Blackwing Volume 33 1/3.


Monday is the official launch date of Blackwing Volume 33 1/3, the fall release from Palomino. As usual, subscribers get a first taste, and I got to take mine for a spin all weekend. Two of my three favorite Volumes have been autumnal releases, and I’d consider each of the three previous fall efforts to be a success. So how does the latest stack up?

I like that Blackwing has started to match the packing material to the Volumes releases. It’s a nice touch that I appreciate as a subscriber.  As usual, we get the extra pencil in a tube, an item that’s become attractive to collectors since the first Volumes came out in summer 2015, number 725.

What’s more, the last few subscriber extras were basically print-outs on card stock. This time around, subscribers get a bottle of vinyl pellets out of which a record could be made. My record-loving pal asked me, after my package came, if the set comes with a record. Yes! I don’t know what to do with this item, but I think one of my friends who is into vinyl would enjoy it. At any rate, I’m happy to see a unique extra this go-round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honestly, I have very little interest in vinyl records. I understand the advantages some folks experience with them, but I’ve grown too accustomed to streaming music wherever I go to go back to physically stored music now. I haven’t always gotten particularly excited about the themes/tributes around the Volumes releases, but I appreciate these as interesting pencils in their own right. The design is big thumbs up.

These pencils are black. The finish is matte and smells like an MMX, and the stamping is black and calls to mind Volume 24. The ferrule and eraser are even black, making this pencil perhaps a perfect mate for the matte black Field Notes Raven’s Wing of the Write Notepads Lenore. How much more black could this pencil get, without dying the wood (and cedar is apparently really difficult to dye)? None more black. 

Near the business end, we find foil-stamped rings that echo the grooves on a record. They could function as a sort of grip-area, though I’m not sure if I’d like them better if they went all of the way up the pencil or if they were just not there. The core is the “balanced” core from the Pearl, Volume 725, and Volume 1. It’s honestly my least favorite of the four cores found in Blackwings, but I enjoy all four. Aside from the MMX (the darkest, my favorite), it’s a very close call between the other three.

The ferrules look a little worse for the wear. All of mine are pretty scratched up, and the “seam” where they are attached shows through in this monochromatic color scheme. Some Comrades might find this bothersome with such expensive pencils.

I have to admit that I was initially a little disappointed by the lack of autumnal hues and getting yet another black pencil from Blackwing. Once I opened my package, I found that the uniform matte black aesthetic is a winner here.  Matte black has served well for over eight years as of this dispatch, and it’s among my very favorite finishes on any pencil (assuming there’s a finish, with unfinished pencils being  my usual favorite). These pencils will definitely get a workout during NaNoWriMo this year, if my kids don’t run off with them all for Halloween first.

Blackwing Volume 10001.


Blackwing begins the fourth year of the Volumes series with Volume 10001, a solute to Tetsuya Miyamoto and the KenKen puzzle. The copy from Blackwing explains it well:

Blackwing 10001 (壱万壱) pays tribute to Miyamoto Sensei’s puzzles and other creative ways of teaching and learning. 10001 is a numeral palindrome in Kanji as well as in Arabic numerals. It is also tied to one of Miyamoto Sensei’s favorite equations. The pencil features a red stained barrel, gold imprint and unique five-sided “Gōkaku pencil” shape. Translated literally from Japanese, Gōkaku means “passed,” as in a problem or exam. It is also a near-homophone for the Japanese word “Gokakukei,” meaning pentagon. Gōkaku pencils are given to every student who graduates from the Miyamoto Mathematics class.

While I enjoy the releases that speak to an interest I already have, these pencils honor a teacher and a puzzle of whom and of which I have never heard. But just as Moleskines introduced me to Bruce Chatwin, the Volumes series has encouraged me to explore a little as a result of the tributes in a few instances. This edition is definitely a case in point. I have always wanted to explore puzzles more, but where does one begin? The KenKen puzzle looks like a good launching point for me. The extra for subscribers is a set of puzzles printed on heavy stock, and the shredded paper is yellow (to echo the printing? Volume 54 had teal packing materials).

The pencils themselves, separate from the them/tribute? Beautiful. A few of the Volumes editions have been….unattractive in my view (Volumes 56 and 205, I’m looking at you). Many are lovely. Some are fantastic, gorgeous, exceptional. This is the latter. I love the combination of the red stain and the high-gloss clear lacquer. My first instinct was to want these to have pink erasers, but I like the black. Pink would have dulled some of the effect of the red stain. The printing is gold and, as usual, crisp. These feature the “firm” core, the same as the Blackwing 602.*

More remarkable is the shape of these pencils. Rather than the usual hexagon from Blackwing, the rare round cross-section, or the not-yet-seen triangular barrel, Blackwing went for a pentagonal pencil. These do not feel especially differently than a hex pencil, but my hand tells me…something is up when I hold one. The other difference with this shape is that the ferrules are aligned with the imprint. So they do not rest with the stamping at the top, making them difficult to photograph.

This is a lovely start to another year of Blackwing Volumes releases. I’m already thinking about picking up another box once my kids find these and dig in.

* And Volumes 211, 56, 344, 205, and 16.2.

We Who Like Pencils.

[Stephen Watts is back, with another fantastic contribution! Thanks, Stephen, and we hope this is the first of more pieces for Pencil Revolution!]

We Who Like Pencils (or “WWLP,” pronounced “WWLP”) routinely deal with any number of annoyances in the pursuit of our inexplicable obsession. One of my pet peeves has been the scarcity of suitable pencil display options.

There aren’t many choices available unless you’re okay with hiding one end of your pencils in a cup or stand. I prefer my pencils to proudly stand out in the open, reveling in their naked glory for all the world to see. Acrylic holders that horizontally showcase 1-13 pencils worked well for me until my collection outgrew them.

Several years ago, I succumbed to the madness and beyond all reason purchased a $500 lockable jewelry display cabinet. My son Hunter was with me the week it arrived and when, conveniently, my wife was away with Hunter’s twin brother Garrett. The exorbitant shipping charges should have been a clue that the cabinet was so heavy it had to be shipped on a pallet in a moving van. Hunter and I stared, dumbfounded, as we watched the platform on the back of the trailer slowly lower the beast to the ground. Desperate to hide all evidence of the crime, my deputized accomplice and I decided the smartest thing to do was get the cabinet upstairs in the den and mounted on the wall before my wife got back home. 200 pound painful-to-hold lockable jewelry display cabinets, we learned, don’t travel easily up twisting flights of stairs.

Fortunately, through destructive trial and error and before my wife arrived back home, Hunter and I got the Heavy Beast from Hell securely fastened to the wall and populated by a relieved flock of vintage pencils.

Dazed by a celebratory excess of potato chips and Mountain Dew, we forgot about the empty pallet which remained in the front yard awaiting bulk refuse pickup. Our ill-conceived plan to pretend as though nothing happened instantly collapsed when my wife pulled into the driveway and cried out to Garrett “How many pencils did he have to buy for them to be delivered on a PALLET?”

My wife never found out how much I paid for the cabinet or how tiny our tax deduction was when we donated the cabinet to Goodwill a few years later as we downsized into an apartment three states away.

Once again, I needed to find a way to display these little treasures. Typical searches unearthed descriptions of how to construct my own suitable-for-framing display using thick poster board and elastic cord. This utterly ridiculous, labor-intensive solution brings with it the reprehensible requirements of patience and the ability to evenly punch holes in the poster board so one can thread the cord through perfectly-spaced holes while leaving enough slack in the elastic to hold the pencils. Sure, I found images of terrific-looking results. But with intentional deception, the instructions never revealed that such craftsmanship, in real-world scenarios outside the laboratory, is achievable only by skilled lunatics unaware they can more profitably spend their time binge-watching Netflix.

Time and again in my quests I found myself staring admiringly at the readily available but wholly unsuitable golf pencil displays. The ubiquity of these pretentiously perfect products is especially maddening because we know that golfers don’t care about their itty bitty 3.5 inch “pencils,” more accurately referred to by normal people as “stubs,” or we can separate ourselves from them altogether and call the teeny pencils “teencils.” Golfers aren’t displaying their teencils, they’re displaying how many golf courses they visited. The irony here is that golf itself doesn’t even matter. To quote the authoritative July 1979 Sports issue of National Lampoon Magazine, “If you want to take long walks, take long walks. If you want to hit things with a stick, hit things with a stick. But there’s no excuse for combining the two and putting the results on TV.”

After looking at these displays time and again, either I saw one model for the first time or for the first time realized what I could do with one model and it dawned on me the answer to my problem was hiding in plain sight.

If you’re like me, not just uninterested in golf but adamantly opposed to it, you’ll appreciate how I’ve discovered a way to cheat the golf cabal’s clever little system: Yes, available to both golfers and humans alike, there exists a beautiful display case intended to hold 64 embarrassed 3.5 inch teencils that can be repurposed to triumphantly hold one row of 32 anatomically correct pencils. It’s available in a cherry or oak finish and can be found at Great Golf Memories and Amazon. I purchased two, and a full month after putting these displays on my wall I still spend whole days standing in front of them, silently weeping with joy.

Author’s Note: I don’t work for the companies that create or sell these display cases. I just revel in this “hack” and hope that if you go this route, you won’t spoil it for the rest of the WWLP crowd by admitting your true purpose to the golf mafia.

Blackwing Volume 54.

   Blackwing Volume 54, the Exquisite Corpse pencil, is here. The spring 2018 release from Blackwing screams SPRING, BLOSSOMS, and YES YES YES. This “Rose Pink” pencil is topped with a silver ferrule and blue eraser and is stamped in teal. Perhaps best of all, it contains Blackwing’s Extra Firm (EF) core that we saw in the 24, the 530, and the 1917.

I’ve seen it referred to as an 80s pencil, but anything with teal screams 90s to me (though it could very well just be that I prefer the 90s, with the angst, the coffee, the auburn hair.

The packing material is even teal, to echo the pencil.

[I should probably begin this post by apologizing if the color of this pencil is way off in my photos. To tell the truth, it’s not entirely on point (!) in Blackwing’s photo, either. The exact shade of pink is elusive.]

It feels weird to “review” a Blackwing that’s really just a pencil I already like with a different paint job, but I think we can say a bit about the theme. This is gutsy. Usually the Blackwing tributes lean toward the masculine (go troll these comments if you’re bored), and the aesthetics usually run on the safe/muted side. This pencil is loud, possibly the brightest premium pencil I own. At a distance, it almost looks like a cheap novelty pencil, but the thickness and quality (of all but one) of the lacquer quickly reveal this to be a lovely Japanese pencil.

This pencil is supposed to have been designed by playing the Exquisite Corpse game, and the subscribers’ kit has cardstock guides for this.

Blackwing certainly has no reason to be making this up, and we can just be happy that the results of the parts work so well together and that this is the second year of three that all four releases have represented all four cores.

The pink and teal look fantastic together. A black or gold ferrule would have been….too much; silver is perfect. I want the eraser to be a different color (the royal blue and teal clash for me), but I can’t say which currently available colors I’d rather have. Custom teal or purple would have been incredible, but, I expect, expensive.

The EF core echoes the original Palomino HB enough that, as my Erasable Podcast co-host Tim put it: “If it’s different from the Palomino, it doesn’t need to be.” It’s a great core. I don’t find that it smears less than the Firm core, but one does not use something as soft as Blackwings expecting no smearing or ghosting. I’m Okay with this.

This pencil looks amazing with the silver Blackwing point protector.

I love Volume 54, and my daughter has a box waiting for her 8th birthday later this month. I told her, truthfully, that they sold out. (And Blackwing reports that this is the Volume that has sold out from their own stock the fastest.) I didn’t tell Charlotte that I ordered a set from The Pencil Shop and that it’s waiting for her.

While pink is not my favorite color for pencils, this Volumes release is a winner for me. The looks are seasonal, and the theme is original and also something in which I’ve long been interested. The EF core and thick finish land this pencil in premium territory.

(These were not samples from the manufacturer. I’ve been a paying subscriber since literally day one.)

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).

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, 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!

New Blackwing Styling.


All three flagship Blackwing pencils are getting small make-overs. The MMX and 602 are getting new erasers. The Pearl is getting a new eraser and new stamping. If you’re into pencils enough to read this blog, this is notable news!

I’m not sure how I feel about the change of the MMX’s eraser from white to black. I’m used to the white. I still have a few gold-specked pencils from the first run (October 1, 2010), and the ferrule was much less gold, nearly silver. The pencil looked great with a white eraser in that format. More recent versions with the Very Gold Ferrule leave feeling: meh. So maybe I am happy about this change to a black eraser.

The new pink eraser on the 602 makes me happy. That’s all. I like pink erasers, and I’ve come to prefer it on the 602. I think that being such a faithful remake, this is a necessary change.

The Pearl gets the biggest update, with a white eraser and gold stamping. My daughter is obsessed with the Pearl lately, and I’m afraid to show her this. The new logo (with the trees) looks sharp stamped on the Pearl in black, but I like that the gold foil will bring it more aesthetically in line with the MMX and the 602. Three finishes, three cores, and three erasers gives me a nice sense of symmetry. However, that sense is disturbed by one thing:

I want the “original” 2010 Blackwing to display the moniker I gave it as a joke that has been largely adopted by the Erasable Facebook community. My oldest daughter was born in 2010, and it’s a special year to me. Plus, being a product of Catholic schools, I like Roman numbers (and have two tattoos featuring them). The fact that the 602 and the Pearl have extra names after the “Blackwing” text makes the MMX look like it’s missing something.

So far, gentle nudges to get Mr. Berolzheimer and team to officially change the name to the MMX have not been successful. I think they think I’m kidding. I am not kidding! MMX! MMX! MMX! My naming services can be purchased for a mere one gross of the newly-coined MMX pencils. Cheap!

Whatever one might think about the details, I appreciate that the folks at Cal Cedar are still working to improve their pencils. We get new Blackwings four times a year, and they haven’t forgotten about the three that started it all. That makes me feel good for the future of pencils.

Read more at Blackwing’s site.

(Image borrowed from Blackwing’s Instagram account.)