablet and sharpened the pencils with his pocketknife. 
There are several detailed pencil references, but another sticks out:
The writing stopped there. There was a scratch on the page and a splash of ink, and then it went on in pencil, but the writing was different. In pencil it said, “Later. Well, right there the pen give out. One of the points broke right off… “[34-5]
*(My centennial edition has quite a few typos, and I assume that’s one, too. Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.)