One of the great ironies of wooden pencil merchandising is that for a product that’s a symbol — perhaps the symbol — of globalized industry, we see so few of the on the shelves in the United States. There are Ticonderoga pencils, of course, and Write Dudes. If it’s a fancy store, there are some Japanese and German brands, and of course there are bottom-shelf no-branded pencils. I barely even notice those anymore.
But what about Indian pencils?
This post is not a review of any specific pencil made in India. For that, you should check out in-depth reviews by my friends Mike at Lead Fast and Dee at The Weekly Pencil. You could even listen to the a recent episode of The Erasable Podcast where Mike talks about them.
What I do want to do here is celebrate Indian pencils, and give you a few resources if you want to explore them on your own.
What’s so great about Indian pencils?
As Mike said on Episode 75 when asked this same question, they’re one of the best quality pencils for the price. And the way they use color and typography make it, aesthetically, much more interesting than the vast majority of the pencils you can buy around here. As iconic and trusted as the yellow pencil is in the US, it gets a little boring after a while.
And for less than two dollars for a 10-pack, most pencil models are super cheap. Even if you spend that same amount shipping it over here.
In a nutshell, they’re a breath of fresh air in a market where attractive pencils are usually extremely expensive (Blackwing and Tombow, for example) and inexpensive pencils are terrible performers and, well, just boring.
My very favorite pencil shop in the world is Caroline Weaver’s shop, CW Pencil Enterprise. She has one of the best selections of wooden pencils in the US, with exclusive stocks of Viking pencils, Hindustan, and a few other brands. It was from her I learned about the Nataraj Pop, which I’ve written about here before, and a few others like the Apsara Joi.
She introduced me, and a lot of my pencil-centric friends, to Indian brands like Nataraj and Apsara, both made by Hindustan Pencils, and the standard of what I think associate with Indian pencils.
A few months ago, I got a message on Facebook from Suraj Singh, a pencil fan from Faridabad, India. He runs a small online stationery business, The Curios. Suraj is a member of our Erasable Pencil Community Facebook group, and wanted to know if the group would have any interest in buying Indian-brand pencils from him. Of course we would!
He sent me a price sheet, and I realized there were brands I never heard of! Pencils with names like “Camlin Flora Chhota Bheem,” “Navneet Stallion Full Black” and “Rorito Trizy” stuck out to me. I wanted one of everything.
Luckily, Suraj has a plan for that. He offers a sampler pack of either one or two pencils of every variety he offers, and for really cheap. I bought the 2-pack sampler which includes 110 or more pencils, for only $14.50!
(Shipping was almost twice that amount, though, but still a good deal considering it came more than 7500 miles to get to me.)
The full selection of what came in my package from The Curios India. All this for only $14.50! I ordered the 10-pack of Apsara Pop pencils separately.
As soon as I opened the box, I was in love. Aesthetically, they came in varied, bright colors with contrasting end caps. Bold, foil-pressed typography with fun descriptive words (like “Learn with fun” on the Eco-buddy and “Neat & Dark” on the Rorito Quicky). There was a high percentage of triangular pencils, which Ive always been into. It’s just an explosion of color and fun, which I don’t see a lot of around.
The colors, the designs, the typography, and the words on these assorted Indian pencils are unique and just so delightful to me.
Sure, the high-end pencils that go around our community are beautiful — the newest Blackwing Volumes edition celebrating Lake Tahoe is an example of the aesthetic beauty that special, high-end pencils can bring — but these Indian pencils are something else. They’re maybe not as polished and “special” in their design. Their bright colors are commonplace, which really appeals to me.
How do they write?
Generally, they write well. As I mentioned, I don’t want this to be a review post. Some are dark and buttery, like the aforementioned Rorito Quicky or the Flair Dotcom D100 (which looks a lot like the Faber Castell Grip 2001), and some are light and scratchy like Victory HB (Not to be confused with the Victory HD, with “unbreakable graphite.”)
Without stereotyping too much, I would say Indian pencil that advertise as being “extra dark” write a bit lighter than Japanese pencils of the same. They aren’t quite as exacting in their core grading (one pencil has “HB+” written on the barrel — what does that even mean?), but at a fraction of the price, I don’t expect them to be.
How do I get some of these pencils?
If you want a box of assorted Indian pencils, reach out to Suraj. The easiest way is probably through his Facebook Page, though if you dont use that platform, you can email him, too, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re in the US, just remember that shipping will likely cost more than the product itself, and still take a couple of weeks to arrive. That’s pretty standard and expected.
He also sells those pencils by boxes of 10, if you know what make and model you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for one or two pencils of more limited availability, perhaps to add to a larger order of other pencil ephemera, head over to CW Pencils. They have a smaller selection, but some of the best, like the fabulously hand-marbled Nataraj Marble Pencil or the Apsara Absolute Extra Strong.
There are lots of assorted sellers on Amazon, but at this point, I don’t know enough about them to recommend them. They seem to offer pretty good prices, often with shipping built into the cost, but often, they seem to be much slower in shipping than the two sellers I mention above. Buy from there at your own risk.
And meanwhile, check out a few of these reviews of Indian pencils on other fine pencil blogs: