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

New Kickstarter Project: “Sprout: a pencil with a seed”

This is a fun project: it’s a premium cedar pencil, that has a seed embedded in a water-activated capsule in the top. When it gets too short to use, stick it in some dirt, water it, and watch the seed grow! Here’s their Kickstarter project (check it out for a really awesome video):

Sprout: a pencil with a seed. | Kickstarter.com

It comes in several different varieties: from flowers to vegetables, jalapeño, marigold, parsley, basil, cherry tomato, and lots more.

Can you imagine how fun this would be in a classroom? Each kid gets a different variety, and after they wear their pencils down, the teacher plants them in a big window garden, and by the end of school — vegetables!

Sprout: seed pencils. Stick the end in dirt, and watch your plant grow!

Stick your Sprout pencil in the dirt, water it, and make the plant grow!

It seems like these guys aren’t just putting seed in any old pencil, either. The description of their project makes it sound like they put a lot of thought into the quality of their pencil:

We really like writing with wooden pencils.  They have a tactile feel that even the best mechanical pencils can’t match.  Getting up to sharpen them forces us to take a break and look around, a great way to reconnect during a long problem set.  We designed Sprout around a high quality Ticonderoga cedar pencil body.  It’s a great writing experience.  And it smells really nice too.

I couldn’t agree more. The creators are a group of MIT engineers who formed a company, Democratech, who conceived and produced this whole thing!

The only possible flaw I could see in this pencil is the very thing that makes it unique: the water-activated capsule at the top. As the FAQ says:

What happens if I accidentally wet my Sprout?

If you spill something on your Sprout the tip will begin to dissolve, getting the seed ready for germination.  Unfortunately Sprout doesn’t know the difference between accidental and intentional watering, so if you accidentally wet your Sprout it’s time for planting.  We’ve worked hard to make a resilient seed capsule but it’s a tradeoff between resistance to accidental spills and plantability.

Not being an engineer, from MIT or anywhere else, I can’t think of a way around this, unless it comes with a plastic cap or something to keep the water out (and would defeat the purpose of being eco-friendly).

I maxed out my Kickstarter budget for the year, so I can’t get in on this. But you should! This is my favorite donor level, for $100:

Bacon Bliss Pack. We wish we could grow Bacon at home, in our office, or in our classroom. Unfortunately we can’t, but it doesn’t mean we can’t pretend! We’ll send you 10 Heirloom Basil Sprouts printed as though they contained Bacon. And we’ll laser etch your logo or up to 50 characters of your choosing onto all the Sprouts in this pack. Free domestic shipping.

Sprout: a pencil with a seed. | Kickstarter.com
Democratech.us | Democratech’s website

The Pencil Ruler: a Kickstarter project founded by an 11 year-old

I love Kickstarter. So many amazing ideas and innovations have come to fruition because of the social funding tool, from an iPod Nano watch to a de-centralized social media tool. I’ve talked about a pen-related venture on here before, but I am lucky enough to be featuring a pencil project today!

I got an email earlier today from Nate at Brand New Box, a web development firm in San Diego. They are helping to create the Rule Pencil, dreamed up by an 11-year old kid.

Nate said,

Last week my business partner, Matt, helped an 11-year-old friend of ours launch a Kickstarter project for a Ruler Pencil.  The response has been amazing, to say the least.

5 days in and the project is 500%+ funded. Folks like the idea, and they love Nathan.  As you can imagine, our little buddy is flipping out.

Their Kickstarter project is innovative, and it’s a relatively simple idea — put a ruler on a pencil. I know, I know, it’s been done before, but perhaps not with this level of simplicity, and with such… well, heart. I know that I could have used a ruler pencil many times when I was eleven. Nathan, this kid, had the gumption to make it happen.

The Kickstarter video:

As of today, the project was very close to getting a $2,000 total in pledges. It only needed $350 to cover a minimum order.

The original point of the email to me was to brainstorm some ideas for a quality pencil. These guys are art-minded, and appreciate a good pencil. I suggested talking with CalCedar about their private label pencil program, but don’t know enough of the details to tell if that’ll work for their needs or not.

I suggested a triangular pencil which would accomodate three different units of measurement: imperial (inches), metric (centimeters), and point (picas). After all, I imagine this will appeal to a lots of graphic designers who sketch their designs longhand, and might be replacing (or complementing) their trusty pica rulers.

Anyone have any further ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

And to all you pencilnalia enthusiasts out there: Hop on by the Kickstarter page and pledge! Help make sure this eleven year old entrepreneur grows up loving wooden pencils — someday he might owe his fortune to his love for them. There are some great perks to the different pledge levels, according to the project page:

  • For $5, he’ll mail you a package of 5 Ruler Pencils.
  • For $20, he’ll mail you a special package of 10 Ruler Pencils, and list your name on the ‘Special Founders’ list mailed out with each package of Ruler Pencils .
  • For $50, he’ll mail you a special package of 20 pencils, put you on the founders list, plus send you a custom drawing (he’s pretty good).

I’ll be pledging as soon as I can — I want my name on that Founders list.

Ruler Pencils: a brilliant idea, invented by a kid. | Kickstarter Project Page

UPDATE: This kid’s got spunk. Check out his update video to his backers!

Blackwing sighting: The Glenn Miller Story

Usually this is something that Sean would post over at The Blackwing Pages, but this time I thought I’d scoop him, respectfully. My friend Stephanie at Rhodia Drive, a blog about one of my favorite paper products, sent me this screen capture from the 1954 movie The Glenn Miller Story.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but Jimmy Stewart is perhaps my favorite mid-century actor, and I was that wierd kid who used to listen to swing music as a teenager, so I’m quite familiar with this movie.

I don’t quite remember him using a Blackwing to compose, but I wasn’t hyper-sensitive to on-screen pencil choices at the time. I’ll have to re-watch it and find it again.

Sean is much more knowledgeable about the classic Blackwing than I am — perhaps he can perform some forensics and figure out which version of the Blackwing that is.

Thanks, Stephanie!

UPDATE: Sean at Blackwing Pages found another screencap with Jimmy Stewart’s face and the unique Blackwing ferrule. I want to make that my Facebook picture.