Bullet pencils: Pocket-friendly utensils from a bygone era

Agricultural bullet pencilsFor reasons I can’t explain, I usually only talk about half of my pencil collection on here. I talk about new products, mostly — pencils available to most everyone that is for sale now.

But I also have a lot of advertising and souvenir pencils. Probably ten cigar boxes worth. They’re not particularly known for being good quality pencils, but they appeal to me in their uniqueness. Many of them are decades old; and I can only imagine that there are not many left in the world.

One subset of that collection are several agricultural bullet pencils. A good friend of mine gave them to me a few years ago after her grandmother died and my friend was in charge of cleaning out her farmhouse in Illinois. There was a drawer full of these old pencils — given to her by salesmen from seed supplier, feed yards, stockyards, and more.

I love these things, but they're pretty old.

I love these things, but they’re pretty decrepit.

I treasure them, though I never use them, mostly because they’re so old. The erasers have petrified and often, the pencil barrel has run down to no more than a nub . And I don’t have dozens and dozens like Aaron Draplin, perhaps known best among this community as the designer of Field Notes. Pencil Revolution interviewed Draplin back in 2011 about this very subject. Draplin loves these little guys. And for good reason:

First off, it’s the compact quality. I love having a tight little drawing tool in the front pocket at all times, and I’m here to tell ya, these little sonofabitches have saved my butt many a time…on airplanes, in meetings, in a pinch, wherever. I always keep one in the front, left pocket of my 501s.

What I love about them the most, is how banal they were back in the day. Simple, cheap advertising tools given away at local businesses. Feed-n-seed joints, car lots, insurance agents, what have you. Just crappy little promo items that packed a real wallop. I’ve got a couple old salesman sample sets. Old and beat up, and a look into what it was like to have a guy sit down and say, “Here’s what we can do for your company.” So good.

(See his entire interview on Pencil Revolution, in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2)

They are indeed so good. One of my few issues with wooden pencils is that when they’re new, they don’t fit easily into a pocket — they’re too long! If I need to easily carry around a pencil in a shirt pocket or pants pocket, and I don’t have a pencil halfway through its life, I’ll turn to the Zebra #2 mechanical or even — gasp — a Fisher bullet pen (though I can’t find mine as of late! I think it fell into the depths of the couch).

From a utilitarian perspective, bullet pencils are great. They’re really no more than 4 or 5 inches long when sheathed, but they extend out to full pencil length when in writing mode.

The trouble is, I don’t think you can get them anymore. (Pencil Talk doesn’t think so. Neither does Field Notes.) A friend of mine who owns a company that makes promotional products says that she was looking for those a couple of years ago, and came up dry.

From JetPens.com. Click image to follow the link.

From JetPens.com. Click image to follow the link.

JetPens.com has something similar, the Midori Brass Bullet Pencil, but to me, it doesn’t count. It’s $21, and made of brass. This isn’t the vintage, plastic cheapie thing that is given away free. (On the other hand, though, the description says that the brass develops a patina after multiple uses, which is pretty cool. And you can buy replacement pencils and erasers to go with it)

If the promotional bullet pencil is just a relic of the past, so be it. While they’re far from the main course of my pencil collection, they’re a delicious, delightful appetizer. Whenever I see one, I’m thrilled to run across it. And if they are becoming more and more rare, I have all the more reason to treasure the few that I have.

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Kickstarter Rainbow Pencils: What does it MEAN?!

Kickstarter is such an interesting place. From documentaries about Juggalos to more 3D printers than you can shake an extruded plastic stick at, anyone with an idea, cursory video production skills and an internet connection can sign up for a project.

And I love it.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of scribomechanica fans out there who have Kickstarter projects. I won’t go into all of the pens you can find being made there (Brad at Pen Addict has a really great list already assembled — I am partial to the gorgeous Render K by Karas Kustoms), but our inky brethren can pledge to their hearts’ delight.

While pickings are admittedly slimmer, pencil lovers can still find some gems. I’ve written about a few of them before, like a pencil ruler or the Sprout pencil. Why, just yesterday, Pencil Revolution shared this gorgeous notebook with a funny name that just reached its funding goal.

So I’m excited to share this one. This pencil’s only purpose seems to lie in its novel aesthetics, though it’s utterly charming.

It seems simple enough — it’s a rainbow pencil:

Lisa Frank pencils

Oh god, not these. Lisa Frank has nothing on this project. It’s much more understated. Like a kiwi.

Yeah, a kiwi.

When you buy your Kiwi at the supermarket, it’s just a simple, brown hairy thing, right? But you slice it open, and there’s an unexpected shock of color.

Rainbow pencils by Duncan Shotton Design.

These pencils are similar. They have a plain, matte white (or black) barrel. Very tasteful. Then when you start sharpening with your handheld blade sharpener…

POW.

Rainbow pencils by Duncan Shotton Design.

I love me some GIFs, so I was extra excited to see that the Kickstarter page had one of this pencil!

Made with layers of recycled paper, this pencil creates a rainbow as your sharpen it. According to the designer:

Rainbow Pencils function like regular wooden pencils, and are the same size and weight, but they’re not made from wood, they’re made from layers of recycled waste paper. In the United States alone, over 7 million cubic feet of wood are used every year to manufacture wooden pencils. With rainbow pencils, not only do all those trees not need to be cut down, but the huge amount of paper that might otherwise be thrown into landfill, can be recycled and put to good use. Each pencil has a 6-layer rainbow core and comes finished in either black or white.

What a fun way to be environmentally friendly! Most of the recycled paper pencils I’ve used before involved newsprint, so aesthetically, it either looked like newspaper, or mottled gray paper. It definitely lacks the aesthetics of a cedar pencil — no fragrance and no tight woodgrain look.

This rainbow pencil helps with that. I certainly can’t speak to the performance of the pencil, but if delight is in the details, then sharpening this would be a joy.

Head on over to their Kickstarter page to check out the pledge levels and to watch the video!

Rainbow Pencils by Duncan Shotton | Kickstarter.com

A Palomino Blackwing Pearl review

I’ve been a bad pencil blogger, folks.

Pencils.com introduced the Blackwing Pearl back in early May — more than two months ago. I posted two different preview articles about them then, but have been silent since.

It’s not through lack of interest. I’ve used the Pearl almost exclusively since then, switching away to a different Blackwing or a Golden Bear just to compare and contrast.

Box of Palomino Pearl pencils by Pencils.com

I’ve gone through three pencils, and I finally think I’m ready for a review.

Aesthetics

I have to admit, the Blackwing Pearl is gorgeous.

The owner of a local winery (and a client of my employer) took notice of this pencil and bought several dozen to use in the wine tasting room. It compliments the minimalist style of the facility, and a good friend of mine who works there tells me they are running out — patrons keep taking them!

Two-EEs Winery bought a bunch of these pencils because of their style.

Two-EEs Winery bought a bunch of these pencils because of their style.

Visually, this is a logical follow up to the PB Classic and the PB 602 — the pearlescent lustre (that’s right, I spelled that like a British person) looks really nice next to the grey sharkskin of a 602, which sets off the matte black of the original PB.

The Palomino Blackwing family

You can tell which of the Blackwings is most loved in my arsenal.

I have a little bit of an OCD eye twitch that goes off when I think about how, from darkest to lightest, the color of the barrel is:

  • PB Classic
  • PB 602
  • PB Pearl

Yet, from darkest to lightest, the marking of the graphite is:

  • PB Classic
  • PB Pearl
  • PB 602

One thing I got wrong in my (otherwise amazing) mockup of the Pearl was the words stamped on the side. Rather than gold foil, it’s stamped with black, which provides a strong contrast to the barrel paint. And, it matches the black eraser, which brings a little continuity. It’s the little things; I love that.

The barrel of the Palomino Blackwing Pearl

The element that feels out of place, though, is the brass ferrule. I think a steel one would look better, and make the barrel look more pearly. The ferrule here isn’t too gold, though — it’s more subtle, so it still looks really, really good.

Performance

The Palomino Blackwing Pearl writing test against its siblings.

Pencils.com refers to the Pearl as “balanced and smooth”, as a medium ground between the soft PB Classic, which is great for sketching, and the harder PB 602, which is best for writing.

I’ll definitely agree with this assessment. It feels like a great balance between the two previous pencils. In fact, I’d say that it tends to run almost as dark as the Classic, but holds a point much longer, close to the 602.

The eraser does leave dust, but it erases pretty clearly.

The eraser is the same as what comes with the 602 — a black, pumice-like “dust free” eraser. It works great (though it’s not dust free), and it looks beautiful; in high-contrast glory with the white barrel.

Conclusion

I’m a big fan. For my purposes, it’s miles ahead of the PB Classic.

My go-to Blackwing of choice is still the 602, however. I’m more than happy to sacrifice a bit of darkness in my markings to keep the tip as sharp as possible for as long as possible. But then again, I use pencils almost exclusively to write. Coworkers who scribble notes as well as sketch have remarked that they love this; it truly is a great balance between the other two.

The Palomino Blackwing Pearl can be purchased from Pencils.com for $19.95 per dozen, or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can get a gross (that’s 144 pencils) for $163.98.

Elsewhere

There’s a few other pencil and scribomechanica bloggers who were on top of reviews. Check out their posts:

Sneak Peak Pic of the Palomino Blackwing Pearl

Got a snapshot of the new Palomino Blackwing from the guys at Cal Cedar! Check it out:

Palomino Blackwing Pearl

I’m basically the Perez Hilton of pencils. Should I write snarky remarks all over the photo in freehand?

Perez Hilton's Blackwing Pearl

In any case, it’s great to see it. I image the white pencil against the dark desk washes out some of the lacquer detail a little bit, but I’m assuming it’s going to be a bit more, well, pearlized once we can see it in real life. I quite like the black eraser accenting the black lettering on the white barrel, though I don’t know how I feel yet about the brass ferrule. I may want to try a pink eraser in it to see if it looks like a rare albino Blackwing.

Thanks, Alexander, for sending this photo over!

The Palomino Blackwing Pearl — now, with an exclusive preview!

It’s been a very Palomino-focused spring around here at Woodclinched. I hope that soon I’ll have some more Yikes! stuff to show you, but in the meantime, there’s some news out of California Cedar Products that I can’t resist sharing.

Pencils.com and Palomino (I’ve never sure which brand is now the authoritative Blackwing spokes-entity) just announced this week the creation of the Palomino Blackwing Pearl, the third pencil in the Palomino Blackwing lineup.

It sounds like the performance is just right in the middle of the two existing Palomino Blackwings:

The Blackwing Pearl features a lustrous pearl white finish and black eraser, along with a balanced and smooth graphite core that is softer than the graphite found in the Palomino Blackwing 602, but firmer than the graphite found in the Palomino Blackwing.

I spoke with Pencils.com president Charles Berolzheimer, “WoodChuck“, last week about the new pencil. The phrase they’re using to describe it is “balanced and smooth.” I asked if they’re going to put that as the motto on the barrel, and he said no. Charles did, however,  tell me a little bit about the style of the new Pearl.

“It’s going to be pearly white, almost a pinkish, translucent hue,” Charles told me. “We talked a lot about introducing another eraser for it, but we’re going to stick with the black eraser. We’ll still have a series of replacement erasers so people can hack their pencil.”

Admittedly, I imagine a pink eraser would look really good with this pencil, but honestly, the black eraser on the white pencil with that gold ferrule? That’ll look really lovely.

The Blackwing Pearls will be released to the public on May 2, and will apparently be available both on Pencils.com and in retail stores, where the product line has really been become more and more prevalent. No word yet on their price, but I’m assuming they won’t cost more than their counterparts ($19.95 for a dozen, or $163.98 for a gross).

I am proud to announce, however, that Woodclinched has discovered some top secret images of the new pencil. Prepare yourself for the exclusive world premiere of this highly-anticipated pencil:

A fabulous Photoshop mockup of the new Palomino Blackwing Pearl

Just kidding. This is the product of my terrible, terrible Photoshop “skills”. I used to have a vector of the Palomino Blackwing logo, which I can’t seen to locate, so as you can see, I expertly re-created it.

I will, however, attempt to talk my way into a advance sample, so I can give it a good try, all in the service of my Dear Readers. And hopefully, the real-life thing will look much better than this abomination, above. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, check out the full press release here. And after May 2, check out Pencils.com to buy it!

Refreshed product lineup at Pencils.com

 

product_lineup

DISCLAIMER: Okay, so it’s been two years since I’ve worked at Pencils.com, so at some point, I should stop disclaiming myself. But, I worked there in early 2011. I am no longer paid or affiliated with Pencils.com in any official capacity. They sent me the products you see above for free, but they do not compensate me financially in any way.

There have been some seemingly subtle changes going on in the Pencils.com store recently. But they are important to note.

The lineup

First, they’ve eliminated the “California Republic Stationers” brand and rolled the Golden Bear and the Prospector into the “Palomino” brand. So, like the Palomino Blackwing, they now have the Palomino Golden Bear and the Palomino Prospector.

A Palomino Golden Bear next to the old California Republic Golden Bear

A Palomino Golden Bear next to the old California Republic Golden Bear. I appreciate that they don’t come factory sharpened now.

I think this was a wise choice. The California Republic brand for CalCedar’s pencils was pretty weak. No one really identified their pencils with that name. The Palomino, one of my favorite pencils in existence, is a much stronger brand, and made much stronger by the visibility of the new Blackwings being wrapped into their brand.

That, along with the new packaging, really showcases the brand of these pencils.

Secondly, no longer are these pencils made in Taiwan Thailand (Thanks, Charles!) — they’re manufactured right here in the US of A, at the Musgrave Pencil Company in Shelbyville, Tennessee. (Warning: their website is atrocious, in sort of an awesome way.) And even with this radical change in supply line and vendors, the price has not increased (or, admittedly, decreased)!

The biggest change — which is tragic to me — is that the triangular Golden Bears were discontinued. I love triangular pencils, and I really loved these. According to Charles Berolzheimer, the Pencils.com President and CEO, Musgrave just doesn’t have the tooling capability to make the triangular barrels.

I’m glad that I have a whole bunch of them left, though I usually give them out when I explain to someone about fancy pencils. I may have to be a bit more miserly about them now.

Charles also tells me the oft-overlooked child-focused Spangle will be discontinued, too, as they sell through their current stock. While I have a few of them, I haven’t used them enough to really form a coherent opinion on them.

Coming later this year, Pencils.com will have some changes in the orange tipped and untipped Palominos, too. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about them when I get to try them!

Differences in appearance and experience

First, the new USA-produced Golden Bears and Prospectors are noticeably heavier than the old ones. I need to get my hands on a digital scale to tell you how much heavier they are, but it’s not a burdensome heaviness — it feels more substantial, like it’s a fancy hardwood in the barrel.

The ridges of the hex shape are ever so slightly sharper, too, so you can feel the hexagonal shape. They’re not so sharp that they’d hurt your finger while you grip it, but you can definitely pick out every plane of the barrel. They’re not rounded edges like the old-style pencil.

There are some subtle changes in labeling besides the brand change. Instead of a “HB” label indicating the more classic European graphite hardness scale, there’s a “2”. From a marketing perspective, I understand why they did this. If someone was buying pencils for a standardized test, which explicitly say to use “#2” pencils, a typical American may be wary of a pencil that says “HB”.

The blue Golden Bear (with orange eraser) changed in fairly subtle ways. Instead of a blue stripe on the ferrule, there’s a red stripe.

The Palomino Prospector Pencil, top, compared to the California Republic Stationer's Prospector, below. Both from Pencils.com. Apologies for the light wash in this image.

The Palomino Prospector Pencil, top, compared to the California Republic Stationer’s Prospector, below. Both from Pencils.com. Apologies for the light wash in this image.

Differences in performance

Both Golden Bears and the Prospectors pencils by Pencils.com were put through a performance test.

Both Golden Bears and the Prospectors pencils by Pencils.com were put through a performance test. Click to embiggen. (Also, please pretend that said THAILAND, not TAIWAN. That was a factual error on my part.

I alternated use of each pencil on-and-off for about a week. I can tell you that I noticed no difference in performance in the Golden Bears, good or bad. To me, that’s a good thing — I really like the way they write. (I’d compare them to a Dixon Ticonderoga, but with the tactile feel closer to a Palomino.)

I’ve never been a huge fan of the way the Prospectors write, but at $2.25 for a dozen, they’re definitely worth the price. Both Prospectors are a bit scratchier than a Golden Bear, though the new one was the TINIEST bit smoother.

The erasers, which look and feel identical on both Golden Bears, performs identically. (I didn’t have my red Golden Bears with blue erasers when doing this eraser test, so just the erasers on the blue Golden Bear and the Prospectors were used.)

The Prospector was a different story. The new erasers feel a bit more vinyl than the grainy Taiwan Thailand-made Prospector. It erased better, too, if you notice in the photo above.

And in conclusion…

Before, I used my Palomino Blackwing (602) and my Palomino Proper almost exclusively, though I had a few triangular Golden Bears at work for quick notes. I think I may need to add these new blue Golden Bears to my rotation, though — it’s just a gorgeous pencil, full of color and personality, and now it feels better in my hand. I’m excited that the Palomino line is going to be made in the US, and for the same price as before.

The linkage