Pencil Review: Pencil Subscriptions June 2017

June 2017 Pencil Subscriptions

June was the month for quarterly pencil subscriptions. All three of the major quarterly pencil subscriptions arrived within a couple weeks of each other. The C.W. Pencils Pencil Box #2: Japan Box, the Baron Fig Archer Prismatic and the Palomino Blackwing Editions #73 Lake Tahoe edition all arrived in June 2017. On the surface, they are all pencil subscriptions and the all ship quarterly but beyond that, I feel they all do very different things.

Of course, if you are a pencil enthusiast, you may find yourself subscribing to more than one of these subscriptions – or all three.

Blackwing Volumes #73 Lake Tahoe

The Blackwing Volumes subscription is still $99/year plus shipping and includes the one dozen limited edition pencils plus the one extra pencil in the tube, labelled and sealed. Often the Volume edition includes an “extra” of some sort. The Lake Tahoe edition included a sticker and information about conservation efforts around Lake Tahoe.

The pencils is a blue that, as a designer, I immediately describe as “reflex blue” which is an ink color description. There are textural raised topographical lines on the pencil to simulate lake’s geography.

A reader Steve clarified for me that the reference to “73” is not the depth of Lake Tahoe as I stated in the News last week but:

Thought you might want to know, in your Blackwing 73 blurb, the “73” refers to “Secchi depth” rather than the depth of the lake. Secchi depth is the depth at which a white disk becomes invisible; it’s a method of measuring clarity of the water. The pencil pays tribute to efforts to clean up the lake. At it’s deepest, it’s 1,645 feet.

So, Lake Tahoe is actually REALLY DEEP!

This edition features the original Palomino Blackwing core known in the pencil community as the MMX. Its the darkest, softest lead. The ferrule is silver and the eraser is white. More about the writing experience at the end of this round-up.

C.W. Pencils Pencil Box #2: The Japan Box

The second C.W. Pencils Pencil Box Quarterly Subscription ($30, currently sold out but you can be added to the waiting list) arrived at the beginning of June and it was themed The Japan Box. This box included a selection of rare and unusual pencils from Japan as well as some interesting pencil accessories from Japan like the aluminum pencil caps, the thinnest Tombow Mono click eraser and sticker dots made from masking tape that can be written on with pencil, of course.

The pencils included were both serious, like the Tajima 2H and the Mitsubishi 9852 HB, the unusual like the Gekkoso 8B and the playful like the Camel Helvetica HB and the Handy-Janken novelty pencil. Again, all the writing tests are included at the end of this round-up.

Baron Fig Archer Prismatic

The Baron Fig Archer Prismatic Pencil ($15 for a tube of 12) while no longer a subscription service per se, was delivered this month in its now recognizable tube. Inside was four each of three primary painted pencils featuring Baron Fig’s recognizable graphic style elements of a cone, a tube and a box. The colors and the shapes represent the building blocks of ideas and pencils are the tools for drawing or writing your ideas.

I spoke with the folks over at Baron Fig and they have chosen to move away from an official subscription model. They’ve contacted their subscribers directly to let them know that they are focusing their resources and small staff on releasing products “people are requesting and seem excited” about as well as new ventures.

The Archer Prismatic is now listed as a limited edition design, like many of its notebook and pen designs. Baron Fig will be offering special color/style options in limited editions on occasion and this is one of them. The nice thing about this model is that it gives people the option to buy into the designs they like when they are released without committing to an ongoing subscription. Many other manufacturers make a special “color of the season” or release a new color for the year and when I like it, I buy it and on the years that I don’t, I pass on it. Since pencils are things I potentially use up, this is a very good option.

Pencil Tests

The final step in any good round-up of pencils is to test the pencils, of course!

I know most people are absolutely giddy over the Blackwing 73 but as soon as I heard that it was the MMX core, my smudgy palm, left-handed heart fell. This is just not the pencil for me unless I could bore out the core. The MMX core is just too soft for me. If I could put the #24 extra firm core in them, then I might be a fan but, as it stands, these are not my favorites. Aesthetically and from a storytelling angle, I like the Volumes editions that were more about the artists and writers. This year’s editions are more outdoorsy and as an asthmatic, bookish artist from the Midwest, pencils about how awesome California is just don’t resonate with me the same way the #24 Steinbeck, #344 Dorothea Lange and even (despite the MMX core) the Méliès #1138. Those remain my favorites.

After using the soft core of the #73, switching to the HB core of the Baron Fig Prismatic was quite a shift. It is a considerably drier writing experience after the Blackwing. But for a lefty like myself, a lot less messy. I do like the non-eraser top pencil experience since I’m a bit of an eraser snob. (See: The Great Eraser Rub-Off Challenge, Black Erasers vs. Black Pencils, and the Erase-Off to get an idea) I also think the pencil balance is better without the ferrule and eraser though I do like the aesthetics of the Blackwing with it’s odd flat eraser and ferrule. Ah, but a dipped-end pencil! Anyway, the Prismatic is a pleasant albeit slightly dry writing experience. The finish on the pencils is pleasant, smooth but not slick. The graphics are modern and chic. The colors are poppy without being blinding. It’s upscale cool.

Then the wonderful variety in the C.W. Pencils Pencil Box! The Tajima 2H is a firm, light writing pencil for a Japanese construction company rumored to be made by Tombow. It writes pretty light but not too scratchy. The metallic gold dipped end and gold foil stamping is CLASSY!

The Mitsubishi 9852 HB “Master Writing” is exquisitely smooth. Its the classic Japanese interpretation of a yellow pencil turned up to 11. It really is unfair to compare it to the other HB pencil featured this month, the Baron Fig Prismatic but the experience is vastly different. The 9852 is like writing on silk where the Prismatic has a definite grit to it. The ferrule on the 9852 is bronze colored and the eraser is the palest pink.  If you can’t tell yet, the 9852 is my favorite pencil in the whole of all the pencils I received this month. You will pretty much have to pry it from my cold, dead hands at this point.

The Camel Helvetica pencil is a smooth, round white barrel pencil with the ferrule-less black eraser that Camel Pencil Co. has become recognized for. The Helvetica pencil writes quite dark but not as the Blackwing #73. I feel about this pencil about how I feel about the font Helvetica… meh.

The Gekkoso 8B is a hex-shaped, slighty thicker-than-usual pencil with a wide core and a natural wood finish pencil. It is a beautiful pencil and definitely something that artists will be attracted to. My husband loves big, dark graphite pencils so when I saw this, I knew he would be claiming this as his new drawing pencil as soon as I got it photographed. It comes from a Japanese art supply shop and this is the only pencil they make.

And finally, the Handy-Janken is a novelty pencil with a fist-shaped eraser top which is a reference to the Japanese version of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The pencil is not a bad writer. The wrap is a matte finish on the round barrel and the cartoon characters are cute. I like that I learned a bit about the culture while being entertained.

In Conclusion

Are these subscriptions (or in the case of Baron Fig, limited editions) worth the price? I think that’s something you have to decide for yourself. I can’t afford a plane ticket to New York every quarter to shop in person at C.W. Pencil Enterprise so a curated box, with a card describing what each item is and a postcard is a lovely treat and I learn more from their extensive pencil knowledge with every box. Now that the Baron Fig Archer pencils will be a limited edition collection, I can pick and choose which editions I will buy. I think I might start doing the same thing with the Blackwing Volumes as well. As much as I fall prey to FOMO, and I like to review products for you, I only need one pencil to write a review, not a dozen.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the items included in this review were sent to me free of charge for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

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2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I also need a firmer graphite, and I’m so let down that the Tahoe pencil is soft. It’s too bad they don’t make each volume in both hardnesses so you have a choice.

    On the other hand, I just got an order from CW that included the Tajima 2H–I think it’s my new favorite pencil!

  2. Nice review, Ana! Too bad these subscriptions aren’t staggered a bit more so it’s not always feast or famine! 🙂 Despite being a lefty, I LOVE the MMX core, and I have been waiting a long time to see another Volumes with it! Yay! I just ordered a box! Color-wise, though, I like the Prismatics more — such a joyful, primary palette. Wish I could put the MMX core in the Prismatics. And that Gekkoso — I think it’s my favorite sketching pencil now! And so comfortable to use.


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