A review of the Palomino Blackwing 725: the inaugural Volumes edition

Yesterday was a big day! After I got home from a design lecture at Facebook (featuring Aaron Draplin!), there was a package waiting for me. It was just a plain, padded manila envelope, but the big words at the top of it made me so excited: “PALOMINO.” My first Blackwing Volumes subscription had arrived!

NUMB3R5

Last week, Palomino teased the edition through social media with a tiny nugget about the edition. It was simply a three-digit number: 725.

I posted in the Erasable group with some of my theories about what that number means. Most of my ideas centered around the idea of “725” being a model number, like how the Eberhard Faber Blackwing was “602.” Thanks to Bob Truby’s amazing site Brand Name Pencils and a quick search for “725,” I came up with a few great pencils:

Wouldn’t it have been fun if the Blackwing was sapphire blue like the EF Sapphire?

It’s all right, though. The actual reason for the 725 is much more interesting and true-to-brand for Palomino and their arts and music-centric interests.

A Pencil inspired by a guitar

Here’s why this sunbursted pencil bears the number 725, according to product page on the Blackwing website:

The Blackwing 725 pays tribute to Newport as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1965 festival and its impact on music and culture. The pencil’s unique lacquer is inspired by the sunburst finish on the Fender Stratocaster that fueled what Rolling Stone Magazine called one of “50 Moments that Changed Rock n’ Roll.” The 25th day of the 7th month marks the date of Dylan’s memorable set.

It makes good sense. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Stratocaster in person, or if I have, I didn’t notice, but after some image-searching on Google, it’s a great intepretation:

Even on its own, the integrity of the 725 holds up. The lacquer that gradates from black near the eraser, to glowing yellow at the tip is really unique and lovely. I have no idea how the process happened, but in looking closely at it, the color is not halftoned or pixelated, so it seems like maybe it wasn’t just printed onto the barrel.

I noticed, both in the promotional picture and on the pencils I’ve used, that the gradated lacquer seems to be a topcoat on a white pencil. Notice the thing white line on the border of where the paint meets the tip:

I’m not entirely sure why this is here — I have a few theories:

  • Perhaps they just painted over a Blackwing Pearl, since the core seems to be the same or similar. I doubt this, though.
  • Because of the large minimums they must need from the manufacturer to place an order, the Volumes editions are a series of blanks that are basically a fully formed Palomino but with a plain white barrel, sort of like primer coat of paint that’s laid down when you’re painting a wall. If their Blackwings came like this from the manufacturer with cores from the same three varieties, all they’d have to do is apply a topcoat of lacquer, stamp a custom name/model number on, and ship it.
  • That yellow at the tip is so bright and vibrant that they needed a white base layer in order to make it shine.

I’m leaning toward the second one, from a matter of economics and practicality from Palomino’s standpoint, but I am not sure.

In his review of the 725, Pencil Revolution editor (and my good friend and podcast co-host) Johnny Gamber said something really interesting about how they fit into the product lineup:

Also, this is the first truly glossy Blackwing I have ever seen. The MMX is matte; the 602 is metallic; the Pearl is, well, opalescent. The 725 reminds me of the finish on an instrument, which is, of course, what they were going for.

Presentation matters

The thing I was most impressed with was the amazing presentation of these pencils. They came in a thick, matte black box with a simple “Blackwing” subtly debossed on the top.

If you buy a dozen of 725 from a retailer, it comes with a really beautiful sleeve over the box with a picture of the pencil, and text pressed into the thick cardstock. I managed to score one of these sleeves, and I recommended to Palomino that in future editions, they give those sleeves to subscribers, too. It really adds to the aesthetic value of the box.

They say packaging doesn’t matter, but to someone like me who appreciates really nicely designed products, it really makes a difference.

Subscribers also get a thirteenth “archival” pencil; all sealed in a tube with a label on it documenting the edition. The plastic tube it comes in has a rubberized cap on both ends, and while you can easily unseal it, it should stay pretty airtight to preserve your eraser for years and years.

Performance matters too, but not as much in this case

In my last post announcing the Volumes program, I was wondering (well, hoping) that they were going to reformulate the pencil for each edition. I don’t believe that they did that. And I guess I understand why not; it’s a giant pain in the butt to birth a new graphite formulation — lots of iterating, lots of research and development, and lots of communication between parties.

And to do that every three months? I can’t imagine a giant pencil company like Staedtler or Tombow doing that, let alone a tiny company like Palomino.

When Palomino announced this pencil, they referred to the graphite core as “Balanced”. That seemed to me to send a clear message that this would be based on the Palomino Pearl pencil, which bears the description “Balanced and Smooth” on the box (as opposed to the Blackwing MMX’s “Soft and Smooth” and the 602’s “Firm and Smooth”).

When I tried it out, it wrote very much like the Pearl. Which I appreciated — the Pearl is a damn fine pencil. So much so, I’m guessing that the 725 has an identical core to the Pearl.

I won’t retrace my steps here, so check out my original Pearl review from about two years ago. I think the performance section of the review holds true for this pencil, too.

Concluding

If you’re on the fence about a Blackwing Volumes subscription, I understand. $111 (including shipping) is a lot to pay for four dozen pencils. But, it’s not particularly more than if you were to buy four dozen Palominos straight off the website, and the presentation is just so good. As Johnny mentioned, it feels like Palomino spent a lot more on packaging and shipping than subscribers paid for.

Check out the Palomino Blackwing 725 product page to purchase a boxed dozen of them for $24.95, or to subscribe for a year for $99.

Blackwing launches a pencil subscription service

It’s pretty fortiutious that I even saw this in a timely manner — I’m traveling — but, I ran across something pretty cool:

Volumes: a limited edition pencil series celebrating the iconic stories that define a creative culture

Though a bit overstated, once you dig into the meat of the page, you can see what they’re saying: They’re launching a quarterly subscription service!

Much like Field Notes, you get four editions a year for $100 (plus $12 for shipping). Each shipment includes a dozen pencils in fancy gift boxes, plus a pencil sealed for archival purposes, (which is a nice touch for us hoarders, er, collectors). And, to further appease collectors, each pencil will be numbered

In talking with a couple people on Twitter about this, the Pencils.com folks have a lot to do if they want to be profitable. They need to reinvent a unique, appealing, quality pencil every three months, and they need to meet the significant minimums manufactures are sure to require from them.

If anyone can do that, though, it’s Charles Berolzheimer and his gang over in Stockton.

And it’s good to see a Friend-of-Erasable, Wood & Graphite‘s own TJ Cosgove, get some work out of it! He made the video to accompany the announcement blog post:

It seems to me that the target demographic for a pencil subscription service is much smaller and more niche than the Field Notes crowd; and generally, pencil users are a bit more thrifty, too. $100 for 48 pencils is not a cheap price, even if it is for limited edition, fancy pencils.

Still, though — I’m excited about it, and I plan on subscribing soon. I look forward to seeing the makers of two of my top five favorite pencils do something like this. It should keep them creative, innovative and hopefully nimble, as they’ll quickly learn if the edition they release is a hit or not.

For those who think the subscription is a bit steep — fear not! It looks like they’ll be offering packs of the limited edition pencils a la carte, though probably in limited quantities. As it is, if you buy at least four dozen Blackwings a year, you’re probably just about paying this amount already.

Finally, it’s nice to see that a portion of the subscription payment is going torward music education for children! Charles is an advocate for the Arts and, through the Blackwing brand, has supported musicians and artists over the years.