The Goldfield: Winter Release From Write Notepads & Co.


Joe Gans was the first African-American to hold a world boxing title. When he took home $11,000 from 1906’s Match of the Century in Goldfield, Nevada, he opened the Goldfield Hotel in Baltimore, where the main USPS center now sits near the Shot Tower. Gans was a legend in Baltimore, along with The Goldfield, where Eubie Blake played regular gigs and where Jack Johnson liked to hang out. Today, Gans is largely unsung in his native Baltimore, and Chris Rothe from Write Notepads & Co. has been part of an effort to change that for years. I hope I’m not giving away privileged information, but I know that this edition has been in the works for at least over a year, and I think the care that went into this edition shows.

The details from Write Notepads’ site:

Our winter 2017 pocket notebooks take users on a journey to the turn-of-the-century jazz club at The Goldfield, the exquisite hotel in Baltimore owned by boxing legend Joe Gans. The outer box is foil-stamped in 24kt gold on a spot-UV pattern. Each notebook echoes this Victorian-era pattern in a spot-varnish and features letter-pressed gold ink on an 80# black cover. Inside of the books, you will find 70#, bi-color ruled stock. These sets are proudly made in Baltimore, hometown of Joe Gans.

The box of these books is very stiff, and they arrived in perfect shape. The gloss of the varnish is difficult to photograph (not that I know anything about photography anyway), and the image of the boxer is perfect. The flap to open the box is improved in this model, too.

Inside, you are greeted by a card featuring Gans in front of the notebooks. This is a lovely touch, reminiscent of Lenore.

The notebooks have a subtle echo of the varnish on the covers and a heavily letter-pressed image stamped in gold on the front. I really like the choice of 80# stock here. Write Notepads pocket books have an initially stiff PUR binding and have more pages than other pocket notebooks. The 80# paper provides some flexibility and avoids over-killing the beefiness of the notebook.

Inside, Comrades will find a new paper: cream-colored with two colors. The horizontal lines are blue, while the vertical margins are red. The effect is lovely here, where bright white paper might be jarring.

The pencils are bridge pencils, which are thinner and shorter than regular pencils. Made in the USA by Musgrave, they sharpen well in a crank sharpener prone to producing longer points and also in the KUM Masterpiece (shown). These came out beautifully, and the tiny ferrules are as bright as holiday lights.

The extra in the deluxe pack (which also ships to members) is something you might spot, but I won’t comment on it. I was tickled when I got it though.

There’s something very…BALTIMORE about this release. We are not a city that gets a lot of positive attention, when we get noticed at all. Crime statistics and TV shows skew what it’s really like here on the ground. We live in a place full of hidden gems (like Blackwing beer) and fascinating stories. Poe is buried here, and we have the most literary of any name for a sports team. If Comrades ever pass through, you might find someone (ahem) very happy to share a coffee/tea/beer/water with you over some pencil chat.

Hurry, while you can buy the bridge pencils, the regular pack of notebooks, and the deluxe pack. And shipping is free until the end of the year.

*I feel like it at least deserves a footnote to mention that this is the first release from the major subscription/seasonal/membership models that is dedicated to a person of color. We’ve had two Blackwing Volumes dedicated to women, which is fantastic. I hope the trend continues toward honoring folks of all identities.

(These products are part of a membership paid for from PR funds, not a sample from Write Notepads & Co.)

Blackwing Volume 16.2.


Dedicated to Ada Lovelace, the Blackwing Volume 16.2 honors a mathematician whom many credit with creating the first computer program while writing about Charles Babbage’s Analytical Machine. These pencils feature a completely matte finish and the “firm” graphite from the Blackwing 602 (and 211, 56, 344, 205). The imprint is grey, and the erasers are white. On the flip side of the imprinted side of the hex is a faint binary pattern representing AAL, the initials Lovelace used when signing her work. The Volume number, according to the box, is “a nod to the Analytical Engine’s storage capacity of 16.2 kB.”

Last time around, I really liked the aesthetics of the pencil but not so much the tribute. It’s fantastic that Blackwing has honored another woman with a Volumes release.  Having a daughter who is into both art and science, I like where there is/could be going.

Aesthetics-wise, I like this pencil for two reasons and am “eh” about it for one. Let’s sandwich them. First, I really like the tactile result of a totally matte finish. It’s like the opposite of the gloss we often see/feel with pencils, and I really like the grip I can get. The paint feels a little thicker than most matte finishes I’ve encountered, too, thicker than Volume 1 even.

On the “eh” side, the pencil is deliberately understated, i.e., boring. It’s all black and white without even the gold ferrule from the original Pearl (before they changed the stamp to gold). The looks are “inspired by the simple styling of early personal computers,” but Blackwing did not go All In and just make these in beige (thankfully). But stark might be a better word, and it leads me to think of the incoming season — which brings me to the other positive about the aesthetics of this pencil.

I think that, like Volume 1, these function as Accidentally Seasonal Pencils. They are seriously wintry, more so than any other Blackwing Volumes release to date. The matte white evokes snow, and the matte ferrule has exactly the look of a glossy one that’s come in from the cold (seriously; try it). In that respect, I think some of my favorite quarterly releases from my various subscriptions/memberships are the ones that evoke their seasons. Blackwing has done a pleasing job of this each fall, and I’m glad that they have, even accidentally, given us a pencil that feels like the winter too. (Do I smell something grass green for spring? A Rachel Carson edition? Walt Whitman?)

Also, these look fantastic with the new Pearl editions of the lovely notebooks from Blackwing. This cannot be an accident.

Finally, subscribers got a really cool pencil in a tube honoring Cal Cedar’s 100th anniversary, and subscribers can purchase boxes later. These feature a natural finish and the Extra Firm graphite we found in Volumes 24 and 530.

Folks surrounding The Erasable Podcast have been calling for such a pencil for some time, and we hope that there’s a non-anniversary one (with silver ferrule and pink eraser) coming for everyone who wants to give Blackwing money in exchange for them (and for me, a gross, thanks).

Metal Shop Timber Twist Review, by Harry Marks.


[I kidded Mr. Harry Marks after he sent a review to my Very Good Comrade Andy at Woodclinched, and we’re lucky enough to publish his review of a piece of Pencil Gear that I own by never talk about: the Timber Twist from Metal Shop CT. Many thanks to Harry!]

When a pencil has been worn to where its ferrule touches the thumb, it is known as the “Steinbeck stage,” so named for John Steinbeck, who discarded his pencils once they reached such a length. It sounds wasteful—even odd. A pencil at half-length still has plenty of words left in it, plenty of sketching left to do.

However, there comes a time when a pencil becomes too cumbersome to hold. When fingers scrunch and contort like commuters on a packed subway car just to eke out a few more strokes before the tool is tossed away and the finish is being sheared away on a fresh stick. What happens to those stubs? Like good little soldiers they do their tours of duty and get retired, but we can’t bear to part with them. They’ve served us well. We drop them into desk drawers and mason jars in the hopes a child might come along and use one to scratch out a wobbly, hesitant letter A. That child never comes. Those remnants are relegated to “desk duty.” Forgotten.

I had tried to assuage my guilt about discarding stubby pencils by purchasing an extender from CW Pencil Enterprise. More akin to a Roaring ‘20s cigarette holder, the little wooden stick had a metal opening to slip the stub into with a ring that would slide down and clamp the pencil in place. It performed as expected, but I didn’t love it. The unprotected tip of the pencil often snapped off in my bag and the dyed wood made marks on the page. It was too long and the uneven metal hurt my fingers after extensive writing sessions. I needed something better, more compact, and easier to carry.

I’d been familiar with Metal Shop’s original bullet pencils for a while, but the aesthetic hadn’t appealed to my tastes. Made out of copper, aluminum, brass, and other materials, their original lineup seemed too cold despite the presence of a piece of wood sticking out of one side. Perhaps it had been the shape. Vintage bullet pencils had been made of plastic and metal and covered in advertisements for vacuum cleaner repair shops and insurance companies. They resembled their namesake, but without the deadly connotations. Metal Shop’s offerings, however, seemed to take the “bullet” part of the name more seriously. They were intimidating, meant for “rugged” types who photographed the contents of their rucksacks for tactical “EDC” websites. I stayed away.

Then Metal Shop’s owner, Jon Fontane, mentioned he was looking for the perfect name for a new bullet pencil—one made out of wood. The Timber Twist, as it had come to be called, carried the same form factor as its metal forefather in a less threatening wooden body. This was it, I thought. This would replace the pencil holder chomping on a 1-inch Blackwing stub in my bag, but that $46 price tag gave me pause. Twenty-five dollars on a box of Blackwings had been my limit. Twelve pencils would last me a long time before I’d need to replenish my stock, but $46 for a tiny cylinder of wood and aluminum? I waited.

Months went by before the urge grew too strong to ignore. One night while perusing Metal Shop’s website, I realized I’d been thinking about this all wrong. I wasn’t paying $46 for one pencil. I was paying $46 for a lifetime of pencils. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the cheap pencil holder, but I wanted more. I wanted an accessory that would last a long time, maybe forever, a piece of me for my son to carry long after I’d gone.

The day it arrived, I pulled the flat cardboard box from the envelope and cursed at its weightlessness. I was prepared to write an angry letter to Metal Shop inquiring about the expensive accessory they’d forgotten to include inside. Then I pried the lid off and saw it sitting there, pinned like a butterfly to be examined with two extra Blackwing 602 stubs and a few erasers rattling around it. Save for the polished aluminum end piece and the bright Pepto-Bismol eraser at the top, this looked like an antique. Metal Shop had done something truly unique: they’d paid homage to a vintage object by making something new that looked like a vintage object.

As I slipped it from its box, I marveled at how light it felt. It had been constructed of mahogany and aluminum. I expected something more substantial. I wanted my pocket to sag under its heft. I wanted the paper to gasp with each stroke, as though I was tattooing my words on its skin. This would not do. This didn’t feel worth the luxury price.

I unscrewed the cap and flipped it over, exposing the 602 stub that had been fastened to the other side, and screwed it in. I now held an almost full-length pencil in my hand and began writing. The weight—or absence of it—suddenly made sense. My hand wouldn’t cramp. I wouldn’t tire as easily as if the Timber Twist had been made of a solid block of wood. I’d exhaust the stub, pull out what was left, attach a new one, and keep going. This bullet pencil seemed to have been made with writers in mind.

The eraser didn’t get much more out of me than a shrug. Its hardness left behind a lot of residue. Traces of the pencil remained on the page. For future buyers, I suggest either not worrying about erasing or carrying a better eraser in your bag. Of course, one doesn’t buy a Timber Twist for the eraser. They buy it for its looks—and what a looker it is.

I purchased the mahogany version with the aluminum trim. The silver of the “bullet” part of the pencil amplifies wood’s cherry tones. Carrying it in my pocket and my bag daily for the past few weeks has put a nice patina on the metal. The wood still looks new, though it won’t be long before it, too, comes down with a case of wabi-sabi. The Timber Twist already had an heirloom feel out of the box. I can’t imagine how good it will look with a couple of handwritten novels behind it.

That’s why we gravitate toward analog tools like these, right? The beauty of such objects is not in how pristine we can keep them, but how much of ourselves we’re able to pour into them. We refer to paperbacks with worn spines and dog-eared pages as “well-loved.” In a few months, the glisten on the finish of my Timber Twist will dull. Fingerprints will cloud the aluminum and the other objects in my bag will scar the grain. It will go through hell and come out changed, not unlike the remains at the bottoms of those desk drawers.

Except this little soldier will enlist the others. No more desk duty for those forgotten stubs. They will slog through short stories and to-do lists, novels and notes, marching along until they’ve taken their last strokes and can truly rest. And the Timber Twist will keep marching, marching along…

 

Formerly Flaming Stub.

The pencil was flaming before it got so small and became reduced to just its black end. Blackwing 725 with a Campfire edition book.

Red and Matchy.

Matchy AF, as the kids say. My 2017 large Moleskine diary and a Staedtler Noris HB. I can’t believe that I live with someone who thinks this pencil is “ugly as $#!+”.

Blackwing Volume 1: Fall Release is Here.


Comrades who follow all things seasonal and/or all things Blackwing and/or all things subscription might be aware that subscriber packages for the latest Volumes edition were shipped Friday of last week and that the Volume this time around is #1. They’re here at HQ, and I’m very happy to welcome the autumn with these pencils.

A few Comrades sent me the unboxing video that surfaced on YouTube this weekend, and the screenshots on the various apps through which I received it showed…more than I wanted to see. I had a little spoiler and was not all that excited. A grey pencil. Yay. But this isn’t matte grey. It’s a greywash. The finish feels like a matte lacquer in the hand, but it looks like a warm grey stain. It’s gorgeous in person.

The ferrules and stamping are silver, and the eraser is a sort of denim blue. The overall effect is many things to me: very autumnal; oddly Thoreauvian in vibe; as if Blackwing took a sweater or a flannel shirt and made it into a pencil. I love this edition! I can see how using a black or white eraser, a gold ferrule, or even the usual hex shape would make this pencil much less attractive than it is by ruining the feel.

Subscribers are treated to a sticker, a patch, and even a pack of replacement erasers (like we received with Volume 211, in brown then). I can’t say enough how perfect the blue of this eraser is. It would look smashing on a Volume 211 or even a Volume 1138.

One of the most surprising details about this release is that it is the first Blackwing to have a round barrel. The matte finish works really well together with this shape to up the Sweater/Flannel Factor. Some Comrades find round barrels to be more more comfortable, and this one does somehow feel a little wider — and I swore the box was heavier, though I didn’t weigh it.

The stamping looks great on the wide “side” of a round pencil. It’s as crisp as we expect from Blackwing. It feels huge on the blank canvas of a pencil that is not divided into six sides and corners. This is the first time I’ve seen the new tree logo against a woodgrain, and its double-hit of woodsy goodness is lovely.

I have to admit that I am not familiar with Guy Clark, the person to whom this edition is dedicated. I’ll let the image speak for itself. I do feel a little compelled to check out his music, though, and that could very well be part of the point. There have been times when the story behind the Volumes release has detracted from my overall opinion of these (notice we have ignored a few releases on this blog because we were not very excited about them among the great hits in the Blackwing line). This time, I have decided to view the unfamiliar theme as a prompt to check out some new-to-me music.

It’s interesting to note that both of the musically-themed Volumes (the other being Volume 725) have the same “balanced” core, from the Pearl. I have to admit that it’s my least favorite Blackwing core. I find it to be more smeary than the MMX, with similar point durability and less smoothness. That said, all four Blackwing cores are great in their own right, for their own purposes. These pencils might be great companions for National Novel Writing Month this fall, with their softish graphite and comfortable barrels.

This is the third autumn release in a row from Blackwing Volumes that leaves me feeling a little giddy. With the matte stain/wash on a round barrel, this almost feels like a completely new pencil. Kudos to Blackwing for keeping the Blackwing line fresh!

Check our Mr. Hagan’s unboxing video also!

(These were not review samples but part of the Volumes subscription series of which Comrades can become a part for around a hundred bucks a year. I’ve been a subscriber since literally day one.)

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.