Review of Staedtler Noris HB.

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I have held off on reviewing the Staedtler Noris for over a year. It is not officially available in the United States. But, if our traffic statistics do not lie, then a large portion of our readers read from Western European Outposts. Add the number of sellers on eBay who will ship packs of these German Beauties to our shores, and this pencil is far from a stranger to our little community – at least potentially. My daughter loves this pencil (see handicraft piece), and, finally, Staedtler sent some (as result of that piece) to HQ last month. It has become semi-ridiculous to have not reviewed this pencil by now.

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I am fortunate enough to have great Pencil Friends like Matthias and Gunther, both of whom have sent me wonderful Noris gear. The beautiful vintage Noris pencils in the photos are from Gunther. Matthias sent the sharpener (which is the envy of my peers who pass through Pencil Revolution HQ) and multi-grade Noris packs. I would be foolishly remiss not to mention that Comrades interested in the Noris (or pencils in general!) would do well to visit the wonderful posts about and photos of Noris pencils at Bleistift and Lexikaliker.

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I will be confining myself to the red-capped HB version of the Noris for now. This hexagonal pencil features two black sides and four yellow, with a black stripe running the length of the yellow sides’ intersections. The effect is striking. The ends are dipped in white lacquer and then (in the case of the HB) into red lacquer, resulting in a layered cap that further sets this pencil apart. The gold stamping is as fine as the haloed Mars Lumograph, though the texture and quality of the Noris’s paint job is certainly not as smooth or glossy as the top-tiered Lumograph. But that is neither the market nor the price-range of this pencil. Every Noris I have seen comes pre-sharpened and ready for action.

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A note on the print. Some of the German Norises I have on hand say:

MADE IN GERMANY [Mars logo] STAEDTLER Noris HB [boxed 2]

while others say:

MADE IN GERMANY [Mar slogo] STAEDTLER Noris school pencil [boxed HB]

I do not discern any quality differences between the two, though the former’s lead seems somewhat more waxy. I assume that the difference is in marketing, since the Noris (unlike the Lumograph) is billed as a writing pencil, not an art pencil. (Please, Comrades, do amend any mistakes I am making here, honestly.)

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I cannot tell what kind of wood this pencil is made of. I have read of the Noris being made of cedar and of jelutong. But none of mine smell like cedar or look like jelutong. (Perhaps this article by the always excellent Pencil Talk could be helpful.) The pencil’s wood is light-weight and is treated to sharpen very well. Despite not having the incensed aroma, whatever wood it is of which these pencils are constituted performs well as a pencil casing.

I like the core/lead very much, especially for what I understand is currently (?) a budget pencil in some markets. What it lacks in the smoothness of its Blue and Black Cousin, it more than makes up for in darkness. This core exhibits a nice balance of smear-resistance and erasability. Often a mark’s resistance to smearing makes erasing difficult, and, at other times, pencils whose marks are easier to erase make a smeary mess of a notebook. Point retention is average at best, and I find myself sharpening this pencil more often than any other German pencil I use in the HB grade. So my Noris pencils do not retain their original measurements for long. Perhaps I was inspired by this photo of Gunther’s. But this is a pencil that looks good short! As I finally have more than a few stashed away in The Archive, I find myself reaching for this pencil, no matter how stubby the current one gets. To be sure, there is a very short Noris in my NaNoWriMo pencil box this year.

I heartily recommend the Noris, especially to American Comrades who might not be familiar with this pencil. It is available via a few eBay sellers who will ship overseas, some of whom even have reasonable shipping rates. I get a lot of comments when I use this pencil, whereupon I tell folks that it is commonplace, in, say, England – which I still find surprising — with a little jealousy that the common pencil depicted in our country is certainly not this distinctive.

Review of Staedtler Norica HB.

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I found these at Staples (in the US) a few weeks ago and bought a pack. At $10 for three dozen, it was a pretty good deal. Less than $3.50 for some quality pencils is something I’d find it difficult to pass up. But three dozen is…a commitment to make to the Pencil Gods, when the pencil might just be terrible. I mean, they are pencils. One can’t just throw them away if they turn out to be awful. Luckily, these pencils are not awful at all. Unluckily, having a Big Box means that I’ve given most of them away already.

I have two blue Norica 2B pencils from Matthias that I like very much. It’s a smooth and dark writing pencil, and one is actually in my Go-To Pencil Cup for quick notes. Heather has a review of the blue HB version available in Canada. I’d never seen them for sale in the US, and I was delighted to spot them in person, with some other new and unexpected (stay tuned!) Staedtler items at Staples.
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The finish is a nice matte black, very much like the last USA-made run of the Dixon “Black” and the 2010 edition of the Palomino Blackwing. The stamping is silver foil and much sharper than the Blackwing. The only marks are “STAEDTLER norica HB 2” on one side. The silver ferrules are affixed much better than those of any recent Dixon pencils. Topped with a white eraser, the black HB Norica is one attractive-looking pencil.

It’s made in Thailand out of a wood that I think is basswood (?). Truth be told, it smells like lumber when sharpened. Usually, non-cedar woods don’t smell much at all, but this is an exception. Out of the three dozen I originally bought, the cores were nearly perfectly centered in 90% of them and were still well-centered in the other 10%. I like that. I like that very much.

The core is pleasant to write with. For a pencil from Staples that sells for that price, it’s very smooth, with a pleasant darkness than runs along the lines of the current Dixon Chinese models in HB, possibly running a little more smoothly, definitely a touch more darkly. Despite not being made of cedar, the pencil sharpens well, with no splintering or cracking.

Smearing and ghosting are pretty much what can be expected for an HB core that runs a little to the Dark Side. If you’re a Comrade who requires very tidy papers, anything this dark is going to smear and ghost a little. But it’s not terrible with the Norica, certainly.
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The Norica erases completely via a Mars eraser, though the attached eraser leaves a bit of graphite traces behind. The Norica’s eraser is adequate, but (and we say this a lot) few, if any, pencil-topped erasers work half as well as a good plastic block eraser. I will add that the Norica’s white eraser does not hold dirt as some other pencil-topped erasers do (Dixon’s pink, Blackwing’s white, Mirado’s pink). As such, I find myself actually using this eraser.
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I was very happy to find good pencils, at Staples, in person, that come in a box, didn’t cost a fortune, and write and look very nicely. There’s not much more a Pencil Fan can ask for, or, at least, not much more one can expect. The outlay and volume commitment are certainly mitigating factors if Comrades find them at, or order them from, Staples. But if you’re in need of a good-sized box of very good pencils for the price of merely good pencils, this might be right up your alley. Oh, and my pack came with two free Rasoplast erasers!

One of the Best Things About Running a Pencil Blog.


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.