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Final Post

November 1st will mark this blog’s ninth anniversary. It will also be the blog’s final day.

Nine years is a long time. Over this span, the blog has been a hobby, sometimes a burden, often a consuming passion, occasionally a second job, and always a great forum for those interested in exploring the art and science of pencils.

There have been wonderful discussions that I’ve truly enjoyed. I’ve met people who I’ll be keeping in touch with, and learned quite a bit about both blogging and pencils. There have been some fine fellow travelers in this journey, and I will mention Lexikaliker and Blackwing Pages as blogs whose passion and original research into pencils has regularly exceeded my own efforts.

The circumstances and costs of running an independent website have changed since 2005, and these are real factors, but in the end, the timing is right for this decision.

Thank you to the many readers, commenters, and correspondents who made this a special place.


The Tombow Pencil Company’s 100th Anniversary (and Pencil)

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

Congratulations to Tombow, who are celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2013. The company has a special site with many photos to commemorate the anniversary.

As part of the celebration, Tombow has issued a recreation of a vintage pencil, complete with packaging. The pencil is internally a Mono 100, possibly the world’s finest pencil, so there was no skimping on quality. In Japan, the product sells for about $15. Alas, the price in other countries reflects several additional costs. (As an aside – the top Japanese pencils are reasonably priced inside Japan. If only they had better global distribution channels!)

I initially balked at the price I first saw for this anniversary pencil, but read that only 100 boxes were made, so it really is a limited edition. Fueled by a love for Tombow’s pencils, I decided to indulge. (I’ve since seen that Tombow USA sells the set for $15 – I wish I had known.)

There is an outer sleeve with a graphite rendering (in progress) of the pencil box’s design. I think this is one of the best parts of the recreation:

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

The metal box:

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

Inserts, etc. all reproduced:

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

The product is great – a tribute to the past while using modern production techniques. I am grateful that Tombow took the effort to create something for themselves and us – the citizens of pencil nation. (I cannot imagine that there is any financial return for such a small run of a specialty product like this.)

I am also pondering the number – 100 sets for 100 years? Or is 100 the realistic number of people who will purchase something like this? Or is a distributor who acquired 100 sets making an exaggerated claim? This blog has advocated for historical pencil recreations for years, and it was a disappointment that a major pencil company anniversary a couple of years ago didn’t give a nod to the past. But maybe they knew something?

And a note – despite what I’ve read from Tombow, this thing called the web informs me that a set in grade 4B has been issued in some Asian countries.

The Pencil by Staedtler

The Pencil (possibly, The Pencil Set) by Staedtler is a new generically named multi-functional pencil product.

The Pencil by Staedtler

The product is housed in a black cardboard box (mine was crushed in the mail, but I can imagine that a pristine store bought version would look rather nice) and contains three pencils and an extender. The pencils are black, round, and composed of Staedtler’s new WOPEX extruded wood product. Each pencil is also capped with a non-removable capacitive stylus.

The Pencil by Staedtler

The extender has a rounded square cross section, a clip, and features a sharpener and replaceable eraser.

The pencils have a unique appearance. Round in shape with four paired lengthwise grooves, the combination of graphite/grey/black is unlike any pencil I’ve ever seen. The styling is cool, fashionable, and current. The pencil is capped with a silver coloured cap that houses a capacitive stylus for use on capacitive screen smartphones and tablets. (“Capacitive” is used in contrast to “Resistive”, which is the technology that was used by the Palm Pilot.) The pencils are about 135mm stylus to tip – quite comfortable to hold.

The Pencil by Staedtler

The extender fits somewhat loosely on a pencil. The extender has three parts – the pencil fits into a sharpener (the first part). The sharpener is housed in the exterior container (the second part), and the container has a cap that houses an eraser (the third part).

The pencil can be sharpened with just the bare sharpener – or, owing to the exposed rectangle in the exterior section, a single sharpening turn can be taken with the exterior attached, expelling the pencil shaving from the rectangle. Another feature – a smaller rectangle on the other side of the extender allows for viewing the point while the cap is on.

So the pencil – it writes very well with a medium dark lead that seems to respond nicely to some pressure. The WOPEX is probably still a product under development, and I believe this pencil writes much better than the first Wopexen that I tried in 2010. The pencil body is dyed black – it looks great, and I wonder if we’ll soon see other colours?

As to the stylus – a Monteverde pen with stylus that is in the household never really worked well enough to use. It seemed to be formed from a solid rubbery substance. The Pencil is different – the stylus seems to be a balloon over an air pocket that houses a solid nub in the interior. I tried the stylus on my BlackBerry Z10 and Sony Xperia Z tablet – it worked as well as I’d hope. Thinking back to the learning curves associated with these devices, the stylus did well. A full evaluation would no doubt take quite a bit of time.

The Pencil by Staedtler

The sharpener is acceptable in a pinch, but seemed too cheap and plastic based for a product at this price point. Perhaps weight minimization was a design consideration.

The Pencil by Staedtler

The eraser worked well. In fairness, I believe the WOPEX lines are not known to be as erasable as typical graphite lines.

As an extender, that silvery piece on the pencil is used to form a grip – this is a nice feature.

The extender seemed fragile and unsubstantial. I realize Staedtler probably didn’t want to create a metal extender, but there are so many high quality plastics and carbon fibres today that I feel there must have been better alternatives.

Overall, this is an interesting product, and hard to assess – an innovative design, new materials, and a new marriage of pencil to stylus. Could the stylus be produced as a standalone pencil attachment? It almost looks so.

I think this is a product for early adopters to try, and for most of us to observe – it could very well reappear in a new iteration with improvements.

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 2

Caran d’Ache has released the second edition of their pencilmaking masterwork. This edition features pencils made from Guyana Palm, Blue Zebrano, American Cedar, and Lati Grey. (That last pencil is a repeat from the first series. Why the double Lati?)

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 2

Both editions shown together:

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 2

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 2

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 2

The walnut, blue zebrano, and cedar pencils are the ones that catch my eye.

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 2

Get them while you can. Caran d’Ache says the series is tremendously successful.

See also: Edition No. 1

Initiating the Initium and Initio

In a marketing surprise, Staedtler and Faber-Castell have launched new product lines with almost identical names – Staedtler the Initium, and Faber-Castell the Initio.

Cult Pens seems to have both lines in stock – here and here.

Staedtler has a brochure further describing their new line. Printing a personal photo on a pen barrel is among their interesting concepts.


Tiny Pencil

Tiny Pencil is a self-described “new all-graphite anthology artzine” launched by Amber Hsu in the UK. In my words, it is a fantastic new art magazine which showcases drawings composed with graphite media.

There is a lot of artistic diversity, with realistic and abstract styles, cartoons and classical studies all getting a place of honour.

As soon as I heard about this venture, I ordered a copy. Posing with some unprocessed graphite and clay:
Tiny Pencil ArtZine

And some photos provided by Tiny Pencil:

By Alex Higlett:
Tiny Pencil ArtZine

By Yoko Tanaka:
Tiny Pencil ArtZine

By Rachel Bray:
Tiny Pencil ArtZine

By Sigrid Rodli:
Tiny Pencil ArtZine

These images are copyright the individual artists, and used with the permission of Tiny Pencil.

When I’m in a public gallery, graphite drawings are often only present when the curator has decided to feature (and has the luxury of sufficient space to do so) the artist’s preparatory work. But when I look at one these haunting drawings by Yoko Tanaka, I don’t think that any finishing is necessary – it is a complete work.

Though it calls itself a “zine”, the volume is professionally bound and printed. If you order a copy, please let them know you heard about it here.

I am really glad to have learned about Tiny Pencil, and thank Amber for contacting the blog.