UPDATE 8/25/10: I just found out that California Cedar has bought the Blackwing trademark and is reissuing it under the Palomino brand! This is super-exciting news. Check this out for pictures. Oh, and if you’re from CalCedar, drop me a line. 😉
NOTE: I wrote this way back in September 2007 on a pencil blog I contributed to, a service of PencilThings.com. Unfortunately, that blog is now defunct as the site got sold, I wanted to repost it here. It was reblogged by a few other sites, most notably BoingBoing, which led to around 10,000 hits in a matter of hours.
The rectangle ferrule and replaceable eraser, a Blackwing 602 signature. Picture from PencilPages.com.
I’m sure those pencil enthusiasts out there know what I’m talking about. It is the Holy Grail of Pencils. What the DeLorean is to cars, is what the Faber Castell Blackwing 602 is to pencils. It’s the hard-to-find, insanely-expensive, out-of-production pencil.
And many people out there give it a perfect 10 rating.
A popular review of the Blackwing, which has captured the attention of such sites as Boing Boing (here and here) is pencilpages.com’s review, “The Blackwing 602 – Final Chapter.”
“What is so special about this pencil that its devotees will accept no substitute and make them willing to spend $250.00 for a box of them? It has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is no exaggeration. It is also the last of a line of pencils featuring a distinctive rectangular ferrule with a unique, replaceable eraser. I am no artist, but I know that professionals rely on quality and consistency in the tools they use, and the Blackwing was one that could be relied upon.
The Blackwing was originally manufactured by Eberhard Faber. When Faber-Castell USA (F-C) bought Eberhard Faber (EF) in the 1980s, the pencil continued production with the E-F name, but some were also produced with the F-C name on them. Either way, the pencils were made with the same 4B lead formula. During the 1990s, the company was bought by Sanford Corp., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of writing instruments of all kinds. Sanford is also the owner of the Paper*Mate and Berol brand names, as well as many others.
The Blackwing continued in production until 1998 and has not been made since. It was originally reported that production ceased because the machine used to make the unusual ferrule broke down and the company did not want to fix it. This is not the entire story. In June 2004 I met with personnel at the factory where the Blackwing was last made and got the real scoop.”
Click the link to read the rest of the story.
I took the financial plunge. I got on eBay, scoured around, got aggressive with my bidding, and scored a Blackwing. I will admit, it is a nice pencil. Maybe the nicest I’ve used before. But it certainly isn’t worth $25.
First, the graphite. The slogan “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is true enough. It feels like there is a high amount of wax in the lead to make it just glide across a piece of paper, but the line is dark and significant, which is usually indicative of a harder, rougher element. I was impressed.
Understandably, the eraser is old, as the pencil I bought couldn’t be any newer than 10 years. The commodity of being able to take the rectangular eraser out and turning it over, though, improved the performance — I just used the side that hasn’t hardened with exposure to air. The shape is innovative, and gives a good wide angle with which to erase effectively.
One thing I like about it is the extreme glossiness of the paint coating the barrel. Even jostled around in my aforementioned various pencil boxes, the patina never got dinged, scratched, or otherwise blemish the Blackwing. It looks good, a bit like a shark with its not-quite-gray, not-quite-brown coat.
A positive review all around. I am impressed with the performance of the Blackwing. I might pay $5, or even $10 per pencil, but $35-$40 per actual pencil? I think not. Recently, eBay had a lot of 144 Blackwings, and that sold for about $1400. I almost bid on it, thinking that I could then make a fortune by splitting up the lot and selling individual pencils. But I stopped myself — I love pencils, don’t get me wrong — because I couldn’t bring myself to make a major (for me) investment in this particular writing instrument.
One of my joys of pencils is the fact that they’re cheap. Even top-quality products like California Republic’s various pencils aren’t any more than a couple bucks apiece — and that’s at the higher end. If I go out and splurge on a couple unique pencils for my collection, my wife isn’t going to get mad. I’m not collecting antique fountain pens, after all.
I think that maybe the Blackwing’s hype is super-inflating the price. Its extremely high quality performance has been expressed by writers and artists alike, and sites like BoingBoing and other lesser meme-spreaders caught on. That’s certainly how I heard about it. Like Tickle-Me-Elmo and, most recently, the iPhone, the Blackwing is legendary in the world of scribomechanica enthusiasts.
My recommendation is that if you are serious about your pencils, and you want one, just go ahead and buy one. It’s worth the experience, and in the bigger scheme of things, it isn’t too much. But don’t use it often, and treasure it. For your daily writing, use something else, something cheaper. Break out the Blackwing when you want to start a conversation.