Staedtler Ergosoft Pencil Crayon


I have a new light blue pencil crayon (coloured pencil to some) to compare to some old standbys. The Staedtler Ergosoft has an appealing triangular barrel coated in a matte paint that is soft to the touch and matches the colour of the lead almost perfectly. The shape and feel of the barrel make it very comfortable to hold but not as easy to sharpen. The 3 mm lead has a white coating that is supposed to adhere it to the wood and prevent lead breakage. This may be true but it also reduced the amount of coloured lead available for colouring. I have only seen this type of lead coating on one other type of pencil crayon, its cheaper cousin, the Staedtler Norris Club. Both the Ergosoft and the Norris Club are much better than the really cheap Staples Staedtler although they all could be considered student-grade. I always think including a little space for writing a name, like the Ergosoft does, shows who you are aiming your product to.


The Ergosoft is made in Germany and like many products produced in Europe they strive for high environmental standards. The wood is from certified, sustainably managed forests.

Colour-wise, the light blue Ergosoft compares well to several other light blue pencil crayons. I have listed them from best quality to lowest:

  1. Vintage Berol Prismacolor Scholar 303 (made in the USA some time between 1969 and 1995);
  2. Vintage Eagle Canadiana sky blue 511 (made in Drummonville, Quebec before 1994);
  3. Crayola sky blue, this colour is found in all standard packages of Crayolas (made in Brazil or Costa Rica);
  4. Staedtler Ergosoft (made in Germany);
  5. Staples Staedtler (made in Indonesia); and
  6. Conté Evolution 93, a wood-free coloured pencil that strangely made no attempt to match the colour of the barrel to the pigment of the lead (made in France).

Keep in mind this list is very subjective. I asked another person to do their rating and they preferred the Eagle Canadiana over the Berol Prismacolor, although we agreed on the rest.


Thanks to Elisabet Ingibergsson for providing the beautiful picture of the pencil crayons in the sky and for taking time to provide her input on the quality ranking.

If the Staedtler Ergosoft were a person, they would first appear to be a bit non-conformist and easy-going but actually they are fairly hard-hearted. This may just be the way they were raised but it could be from working too long with children.


Koh-i-Noor Paris Blue Progresso Woodless Pencil


Santa left an intriguing pencil crayon in my stocking called the Progresso woodless pencil by Koh-i-Noor. You may notice I called it a pencil crayon, not a coloured pencil because no matter what it says on the box, in the part of Canada I where I grew up this type of art supply is always called a pencil crayon and I am sticking with it.

The Progresso is all colour, no wood, and is a nice weight in the hand. Like all coloured leads, they are made of a mixture of pigment and binder but Progressos are also mixed with oils, not the wax or paraffin other pencil crayons are blended with. This makes for nice smooth marks with no waxy feel and you can use all of the 7.6 mm lead diameter to make fine or wide lines. The lead has a lacquer coating so the colour doesn’t rub off on your hands.


I haven’t really got on the adult colouring book bandwagon but I have tried out a few kinds of pencil crayons I thought I would compare to the Progresso. I know many people who believe Prismacolors are best, so I borrowed a Prismacolor Premier pencil crayon from my sister in law. It is a darker shade than the Progresso and left a smooth, rich colour.

Some of my personal favourite pencil crayons are the now defunct Laurentians that were the classroom standard of my childhood. Like so many pen and pencil companies, they underwent a few corporate takeovers over the years and were discontinued around 2012. Like the Prismacolor, it has a nice thick core and it seemed the Laurentian Navy Blue was a closer match in colour to the Progresso Paris Blue.

I was quite disappointed with both the Faber-Castell and the Staples pencil crayon by Staedtler. I know the Staples one came from an inexpensive student pack but I was surprised Staedtler would put their name on such a low-quality product. Like most student-grade pencil crayons, the lead is quite hard, leading to less breakage but less colour too. Likewise, the Faber-Castell pencil crayon I assume is student grade and not very impressive. It only goes to show you cannot always judge by brand name. Both of these pencil crayons had cores (2 mm diameter) half the size of the Laurentian or Prismacolor (4 mm).

If the Koh-I-Noor Progresso woodless pencil were a person they might seem a bit oily and smooth but there is no pretense about them. This progressive, colourful person is great to spend some time with and although they have a Portuguese name, they are from the Czech Republic.

Pencil Sharpeners


Ever since I started thinking about pencils earlier this summer, pencil related topics keep occurring to me. And as to write with a broken pencil is pointless, what every pencil lover needs is a pencil sharpener.

Pencil sharpeners come in all shapes and sizes and are a popular novelty item but they don’t all sharpen equally well. I pitted a classic hand-crank sharpener against a small single blade wedge sharpener using two identical unsharpened 2H pencils.

Just a note about these vintage pencils, they are called Pedigree by Empire and were made in Canada. The Empire Pencil Company was founded in 1900 and in 1986 purchased the Berol Corporation. It seems odd that you can still buy Berol pencils but it seems they have dropped the Empire brand.

Now for the sharpen-off. First up is the Staedtler 510 27 single hole wedge sharpener. This small metal sharpener was made in Germany and according to the company website is “for standard-sized blacklead pencils up to 8.2 mm with a sharpening angle of 23° for clear and accurate lines”. I like how this sharpener has fluted indents along the side for ergonomic gripping. In my opinion, it is the little design features that really elevate humble tools. It took 39.92 seconds to sharpen the pencil with this sharpener. It created a sharpened point 2.5 cm long and a lovely ruffle shaving.

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Next up is the Giant Type 3A Cutter Assembly made by the mysterious Apsco Products (Canada) Ltd. of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While there is still an Apsco company in Scarborough, I couldn’t find out anything about it. It seems like there were many Apsco Giant pencil sharpeners made, some labelled Chicago, others with Los Angeles, California or Rockford, Illinois. This single-burr hand-crank sharpener was found in the basement of a 1950’s era house and would be familiar to many as the type of pencil sharpener attached to classroom walls. It took only 12.75 seconds to sharpen the pencil and left a much longer point (over 4 cm) and a pile of sawdust.

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I carried out this experiment with my sister’s assistance in her basement. She had a strong preference for the pencil sharpened with the hand-crank sharpener (well she would, wouldn’t she, it was her sharpener). I am not as convinced of its superiority. The portability and simplicity of the Staedtler is appealing to me and I can’t really discern a difference in writing between the two pencils.


If you truly want to learn more about pencil sharpening I suggest you read How to Sharpen Pencils:  A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening, for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, and Civil Servants, With Illustrations Showing Current Practice by David Rees. It may seem hard to imagine how you can stretch this topic into an entire book and even the author seems to be reaching a bit by the end. If you are little bit interested but don’t really want to read the book you can watch a short film of him expounding on artisanal pencil sharpening (CLICK HERE). Please note that what he calls a #2 pencil is what the rest of the world calls a HB. Make sure you watch right to the end of the credits where he expresses my opinion on mechanical pencils perfectly. According to the CBC, he gave up his pencil sharpening business over a year ago. (April 2016)

If a pencil sharpener was a person, they wouldn’t have any tolerance for either personal sloppiness or fuzzy thinking. They would get right to the point and demand you shape up immediately.


It is often said we should live our lives with no regrets, but if that were the case would there be any need for erasers? Erasers are one stationery item where there is no point in holding on to them as they degrade over time. Still, I just can’t part with my typewriter eraser. It is a symbol of just how far I have come. Yes, readers, I learned to type on a manual typewriter that did not even have correctable ribbon. There were a few types of typewriter erasers back in the day, but this one was pencil-style with a little brush on the end to remove the crumbs so they wouldn’t fall into the mechanics of the typewriter.


While pink erasers (the ol’ Pink Pearl) were common when I was in school, they never worked really well as they tended to leave a smudge behind. At some point I was introduced to the white vinyl eraser and have never looked back.

before and after

The original white vinyl eraser is the Staedtler Mars. Not just good for home use, they are also used in book conservation because they have neutral pH and are sulfur-free. They do leave a lot of crumbs behind so if you don’t like sweeping them up with your hands, you can get a handy little truck to do it for you. The Midori Mini Cleaner actually does a very good job of picking up the debris, takes up little space on a desk, and doesn’t use batteries.


Although my favourite erasers are the white vinyl ones (even my novelty Santa one works well), I have a couple of others too. My daughter gave me a kneadable eraser she got in an art class. These erasers have a putty-like feel that work by picking up and absorbing the pencil mark rather than by rubbing it off. You can refresh it by stretching and kneading in the graphite but at a certain point they have absorbed all they can. So even though they don’t wear away like typical erasers, they don’t last forever.


Finally, my pink pencil topper eraser seemed like a good idea, but like all pink erasers, I don’t find they really work well. Definitely not recommended.


So what would eraser people be like? They seem flexible but erasers are small and domineering people, not just happy to win an argument, they have to obliterate their opponent.

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.