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

It’s a robot! No, it’s a pencil sharpener!

Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Please don’t assume I’m tired of pencils, dear reader — I use them every day.

I’m hoping to shift a bit and start posting more photos than text. I have a brand spankin’ new iPhone 4S with a great camera built in (see the robot holding the pencil above), and hope to take some shots of some of my new acquisitions.

I hate to be one of those bloggers who check in after months of inactivity just to give excuses of why they’ve been lax. But it seems I’m doing just that!

Meanwhile, a coworker brought in something that combines two of my favorite things: pencils and robots. And while it’s a fairly poor sharpener (his chest plate opens up to a sharpener that winds its feet as it sharpens), it’s a great desk prop, wouldn’t you say? Here he is holding one of my favorite notetaking pencils, a blue Palomino.

So don’t give up hope yet, my friends! I haven’t given up Woodclinched.

Review of the Pencils.com Palomino-branded hardcover notebook


About a month ago, Alex from Pencils.com was kind enough to send me a box of new paper products Pencils.com is selling — I wrote about them on this blog previously.

It’s been a month, and I’ve been using a few of those products pretty thoroughly. My very favorite is the hardcover Palomino Luxury Notebook, sized medium.

A contemporary of the Moleskine and its kin, I lament the passing of Black Cover, the blog in search of “the perfect little black notebook” that gained so much momentum in its fairly brief existence and its even briefer re-appearance early this year. Nick, the blogger, is a tremendous reviewer — I wonder if he ever got one to try!

In order to appreciate these little hardcover notebooks, you have to embrace the subtle differences. Relatively speaking, almost all of the $15-$20 5×8″ notebooks are generally the same quality, serve generally the same function, and are styled generally the same. I’ll try to highlight the differences here, as I see them:

Style and Features
The Palomino Notebook’s most obvious, and to me, the best difference between it and others is the orange stripe that runs along the spine. I love orange, and I especially love Palomino Orange (and Golden Bear orange). When I’m using one of those pencils, it makes a great match. When I’m not using one of those pencils, it still looks great on its own. What a difference a splash of color makes!

I love the orange spine on this notebook.

The little stitched pattern on the sides are nice, too — I’m not sure if it is a tribute to something, or is a style all its own, but it gives it the look of an old, hand-sewn Italian stitch.

Like a Moleskine it has a cover page spread where you can put your name and contact information in case you lose it. It’s on a really lovely heavyweight paper that just drinks in your ink (Yes, I used a pen to put my name on this page, since it should be permanent) and doesn’t bleed through.

Also like a Moleskine, it has a pocket in the back! It’s made out of what looks like folded-over tear-proof paper, so you can put some stuff back there (sometime I hoard cash in it, but don’t spread that around) without tear.

One feature lament: I really, really like gridded pages. I’d love to see a Palomino notebook sporting that option, besides the lined or plain pages currently offered.

Quality
It is of superb quality. It has more of a hardcover book-like binding the Moleskine, and though it’s a bit stiffer when I lay it out on a tabletop, it’s getting better, and I don’t feel like I’m pulling the paper out while doing it.

The paper itself is nice. In a discussion with John at PencilWrap.com, he mentioned that the paper was really smooth. Agreed. (Also, go check out his review of the “flex notebook” cahiers, because he took way better pictures than I did, and compared them side-by-side to the Moleskines!)

Though it’s very smooth, I felt like it had a bit of tooth, since it’s supposedly optimized for a pencil. A pleasure to write on, at least with a Palomino Blackwing 602, a Dixon Ticonderoga, and a Golden Bear, all three of which I’ve had with me this week.

I also think that the cover of the Palomino is better. It’s a bit more leathery, a bit more supple, and does not bubble up like some of my Moleskines have been known to do.

If, say, the Moleskine was the standard of which people use hardcover notebooks, and if we set that value at 10, I’d give the Palomino notebook a solid 13. It’s a great price, at $17.95, exactly the same as a Moleskine. Admittedly, Moleskine has a better variety of pages (they have formats for storyboarding, music composition, etc.), and currently offers a special Star Wars collection, which would clinch me right there if I was actively in the market for a notebook.

However, I love the California Republic brand, and the Palomino line, so I’m excited to have a notebook in this brand, too.

Coming soon(ish): Thoughts and photos of some of the other notebooks!

Disclaimer: As I’ve written before, I am formerly an employee of Pencils.com. I no longer work there or receive any money from them, so this review is not being funded by them. This product was sent to me free, however.

Gallery of Images
(Click to embiggen) 

Some great photos of the California Republic Stationers-branded notebooks

As a follow-up from my post last week about the Palomino-branded notebooks, I just ran across these photos from Studio 602, the Pencils.com blog, featuring paper products to compliment the Palomino Blackwing, the Palomino, and the ForestChoice line. Click to embiggenfy.These are perhaps my favorite, at least judging by the photos. It looks liek there’s a leather 5.5×8.5 clasp notebook, maybe an oilskin, Moleskine-style notebook, and some kind of cahier of unknown cover material with some illustrations on it. That Blackwing-man illustration was done by a very talented pencil artist Mogodore J. Bivouac  when I worked at Pencils.com. I’m glad to see it gracing the cover of a notebook!

I’d love to see something with a sharkskin blue-grey color like the PB 602s, as well — the jet black looks dashing with the black PBs, and though it looks good with the 602s, a matching grey leather would be really cool.

This is the Palomino-branded line, with much the same — a clasp notebook, some Moleskiney things, and some cahiers, it looks like. What really stands out to me in this picture is the tall, skinny notebook directly underneath the single, orange Palomino pencil: it looks like it’s a narrower size than a standard 5.5×8.5 notebook. Maybe something like 4.5×8.5? This is purely conjecture, as this photo’s perspective could be off.

In any case, it looks really nice. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to do a black-and-orange brand without it looking like it’s Halloween-themed. Rhodia does it well, and I think this product line has captured it too.

I’m a big fan of the blue Palominos; it’s one of my favorite shades of blue, and the white eraser looks great perched atop the barrel. I would love to see a blue notebook, too!

That CalRepublic product that I’ve maybe used the least are the ForestChoice pencils. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that when faced with the thick, glossy, colorful Palominos or Golden Bears, or the superior-quality Palomino Blackwings, these envrionmentally friendly cousins take a backseat, at least in my pencil box. Nothing personal, ForestChoice.

These are interesting, and perhaps the closest match as far as branding look-and-feel between the pencils and paper products. Those little notebooks with the elastic band look like something you could get at Target (that’s a compliment! Really!).

What I like the best from this photo is the tall, skinny steno pad, almost the shape of a reporter’s notepad, which I used for years throughout college in my journalism classes and working at a local paper. I would use this pad quite a bit, for notetaking at meetings where I am standing up, for shopping lists, to-do items, etc. It looks like it’s a bit more everyday-functional than the other lines.

In any case, bravo, Pencils.com! I can’t wait to see this in real life (or IRL, as the kids say)!

What’s next? This may never happen, but I’d love to see a Golden Bear or Spangle line of notebooks for school that may be just a smidgen higher quality (and higher cost) than a Mead notebook. Or perhaps a line of hand-erasers or more sharpeners akin to the Palomino KUM long-point sharpener.

What do you think of the photos above?

Premium Palomino Blackwing-branded notebooks

Note of disclosure: I am no longer employed by California Cedar Products or Pencils.com — though I am still their biggest fan

If you follow Pencils.com on Twitter (@pencilscom), you may have seen this tweet hit the webbernets:
Although I’ve known this was coming for a while, I have no idea what they’re going to look like or when, exactly, they’ll be hitting the virtual stands. But I know I’ll be wanting one or a few with my last, dying breath.

The Gold Fibre Ampad writing pad with antique ivory pages. Great quality paper, lined front/checked back, and all around old-timey fun!

So that’s pretty exciting. I’m still loving my Palomino Blackwing 602s, and I’ve been wanting something nice upon which to write with it. My usual meeting note-taking paper tablet is this retro-rific Gold Fibre pad by Ampad (or its 8.5×11″ counterpart), but it’s not the most formal thing you’ll ever see, you know? And although I have several pad-folios, they take up a lot of room, room in my bag that competes for space with my laptop, charging cord, various pencil and pen wraps and other things that I’ve collected via my borderline hoarder tendencies.

Speaking of Palomino Blackwing branding, I love the new packaging for the Palomino and Blackwing brands, don’t you? Charles sent me this the romance shot the other day (click to embiggen the pencil geekery goodness):

The graphite drawings on the Palomino graphites are stunning, and I love the vivacity of the colored pencil line. (I assume this photo was taking by the very talented Sue Tallon, a still-life photographer who Pencils.com uses for stellar product shots.)

I’ll let you know when the notebooks are released, and I may even have a review up here!

Meanwhile, what pencils and paper products have you been using lately?