Tag: pencil

Pencil Review: Viarco Vintage Collection Box Set

I’d been putting it off for sometime but I couldn’t wait any longer when I realized there was only one Viarco Vintage Collection box set left on the CW Pencil Enterprise web site left. I had to get it. Viarco is a small pencil manufacturer in Portugal that is still producing pencils and has been in business since 1907.

The only difference between the box set and buying the boxes individually is the outer box with the matte black box with the gloss black foil stamp. You can still get all six different varieties of Viarco vintage pencils by the dozen.

The set includes reproductions of Viarco’s pencil varieties made between 1940 and 1960. They have reproduced both the pencils and the packaging to a tee. The pencils are:

  • 1950 #2/HB (all yellow, hex-shaped, unfinished ends)
  • 1951 #2/HB (2 each of six solid colors with pinstripes, hex-shaped coordinating dipped ends)
  • 2000 #2/HB (2 each of six metallic colors, hex-shaped with yellow dipped ends)
  • 272D Violeta Copying Pencil (round, unfinished end)
  • 3000 #2/HB (2 each of six metallic colors, round with yellow dipped ends)
  • 3500 #2/HB (all red with pinstripes, hex-shaped, unfinished ends)

I love the script lettering of their logo type. I’d say 60% of the reason I purchased the pencils was for the design of the packaging. As a designer, I love the look of the vintage packaging. The way that the tail of the V curls around the pencil on the box of the 3500s alone was worth the purchase of the box.

All the boxes have the scores on the inner box so it slides out and can them flip down to more easily access pencils. They may be simple paperboard boxes but they are still nicely engineered to be useful.

I had one or two pencils out of the six dozen that had a bad foil stamping on the pencil, on the 3000 round, I think, but overall the quality of the painting and printing was pretty consistent.

The 272D Violeta had the least amount of paint and shellac and felt the most utilitarian but since these were supposed to be reproductions of pencils made between 1940 and 1960, I suspect that war-era and post-war pencils were probably not super-posh to begin with. Resources were limited then and this pencil probably reflects that specifically.

I took the pencils for a test drive. All the standard graphite pencils came pre-sharpened so I used them as is. All were listed as a standard #2/HB. The 3000, which is the only round barrel in the lot, is definitely a softer lead and darker than the rest.

The 1951 “Super” Desenho does feel like the most premium of all the pencils. It has the most lacquer on the barrel and feels weightier. The lead feels similar to the other hex pencils but the wood and the finish makes it feel “super.”

In terms of writing and hand-feel, the 2000 is pretty similar to the 1951. The metallic finish softens the hex shape a bit but the weight and lead is the same. the lacquer is very smooth.

The 3500, with its unfinished end, is the lightest in the hand. It also felt life it had the least amount of lacquer so the hex-shaped felt most pronounced in the hand. I found myself reaching for the 3500 most often. Its just a clean, true hex pencil.

The 1950 is the Portuguese “yellow pencil”. The color is more yellow-orange than what I normally think of as the Dixon-Ticonderoga yellow and the lacquer and lead quality of the 1950 puts the Viarco way above the modern Ticonderoga by leaps and bounds. Unadorned, its the perfect companion for a kraft Field Notes in a all-business sort of way.

Lastly, is the 272D Violeta Copying pencil which writes is a lovely purple color. It erases but doesn’t smudge terribly and when wet with water it makes a lovely violet color. I tried to transfer the color to another page with no real results so that didn’t quite work. What I did discover is that after the scribbles were wet and dried, they were permanent. I couldn’t erase them. So that’s what the magic is. If you want to write or draw something and make it permanent, spritz it with water and let it dry. It’s not going anywhere.

Each box of Viarco Vintage pencils is available from CW Pencils for $15 per dozen.

Pencil Review: Baron Fig Snakes & Ladders

Review by Tina Koyama

When Baron Fig’s standard edition Archer pencil came out a while back, I thought it was fine as far as writing pencils go – attractive matte finish, lightweight, not smeary – but somewhat blah in appearance. As a Pacific Northwest resident who sees gray skies much of the year, I generally stay away from gray products of any kind simply on principle, but I was happy to have a couple of them to use.

A few weeks ago the New York City stationery maker released the first in its quarterly limited-edition Archer pencil series – Snakes & Ladders. Upon seeing photos of that brilliant vermilion barrel, my pulse quickened – it matches my favorite Field Notes Sweet Tooth perfectly!

Like its gray brother, it has a lovely matte finish with an elegant dipped end cap in a darker shade of the same hue. Adornment is spare: snake and ladder symbols and Baron Fig’s simple logo near the end cap. The two pencils are similar enough in basic design that they look like they belong together. Like many of BF’s products, the clean, confident design is very appealing.

Of course, there’s also the tubular container the pencils come in. I like it so much that I would be willing to buy an empty tube just to store other pencils in.

With a matte finish to match the pencil, it has the same tone-on-tone design, simple branding and a brief description of the theme. When the gray Archer first came out, I saw many photos of how the 12 pencils fit perfectly inside, and I almost bought a box just for that (but I resisted because I just couldn’t bring more gray into my life).

I have to admit that before seeing promotional info about this edition, I was not familiar with the Snakes and Ladders ancient Indian board game (though I did play Chutes & Ladders as a child). “The symbols help to encourage you through obstacles you may slither into your life as you climb to find success,” says the product description page, and I appreciate the way that ties into Baron Fig’s basic mission “to champion thinkers in their journey to create and inspire the world.” In fact, I’d say it’s the one thing I like best about all of BF’s product lines (which I can’t say about some other stationery companies’ subscription-based products): They stick to a basic philosophical theme related to creativity, exploration and inspiration.

If the Snakes & Ladders design is a template of future pencil editions to come, I started imagining a growing set of similarly matte-finished pencils in a range of colors, and my subscription finger started to quiver. I was close to tapping the button – but then I started hearing rumors and reading reviews in the stationery blogosphere that something was amiss.

The cores were breaking even without being used, as if they were already shattered inside their casings. People showed photos of entire cartons of Snakes & Ladders pencils that couldn’t be sharpened properly because the cores snapped repeatedly. Apparently Baron Fig’s customer service department was busy taking care of the problem, so subscribers eventually ended up with useable pencils.  But were these random anomalies? Or evidence of a fundamental problem?

Ana sent me a couple of Snakes & Ladders to try, and I sharpened one with trepidation. As I often do with an unfamiliar new graphite pencil, I simply stuck it into an electric sharpener. (No point in babying a product of utility, I say.) It sharpened just fine. I used it to write two pages in my Rhodia journal that evening. I didn’t care much for how it felt, but I’m accustomed to my fountain pens gliding along on that smooth paper, so that seemed like an unfair test. Before using it again, I sharpened it, this time with my Blackwing long point. Again, it sharpened just fine – no breakage at all.

Next I wrote a page in my Plumchester sketchbook, which I knew to have a pleasantly toothy surface that I enjoy when sketching with graphite. The tooth gripped the Snakes & Ladders graphite nicely without feeling scratchy. Even better was a page written in my Baron Fig Confidant, which also has a slight tooth that’s just a touch less toothy than Plumchester paper. Some have said that the Archer pencil feels pleasant on BF notebook paper when it feels scratchy on other similar papers. I don’t know if BF designed its pencils to mate perfectly with its paper, but I have to admit that I’m more likely to write with it in the Confidant before other notebooks now that I know how it feels.

I must say, however, that the writing experience is nothing to write home about. It’s quite average. I suppose you could say that the Snakes & Ladders pencil does not call attention to itself in any way, which suits its unpretentious exterior appearance. It’s not silent, but it doesn’t make enough noise to annoy me. It feels pleasant but doesn’t make me swoon (as, say, the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B does). Perhaps the only exceptional feature is that matte finish, which feels wonderful in my hand (and this is difficult for me to acknowledge, but I like that matte finish even more than the glossy lacquer on my swoon-inducing Hi-Uni).

Finger smudging is typical for a core that I would guess is an HB grade, and erasing is also typical. My left hand did not smudge my writing across the page, so that’s a bonus.

After four pages of writing and two sharpenings, it hasn’t broken once yet.

Anomaly or issue? It’s hard to say. I might subscribe, just for that tube if nothing else. But in any case, I’m going to wait for the next edition to come out. Given the customer service and responsiveness that BF has shown, if the pencil core has an issue, it will be addressed before the next edition comes out. Although I applaud innovative designs in subscription-based services, I would be very happy if all future pencils look like they belong with this one and the standard Archer. Even the gray one looks better when standing next to the vermilion one.


Tina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.


DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by Baron Fig for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Vintage Colored Pencil Haul

This weekend I acquired a large quantity of vintage Prismacolor and Derwent colored pencils from a local printing company that used to do a lot of photo retouching work. I was asked “What’s the big deal with vintage Prismacolors?”

Besides loving the beautiful logos, the quality of the foil stamping and paint on the Eagle brand Prismacolors manufactured in the US is top-notch. But in terms of actual material quality, the cores are less likely to break, are more likely to be centered, and overall better quality. So, why wouldn’t I stockpile them?

There’s a lot of great colors in this grouping too.

I don’t have as much experience with Derwent colored pencils but these are all made in Britain/England and labelled “Rexel Cumberland” in various iterations. They are similar to a lot of the pencils I’ve acquired from clearance sales at work. I pretty much have enough of these now to build a shed in the backyard out of colored pencils. Or color in an entire city block. Either option sounds excellent.

Also included in the stash was a few miscellaneous China Markers (wax crayons), dried out ballpoint pens, a couple local advertising pencils, a couple Stabilo ALL pencils, a Hardmuth Aviator 3H pencil, and a few Berol-era Prismacolor colored pencils.

Not too bad for $10.

News: The Pencil Perfect

Look what popped up this morning in my Amazon recommendations! Yes, folks, Caroline Weaver of CW Pencil Enterprise fame has a book on the way! The book is called The Pencil Perfect: The Untold Story of a Cultural Icon and it will be released in hardcover on April 24, 2017. The price is listed at $40 for the hardcover and I’m sure that CW Pencil Enterprise will be hosting an epic book release party. Keep an eye on their blog for more news.

Congrats, Caroline, and I can’t wait to get my copy. Maybe someday, you’ll sign it for me?

Pencil Review: Dixon Reach Deep Hole Pencils

I confess that when I saw the Dixon Reach DEEP HOLE pencils I laughed uncontrollably. My reaction to these pencils (or at least the branding and packaging) was similar to the reaction a lot of people had to Bic for Her pens. I understand that there is a use-case for these within the construction industry but the HOLE (pun intended) thing is just so BIC for HIM. Especially considering that, on first glance, its just a bridge pencil repainted in “manly” black paint.

I provided a clear photo of the packaging for full entertainment purposes. My other response was that “doesn’t graphite mark on most surfaces anyway?” to the second point that indicates “special lead marks on most surfaces”.  The final bullet indicates that the lead is PMA certified which is also vague. It could either be certified by the FAA Parts Manufacturer Approval, Pilates Method Alliance or… maybe… the Pencil Makers Association! Probably should have been a bit more specific since it looks like its pretty hard to get that particular certification.

I got out my trusty Hester & Cook trusty Bridge Pencil to compare to the Dixon Reach and it turns out that the Reach is actually thinner than a traditional Bridge pencil. It’s also a good deal longer even without a ferrule and eraser. While I find a Bridge pencil pretty comfortable to handle the Dixon is too thin to really handle for much more than the occasional mark making as its been indicated for use. The long, paintbrush length gives it a strange balance too. It’s slim dimensions will mean sharpening will require either a knife or some experimentation to fit into a standard sharpener.

The graphite is pretty dark and a bit waxy. I suspect that is what makes it more “write on any surface”. I does erase pretty easily with my favorite Staedtler Mars Plastic. It doesn’t smudge too much but is susceptible to water solubility so the waxiness is a water soluble wax. If you are using this to mark on surfaces, you should be able to get most marks off with soap and water (think Stabilo All pencils and other grease pencils).

So there you have it. Next time you are at the hardware store (Bob found these for me at Lowe’s), don’t forget to skim the end caps and pencil aisle. You never know what you might find.

Pencil Review: All the Blackwing Volumes (thus far)

This has been a post I’ve been planning for a long time. I wanted to compare and test all seven of the Blackwing Editions that have been released thus far against one another. The rub was that I didn’t start my subscription until the second edition, No. 1138. So, thankfully, a kind knitter on Ravelry sent me a brand new No. 725 in order to complete the collection. Then I destroyed it by sharpening it for the test. So, here we go.

I sharpened a fresh Blackwing from each edition to start the test, even if I had one I’d been using to make everything consistent. I used the same sharpener — a brand new Stabilo Swan, mostly because it has a good German blade and its gorgeous. Thanks to Wonderfair in Lawrence, KS for stocking such a cool sharpener! The photos are each of the pencils sharepened, in the order they were released: No, 725 (Sunburst/Newport), No. 211 (John Muir), No. 1138 (Mélîes), No. 24 (Steinbeck), No. 56 (DiMaggio), No. 344 (Dorothea Lange), and No. 530 (Gold Rush).

The No. 56 makes my favorite shavings!

The No. 530 looks amazing and its really golden next to its perfect curl of shavings.

I went through each of the Blackwing Editions and noted the descriptions listed on the Blackwing 602 site regarding the type of graphite used in the edition to help establish if I could tell a notable difference in the performance of each pencil.

The No. 1138 is the only edition listed with the soft graphite and was definitely the darkest lead. Alternately, the first edition released, the No. 725 was the only one with the “balanced graphite” core. All the rest of the editions have used either the firm or extra firm core.

While both the No. 530 and the No. 24 list the “extra firm” graphite, I think the No. 24 graphite seems a bit firmer but it could just be me.

Regarding overall finishes on the pencils, I like the look of the No. 56 ($25 per dozen) the best. I just love those stripes. But the No. 530 ($25 per dozen) metallic gold is quickly moving up the ranks. In a blindfold test though, the pencil that felt best in my hands was the No. 24. The finish of the the Steinbeck is one of the best I’ve ever felt. The lacquer on it is impeccable. Unfortunately, the Steinbeck No.24 is almost impossible to find anymore. The red metallic ferrule on the No. 344 ($25 per dozen) is so cool. It also looks good if you switch out the eraser with a different color though to be honest, none of the stock Palomino erasers work all that well. Your best bet is to use a stand alone eraser if you are inclined to erase. Check out my eraser reviews for my best recommendations.

To give some perspective about the various graphite firmnesses used in the Editions, the firm graphite is the same as what is used in the Blackwing 602. While the “balanced graphite” is the same as the Blackwing Pearl. The “soft graphite” is the same as the original Palomino Blackwing which is colloquially known as the Blacking MMX. As for the “extra firm”, this is a new design as far as I understand it only available through the Editions.

So, to give you a wrap up of how the Editions shake out thus far, there have been one MMX edition, one Pearl edition, three 602 editions and two “extra firm” editions. So, what do you think the release in March 2017 might be? Will Palomino go back to one of their classics like the MMX or Pearl cores or will they try something totally new?

Art of the Day: Pencils for Signage

Since the site I found this particular art was all in Spanish I had to rely on some iffy translation software but it looks like Catharsis Studio used over 2500 pencils to create signage for BCN Lip Language School to hang in their lobby out of pencils. I love the script “Lip” and how great it looks out of pencil eraser “dots”.

Clever and colorful but I feel sorry for whoever has to dust this!