“CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Ordinary materials – from paper cups and pencil stubs to tires, twist ties and playing cards – are transformed into extraordinary art in a new exhibition at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Art Museum.”
Read on.

(Thanks for the link, Hans!)

[Image copyright J. Maestre 2000.]

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.
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.]

Jefferson: hella meta.

This comes via Journalismo, via 43 Folders:

“Among his collection of pocket-sized devices were scales, drawing instruments, a thermometer, a surveying compass, a level, and even a globe. To record all these measurements, Jefferson carried a small ivory notebook (pictured) on which he could write in pencil. Back in his Cabinet, or office, he later copied the information into any of seven books in which he kept records about his garden, farms, finances, and other concerns; he then erased the writing in the ivory notebook.”

Read more.

I really thought I read somewhere that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence using a pencil and then went over it in ink, but I cannot find anything to prove this one way or the other. Does anyone know anything about this?

[Photo copyright Monticello(?).]

At One Remove.

From At One Remove:

“Mars Lumograph EE. Great pencil. Discontinued. Why do they do this? Last remaining stub. The tonal range would put a silverprint to shame, with a dmax darker than charcoal. The EB version at least, is still sold as 8B. Why did Staedtler make this pencil?”

[Photo copyright AOR.]


We’d like to welcome to the Revolution our friend Woodchuck at Timberlines. Woodchuck comes from honest-to-goodness Pencil Royalty (the only kind allowed in a Revolution). His great- grandfather was the legendary Heinrich Berolzheimer, who immigrated to the United States after 40 years of pencil making in Germany. Heinrich “founded the Eagle Pencil Company, which introduced the famous Eagle and Mirado brands.” It was Woodchuck’s grandfather Charles who ventured west to bring us CalCedar. Royalty indeed!

To boot, Woodchuck is the President of California Cedar Products Company, the manufacturer of Forest Choice pencils. And, despite his position otherwise, he seems to us to possess considerable artistic talent, which we certainly hope he will continue to share with the readers of his new blog.

And it turns out that we each played a role in the birth of one another’s blogs. The timing of the births of The Revolution and Timberlines could not be more fortuitous.

In only a week, we already have some great posts from Woodchuck about pencils and the pencil manufacturing world. Here is a post about pencil certification, and here is another highlighting the ways in which we use pencils. To be sure, Woodchuck is an ambitious blogger and is as passionate about pencils are we are — maybe even more so! And we are lucky to be have such a great source of not only information, but also a source of inspiration in our own pencil adventures.


I know we promised a review of PaperMate American Naturals for this Friday, but things have come up, which prevented this from getting written. Next week, promise. And plenty more goodies in the meantime.

Cap that pencil.

Fred from Orange, Connecticut wrote in recently about pencil caps:

I am 76. I recall that when I was young, we used to have available a metal , rocket-shaped item, ending with a dullish point. The purpose was to put this over the sharpened tip of one’s pencils so that they would not break, hurt someone, or by accident mark up something….they have since vanished, in part because pencils have been replaced (for walking about) with mechanical pencils, so that real pencils now are alomst always kept in offices, rooms, desks, etc., and there no longer is the need to cap the tip. I have out of curiousity looked all over the place for any remains of this metal protector but, alas, have not found any. Most folks either have forgotten about them or are too young to have known about them.

I know that General’s Pencil Co. makes some plastic caps called Sav-A-Point that go on the tips of pencils and that Cretacolor makes a metal cap for woodless pencils. But Fred and I wonder if anyone out there knows where to get some metal pencil caps like they used to make?

PRevo gear.

I’m thinking that it might be interesting to have some custom Pencil Revolution pencils made. The problem with customized pencils, of course, is quality. I for one would not want to write with a junky pencil just because of what it says on it. I think I’m going to try to look around for some printable pencils that are worth having made, or maybe I’ll try a quick dozen from this company to be fair. I wonder if Sanford Corp. would make us some nice Mirados? Or if we can find some other nice model with Pencil Revolution on it?

“Is that a pencil?”

Our friend Lorianne from Hoarded Ordinaries recollects her recent trip to the Currier Museum of Art:

The coolest thing about sketching, though, is you can do it anywhere…almost. Knowing that photography is disallowed in the Currier, I couldn’t imagine that sketching could harm anything until a friendly guard approached me while I was standing, sketchbook in hand, in front of the Picasso. “Is that a pencil?” he fretted, alarmed by my Pentalic woodless graphite pencil, which admittedly doesn’t look like a pencil from across the room. After I assured him that I was using pencil and wouldn’t dream of drawing in pen, he confided, “You wouldn’t believe how many people do,” adding as an afterthought, “We even give out pencils if people don’t have them.” And then as if to demonstrate that there were no hard feelings, he quietly reappeared with a stool for me to sit on. “That’s why we have them,” he explained.

Continue reading.

Handwriting (II).

(Continued from part I.)
It seems to me that handwriting is associated more with pencils than with pens these days. Maybe this is because we learned to write in pencil. Maybe it’s because our first pens were Bics or Papermates that did not produce as thick and expressive lines that pencils can live up to. Maybe it’s something I would never think of myself.

But there are a lot of people out there writing about it. Here’s a good one: Memory Keeper on Handwriting.