Palomino Blackwing Pencils and Sharpener


Next up in my leaving work goody bag is a lovely box of Palomino Blackwing pencils and a long point sharpener. As the box came with twelve pencils, I would like to give one (plus some other goodies) to a lucky reader. Keep on reading to find out how you could win.

Believe it or not, but the Blackwing is a controversial pencil. From 1934 to 1998, the Eberhard Faber Company manufactured the Blackwing. When these pencils were introduced, long before ballpoint and other cheap pens were available, pencils were in their heyday. They were used daily by professionals such as draftsmen, engineers, and journalists, as well as students, so people noticed quality and found it in the Blackwing. They were known to write smoothly and keep their point. Their attractive hexagonal design with the clamp-like ferrule and matte black paint probably added to their appeal. Author John Steinbeck, animator Chuck Jones, composer Stephen Sondheim, and jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis are just a few of the well-known users of the original Blackwing pencils. So when the California Cedar Products Company acquired the Blackwing trademark and began manufacturing pencils modeled after the originals in 2010, some pencil aficionados that had stockpiled supplies of the originals cried foul. This kind of controversy is not unheard of in the stationery world. For example, moleskine notebooks were originally not a brand-name but a kind of traditional oilcloth binding for notebooks. This type of notebook was also very popular with famous artists and authors but couldn’t compete with cheaper, mass-produced notebooks. A company called Modo & Modo began producing Moleskine branded notebooks in 1997 but advertised them as if they were the same as those used by the greats. Of course, stationery products are not the only ones to try to capitalize on nostalgia. The Indian motorcycle brand is another one where a new company has branded their product with an old name.


I don’t have an original Blackwing to compare with so I am just judging it on how it works for me. This pencil does write smoothly however the large metal ferrule and eraser made it a bit top heavy, especially when I tried writing with it for a few pages in my journal. The pencil is longer than average (20 cm, including the eraser) so maybe as it gets shorter, and pencils always do, it will feel more balanced. The eraser did a fairly good job of erasing but I found the black crumb residue a bit messy. I think a regular white vinyl eraser would do a better and neater job. Interestingly, you can get replacement erasers in a variety of colours for the pencil if you use up pencil erasers faster than the pencil.


Along with the pencils, I got a special Palomino-KUM long point pencil sharpener. This pencil sharpener has two holes, not for different sizes of pencils, but to maximize the point. The first hole sharpens the wood and the smaller hole sharpens the graphite.

20180516_Hole 1 20180516_Hole2

It came with two small replacement blades tucked into the end for when the blades become dulled. I like the opportunity to extend the life of the sharpener.

20180508_sharpener open2

If this pencil was a person, it would be a celebrity, complete with idiosyncrasies and a fan club. Taller than average, they always wear black with some bling so you never mistake them for someone just as competent but with less fame.

Now for the prize. Personally, I love giveaways so I am offering one of my own. As well as a Palomino Blackwing pencil, I am giving away an assortment sample papers to try it out on including some Rhodia and Canson papers, Kyougi, Japanese stationery, and a penguin paperclip. To win, all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog before June 10. I will make a draw and contact the winner to get your address. Good luck!



Why are pencils yellow?

not a yellow pencil

Last week I mentioned that I had been asked two questions. The second question was why are pencils yellow? My first response is that clearly not all pencils are yellow (please refer to previous pencil blogs blogs part 1 and part 2). My own favourite is the Berol turquoise. However, if you have spent a lot of time in North American classrooms, in a trivial example of confirmation bias, you may be under the impression that pencils are for the most part yellow and there is a reason for that.

Where it all began...

Cast your minds back to Paris in 1889, where they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille with a world’s fair. The Eiffel tower was built as the entrance arch to the fair and the major attraction was a “Negro village” with 400 people. For pencil lovers however, this fair marked a huge change in the look of pencils. Before this time, pencils had a natural wood finish so you could easily see if there were any imperfections in the wood. The Czech Hardtmuth pencil company wanted consumers to focus on the quality of their graphite which they sourced from Siberia. The marketing geniuses of the time figured that since Siberia bordered China, and yellow was the Emperor’s colour of imperial China, they would paint their pencils yellow. In case people didn’t get the regal reference, they went the extra step to name their pencil “Koh-I-Noor”, the same name as the large diamond Queen Victoria was “gifted”  during the British Raj. Both graphite and diamonds are carbon so maybe it wasn’t such a stretch to name the pencil after a diamond. At any rate, the marketing worked, the pencil was a success, and American pencil companies like Dixon Ticonderoga picked up on it. Even today, generic pencils are often painted yellow.

If yellow pencils were people they would just consider themselves ordinary and never have the curiosity to delve into their family tree to discover their ancestors’ past pretensions of royalty.

Thanks again to Deirdre and Jasmine for the question and to Elisabet for the pictures.

Promotional stationery items


Even though I love special pens and paper, I have to admit a lot of the stationery supplies in my home are actually promotional items. One of my daughters gets so many she told me she’d feel like a chump if she actually paid for these items (James Ward in The Perfection of the Paperclip calls this type of behaviour the “stationery equivalent of freeganism”). Even though she works in the tech sector, she is still given lots of pens and paper. So why are pens and paper still considered a great promotional giveaway item in the digital age? In short, because companies find it works. According to a survey carried out in 2016 by the Promotional Products Association International (alright so it doesn’t appear to be an unbiased source) companies consider promotional items more effective than social media and nearly as effective as all other media. Companies like to supply a useful product and consumers like to get them and use them.  In fact, 81 percent of consumers keep promotional products for more than a year.

So starting with pens, as they seem to be the most popular item to use as a giveaway, here are some of the promotional desk items around our house.

Pens – Only hotels that don’t want you to walk away with their pens and non-profit organizations hand out stick pens. Most of the time, I don’t even pick them up which is why I don’t have a reminder of my fabulous stay at the Ramada in Grand Forks, British Columbia.


Not only do most companies do better than stick pens, it seems just offering a pen is not enough. Many of the pens have a highlighter at one end, and one highlighter I have, has sticky flags on the end.


I even have a pen with hand sanitizer on the end which seems a bit odd but I guess it falls into the category of handy things to have in your bag.


Occasionally you can find something really different like the APEGA pen where when you click on the end, it lights up in a rainbow display of colours like a rave glow stick (the photos don’t do it justice, it really flickers and glows). This pen is from a few years ago when oil and gas prices were higher so the party is pretty much over for them now but still, what were you thinking Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta?  




Pencils – It seems pencil giveaways are mainly aimed at kids but I do have a nifty little set that comes with two recycled pencils, a recycled pen, and a little wooden sharpener. One of the pencils is a bit shorter in order for it all to fit into the cylindrical cardboard container (all made in China). It gives off an eco-friendly vibe that is a bit jarring for a mining company.


Paper – Paper is also a frequent giveaway mainly as shopping lists or pads of post-it notes but I do have a couple of nice promotional journals.  The paper in the one is creamy and surprisingly good quality. I also like the built-in ribbon bookmark, elastic closure and the pocket on the inside back cover. you have impressed me as a classy company, too bad your website doesn’t give the same impression.


The Resolver journal is not quite as good quality but not bad and both of them get bonus points for keeping the branding somewhat subtle. Both journals have nicely rounded corners but I prefer a binding that allows the journal to lie flatter when opened than either of these journals.


It seems promotional pens and paper are going to be given away for years to come.

If a promotional item was a person they would be a bit brash with a “remember me, remember me” kind of attitude. Not really a close friend but you still hang around with them because they are useful.

Pencils – Part 2


While HB pencils can be considered middle of the road, there are many other pencils out there especially if you are using them more for art purposes than just writing.


3H – Starting on the hard end of the pencil scale, this green Kimberly pencil was made by the General Pencil Company in the US. This family owned business has been in the Weissenborn family since 1889. These pencils are made in Jersey City, New Jersey, one of the few American pencil factories. I like the green and gold colour combination. Because of the hardness of the graphite, the line it makes is more grey than black but you can get a nice sharp line with it.


2B – I have three 2B pencils. One is a Daler Rowney which, although is a British art supply company, is made in Austria.

The next is a Grumbacher Sketching pencil, made in Germany, with a unique oval shape. Because of this shape it has to be sharpened with a knife, not a pencil sharpener. It is similar to a carpenter’s pencil in that it can’t roll away but I think the shape is designed to allow for thick and thin lines, rather than preventing it from rolling. This is an old pencil that I got from my mom’s limited art supplies. She took a course in oil painting at one time but I don’t remember her keeping up with it. It seems these pencils are not still being made.  

Finally, I have a Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Toison D’Or 1900 2B pencil. I wrote a bit about Koh-I-Noor pencils last week as I have an HB one too.

These are all good pencils but the Daler Rowney gives the darkest line. The uniqueness of the Grumbacher makes it my favourite.


4B – I have two Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth 4B pencils. One is a 1500 and the other is another in the Toison D’Or 1900 line. It seems that the Toison D’Or 1900 line is more common in North America. They are both made in the Czech Republic and are very similar, if not identical, quality. Koh-I-Noor HB and 2B pencils have 2mm leads while the 4Bs have 2.5mm leads. Both of these pencils give a very smooth and dark line.


8B – The darkest and softest pencil I have is a blue Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 pencil. It is considered premium quality in the Staedtler line. It has a thick lead and is very dark and smudgy. Definitely for sketching and not for writing.

If these odd ball pencils were people, they would all be artistes, that look down on the more familiar HBs despite their common origins and family ties.

HB Pencils

I have a fairly extensive collection of pencils and as it turns out, quite a few fall into the vintage category. In fact, I have so many I can’t cover them all in one blog so this week I will focus on my HB pencils. In the United States they call this a #2 pencil but for everywhere else in the world pencils are graded on a scale from Hard (H) to Black (B). The softer the pencil, the blacker the mark. HB pencils fall right in the middle. This all sounds very standardized but actually there is a difference between the various HB pencils I own.


Berol Turquoise – This Canadian made pencil is a vintage one as I don’t believe there are any more Canadian pencil factories. The Berol company goes way back to 1856 when a Bavarian immigrant to the US, Daniel Berolzheimer, founded the “Eagle Pencil Company”. Much later on (1969) the company changed its name to a shortened form of Berolzheimer but the family connection ended in 1987 when there was no 6th generation successor. I love the turquoise colour with the silver ferrule. I found that this was one of the darker HBs.                                 20170709_Dixon.jpg

Dixon Ticonderoga – This is another old American company. It was founded by Joseph Dixon who in 1873 bought the American Graphite Company based in Ticonderoga, New York. This classic yellow painted pencil was launched in 1913. It seems to me that all the pencils we used in school were yellow and this one is probably meant for a student because of the pink eraser on the end. I have a soft spot for this company because at one time they had a factory in Canada and when I had a job acquiring furnishings for the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village around 1990 they kindly donated some unpainted pencils that we were able to use in our school house.


Koh-I-Noor Toison D’Or – Koh-I-Noor pencils are made by the Czech Hardtmuth company, founded in 1790 by Joseph Hardtmuth of Austria. I consider this an art pencil but of course it could be used for writing too. Pencils are versatile that way. 


O’BON – This is a unique pencil with a body made from recycled newspaper rather than wood. It was purchased at a local store called Carbon. Not only does recycled newspaper save trees, the company claims it also protects the lead from breaking. I think it is cool how you can see the colour variation when it is sharpened in the part between the lead and the paint.      


Staedtler – Staedtler is another old pencil company, founded in 1835. It may not be made from recycled newspapers, but the wood is from certified, sustainably managed forests. I have two Staedtler HBs, the Norica 13246 (blue) and the Tradition (black and red). The Tradition is their higher quality line but I don’t notice a significant difference. In fact, I find the Norica a bit darker and it has a handy white eraser on the end.                             


Venus – The Venus was originally made by the American Lead Pencil Company but that company was eventually taken over by Faber-Castell. This vintage pencil was made in the US and despite its unassuming appearance, I find it one of the nicer pencils to actually use and it has a handy pink eraser.

The word “pencil” comes from the Latin penicillus meaning a “little tail”, so I think if a pencil was a person he would be a man. Tall and skinny, he is a bit old-fashioned and don’t let the bright coloured suit fool you, he is no dandy. He changes his mind easily so whether you think that makes him open-minded or wishy-washy is up to you.

Watercolour Pencils

I recently watched the 2012 film Sightseers, a dark British comedy/horror about a couple going on a camping trip around England. One of their planned stops is the Pencil Museum in Keswick (now on my must-see list). This museum is run by the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company. Although this company is now owned by a large multinational called ACCO Brands, it has a long history and they still make pencils in Britain (the only pencil company still manufacturing there). The only Derwent pencils I have in my pencil collection are watercolour pencils.

Watercolour pencils are pencil crayons with a water-soluble core, so while they work great dry, the colour really intensifies when wet. You can wet them by either dipping them in water or colouring first and then use a paint brush to dissolve the pigment. You can also wet the paper first and then colour on top but I don’t really like the results from that method. My set of 12 pencils has a good basic range of colours and came in a nice metal box that makes them easy to travel with.

Dset1 Dtest1

I also have four Daler Rowney watercolour pencils that came in a set with other art supplies that are meant for outdoor (plein air) painting so are in nature inspired hues. Daler Rowney is another company with British roots but these pencils were manufactured in Austria.

DRset DRtest

I feel both brands of watercolour pencils are good quality but I enjoy the larger range of colours in my Derwent set.

If watercolour pencils were people, they would be thin and love to travel. They seem uptight but give them something to drink and they really go wild.