Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this review for the now-defunct PencilThings.com blog in May, 2007. See the bottom for an update written yesterday.
Helix Oxford Premium Grade HB
Being an anglophile, I appreciate all things British. I love loose-leaf tea, Doctor Who, Crispix crackers, not pronouncing the letter “H,” among others. So when I read that Pencil Things introduced a UK pencil not found in the US, I jumped.
And for the most part, I like it. Let’s talk about the aesthetics first, since that is what initially attracts buyers. I don’t dig the pink wood. The navy veneer and the white eraser look good, but the red-hued wood just doesn’t go. It doesn’t even smell good, like the incensed cedar so many fine pencils use.
One positive thing about the wood, though, is that it sharpened really smoothly. Although my sharpener was bought from Target, it was like cutting butter with a knife.
Kudos to the graphite, though — it stayed sharp and although it initially left a fine dust on the paper after pressing the newly sharpened point to the paper, it held its sharpness like a champ.
As the product description says, the eraser lacks the pumice-like quality of the pink variety, and I think that may be a step in the right direction. It erases clean and smoothly, and doesn’t leave grit in its wake. (Plus, I think it looks nicer.)
Speaking of erasers, I think it is brilliant that the eraser is removable and replaceable. Just give it a firm tug and it pops right out. Although I don’t make too many mistakes when writing (being a pen user before I was converted to graphite), my handwriting is atrocious, and I often have to erase and write more legibly. I always run out of eraser before running out of pencil.
I also wonder if any British people out there can explain this to me — There is a large barcode imprinted on the side of the barrel. Why is that? I own a pen bought at an office supply store in England with the same thing on it. Can’t you put it on a sticker, so as to peel the unsightly barcode off after purchase?
UPDATE Sept. 15, 2010: I tried one of my Helixs on a Rhodia notepad (known for its really nice, smooth paper) in a side-by-side comparison to a Dixon Ticonderoga, often considered to be the iconic standard pencil. I thought it fared well:
As you can see from the picture above (click to embiggen), the Oxford was a hair darker and more consistant than the Dixon. The square that I filled in with a dark line was darker, and the graphite erased better through the squiggle.
At the time of this posting, it seems the only place you can buy this pencil around the US is at PencilThings, and they are out of stock. You might want to contact the good people at the US distributor for Helix, HelixUSA.