I can’t think of anything more patriotic than red & blue pencils. And boy, have I amassed a collection! I just love these things. Some red/blue pencils were originally designed to be “copying pencils” in that they could be wet to transfer writing to a copy like a mimeograph. Others were for copy editing, colors denoting specific changes. I’m sure there are other arcane uses for them that have been lost to the annals of time. I like them as a way to carry two colored pencils in one stick, for portability.
All the red/blue pencils I tested out were purchased in the past year or so meaning that these are not all that hard to find. The prices range from about $1 to about $3 with the average price for a red/blue pencil being around $1. The Caran d’Ache BiColor 999 was the most expensive, as was to be expected at about $2.80 but worth every penny.
I tested each of the pencils by doing a little test scribble, an erased scribble and a wet scribble to see if the pencil was water soluble for both the blue and red leads.
The Artesco Bi-Color pencil was notable for being a rounded triangular shape which was comfortable in the hand. It was slightly water soluble but not too bad. Sadly, I don’t remember where I found this particular pencil. If someone else knows where to find purchasing information about this model, please let me know.
There were only three of the pencils that were very water resistant: The Tombow 8900 VP ($6.84 for a dozen), the Charles Leonard, and the Pedigree Empire. All three are smooth round barrel pencils. The Charles Leonard ($4.99 per dozen) was the scratchiest of all the red/blue pencils that I tried. The Pedigree Empire was a decent performer overall but was another pencil that I’m having trouble tracking down where I purchased it. If you want a non-water soluble red/blue pencil I would recommend the Tombow 8900 VP. The color is smooth, rich and dark. The finish on the pencil is fabulous too. Being able to purchase the Tomow 8900 VP via Amazon for under $7 per dozen is totally worth it. Grab a box and share the love with friends, family and kids in your neighborhood.
The Mistubishi Colour Pencil 2637 ($1 each) is also a beautiful Japanese pencil. I got what is known as the 70:30 which is 70% red and 30% blue. Why? Maybe its used mostly as a correction pencil so the red color is used most often and the blue is the STET part?… if you ever worked in newspaper, you’ll know STET is the shorthand for “nevermind, don’t make that change” in a Latin abbreviation I can no longer remember. All you copy editors out there leave a comment if you remember what it means. I’m just guessing here… Anyone know?
The Mitsubishi is also available in a standard 50:50 split ($1 each).
The Harvest Thick 725 and the Pedigree Empire 603 are the only red/blue pencil still made in the USA by the Musgrave Co. though I think the Pedigree have since been discontinued. The Harvest Thick 725 ($0.50) and the Musgrave Hermitage Thin ($0.40) are still available. The Harvest Thick is a good, durable red/blue pencil at a very reasonable price. It does not react to water that much so it would be good for base drawings and its made in Tennessee so it doesn’t have far to travel for most US pencil enthusiasts.
Then there’s the Brevillier Urban Copying Pencil Nr. 1925 ($24 per dozen) which, when wet, gets that lovely aqua color in the blue that is common of indelible pencils. The red end does not seem to be water soluble however. The blue also erases pretty easily which is pretty nice if you wanted to use it for sketching. Overall, it is a unique pencil and worth squirreling a dozen away in your collection, if you are a pencil pack rat like I am.
And finally, the king daddy beaucoup of them all, the Caran d’Ache BiColor 999 ($2.80 each) which is the most water soluble, most luscious AND also most expensive of all of the red/blue pencils. I love it but because it literally melts like a watercolor pencil with water, I treat it more like a watercolor pencil than a regular colored pencil.
So, if I were to recommend three red/blue pencils to try, I’d tell you to get the Tombow 8900 VP, the Harvest Thick 725 and a Caran d’Ache BiColor 999. Even if you bought a dozen of the Tombow and one of the Harvest and the Caran d’Ache, you would still only be spending about $10 and you’d be a very happy, very patriotic camper. Don’t forget a good pencil sharpener. Because these pencils are a bit wider than your average #2, I’d recommend a sharpener with a wider opening or one specifically designed for colored pencils.