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Musgrave HB pencil

Musgrave HB pencil

The Musgrave Pencil Company, like the General Pencil Company, is one of the last independent American pencil makers. Headquartered in Shelbyville, Tennessee, the famous “Pencil City”, Musgrave has been in business since 1916.

Their pencils aren’t generally available in Canada – at least the ones they make in their own name. Home Depot carpenter’s pencils and other private label products they manufacture seem to be more common. I’ve written previously about some Unigraphs that I once found.

I’ll say something to Musgrave that I said to General: Please update your website! An NBC news report shows that Musgrave owns computers and employs at least one professional graphic designer (for their pencils). I am sure it would be possible to put some of that energy into the website, which could become a great showcase for the company. (General has recently updated their site, after years of stagnation.)

The Musgrave HB (that’s really the official name) is part of Musgrave’s “School Line”. It came to the attention of the online community through pencilthings.com, which is where I obtained these pencils. Does anyone know where the rest of Musgrave’s line can be obtained? They seem to have hundreds of pencil varieties, but very few seem to reach retailers, nor does Musgrave sell directly.

The HB pencils have a beautiful natural finish, and have a white eraser attached with a gold and maroon ferrule. They are sold unsharpened.

Musgrave HB pencil

On the scale, a couple of dozen pencils ranged from 5.3g to 6.3g, with a mean weight of 5.8g. Compare this with the Castell 9000 (3.9g) or the reference Mars Lumograph (3.8g). This pencil weighs 50% more than the European competitors! The distance between the sides is the same as a Lumograph (maybe a hair larger) – about 7.47mm. So where is the weight? Some must be in the ferrule and eraser. I’m also comparing unsharpened to sharpened pencils.

There is one physical difference apart from the eraser – the hexagonal shape is much less rounded than the Castell or Mars. You can feel the edges of the pencil quite clearly. I really like this. Vintage pencils had similarly unrounded edges.

The lettering is gold, though the “HB” is plain on black. The pencil is marked:

Side 1 (Obverse): ESTABLISHED 1916 [logo] MUSGRAVE [logo] HB
Side 2: blank
Side 3: blank
Side 4 (Reverse): MADE IN SHELBYVILLE, TENNESSEE USA HB
Side 5: blank
Side 6: blank

As regular blog readers know – I like minimal markings, and I love acknowledgment of the pencil’s origin. Triple points to Musgrave for actually naming the city of production.

I’ve previously mentioned that the Techograph 777, Mars Lumograph 100, and Castell 9000 leads (in HB) are all sufficiently similar that the differences are nuanced and hard to describe. The Musgrave’s lead isn’t at all hard to distinguish. It is softer, smoother, and darker than those three European pencils, and leaves a darker line. It also has an aspect of crumbling or disintegration, and leaves more graphite dust in the area of use. Markings erase as easily as those of the European pencils.

Musgrave HB pencil

It requires quite a bit of thought to find any negatives – there is some crumbling, and the high gloss finish can make it a bit of a slippery hold. The packaging is nil – the pencils arrive loose. (Some may feel this is a plus, but I think this pencil deserves a box.) There is no choice of lead grade.

Overall, the pencil is a great find – a real pleasure to use in every way. Though mail order may not always be convenient, the pencil price also represents a tremendous bargain. I’ll go out on a limb and state that it may be the best pencil that one can buy for under one US dollar.

Here are some some links to information on the Musgrave Pencil Company:

Musgrave HB Product Page You have to click the “Sign on as guest” button. pencils.net is Musgrave’s official site.

Tennessee Encyclopedia article on Musgrave

Tennessee History for Kids article on Musgrave Excellent photographs!

WBIR (NBC) report on Musgrave Make sure you click the “Watch Video” link – the best film of pencil production I’ve seen. Also, Musgrave president Henry Hulan is interviewed.

Shelbyville Times-Gazette article on Musgrave

23 comments to Musgrave HB pencil

  • bommel

    Interesting video and I love their local dialect. I’d like to buy the pencils but apparently they aren’t sold in Germany. Ordering from the U.S. would be cost prohibitive (for comparisson: 1 Lumograph costs me 60 Eurocent if I order a dozen online).

    Great blog!

  • PencilThings has some Musgrave pencils for $2.73 .. $3.95 per 12-pack and the Unigraph 1200 for $0.30 each. Of course S & H will be added but if you can order together with another pencil enthusiast the resulting price is quite appealing. – I am not affiliated with PencilThings but just a satisfied customer.

  • adair

    Yes, contact Pencilthings—a wonderland of pencils! They carry other Musgrave pencils as well, including the magnificent dark leaded Test Scoring pencil and the green-and-gold barreled Unigraph, which is gorgeous and reminds me of an American version of the Faber-Castell 9000. Musgrave is quite simply the maker of America’s finest pencils, if you consider that Palomino’s are made in Japan. I only wish that their marketing were better and that they made nice boxes to go with their products.

  • Don Jacobson

    I will for sure get some of these. I prefer made-in-USA pencils; I was so disappointed to find out that my once-favorite Ticonderogas, if not made in Mexico, are made in China. Imagine, the pencil that once had Ethan Allen and Fort Ticonderoga on the box–now made in China! Ugh.

  • Barrel Of A Pencil

    I too was extremely disappointed to find that Ticonderogas are apparently no longer manufactured in the USA. I have looked over Chinese-made Ticonderogas and at best they have a slap-dash appearance which puts me off so far that I have no idea how well they write because I refuse to buy them. I am still kicking myself because last fall I had an opportunity to purchase a dozen made in the USA extra-soft Dixon Ticonderogas at a big-box store and didn’t pull the trigger. Now all they carry are the soft (merely) 2Bs from China and the finish is offputting.

    As for the subject at hand, Musgrave makes some wonderful pencils which are the simplest expression of old-fashioned American craftsmanship and pride, although the pink erasers on the Test Scoring pencils don’t begin to measure up to the quality of the lead–they smear horribly on ordinary paper. Maybe the erasers too are designed to work optimally on standardized test paper as well as the wonderful lead? My next order, I am sure to buy a dozen Musgrave HBs. I just hope the white, presumably vinyl, erasers perform better than the pink, but this is a secondary consideration for me.

    I also agree with Adair. My first thought at seeing the Unigraphs in the flesh was that Musgrave consciously or unconsciously mimicked the design of the F-C 9000 line. Hooray for Musgrave! Good old American quality in whatever form makes me wistful
    for all that we have lost.

  • PackDude

    Oh yeah, these Musgrave natural HB writing pencils are something the company needs to market a bit better! I had never heard of Musgrave pencils until this last weekend, when I placed my first (large) order for a variety of woodcase pencils from PencilThings.Com. All through school I never saw a Musgrave that I can recall. Must be because I was raised on the West Coast or something. Seems like they make a lot of special/custom pencils; maybe that’s their bread and butter.

    The PencilThings shipment arrived today, and I’ve been trying them all. I tried the Musgrave test scoring pencil first, and it’s pretty nice. But this natural HB pencil is truly a hidden gem! The only real con is the aforementioned tendency for some graphite crumbling.

    The smooth clear lacquer over the rustic natural wood grain is a nice counterpoint, and the aroma is amazing. A woodcase pencil has to smell nice, or it doesn’t pass muster, IMHO. Also, this pencil writes dang near as well as the now famous Palomino, as far as I can tell. Smooth, smooth, smooth.

    I ditto [Barrel Of A Pencil]‘s comment — hooray Musgrave for making Americans proud that “Made in the USA” ain’t gone away quite yet. That newscast video was very interesting, too. An American company that hasn’t sold out production to China or some other Pacific Rim country. They deserve a medal or something.

    Also, thanks to the proprietor of the PencilTalk.Org for making yet another excellent pencil website available. I think it’s quite cool that you run the site on a Sun Ultra 2 with an UltraSparc port of Linux. I thought I was the only one who like to run Linux on UltraSparc. :) Have you ever been lambasted by one of those Solaris-only guys for doing so? I have been, and it was pretty funny.

  • I just want to say thank you for the thoughtful comments. One goal of the website is to facilitate discussion about pencils, and it’s nice to see that occur at times. If there are any suggestions for improvements, let me know.

    As Don mentioned, Dixon has associated themselves with Fort Ticonderoga, Ethan Allen, and American history. And being over two hundred years old, they are themselves a part of that history. While there’s no doubt that a good pencil can be made in China, a Ticonderoga made there somehow seems alienated from it’s own identity.

    The Musgrave HB is the opposite in some ways – it’s not made by a global conglomerate, and it embraces it’s local origins – printing them right on the pencil.

    PackDude, I am glad you like the site. I think you are the first to comment on the site’s technical side, so no – there has been no lambasting.

  • Dave

    Just thought some of you might like to know – I tried one of the Ticonderoga Noirs (which is also made in Chica) and it writes quite well. The ‘Made in China’ yellow Ticonderogas look really cheap – finish wise. The lettering on the pencil and the finish of the paint job are poor IMO. But I am hoping the lead is the same.

    I purchased some made in USA Ticonderogas from Staples a few weeks ago, it must be NOS. I saw the made in USa and purchased them immediately.

  • What a great find. A great site dedicated to the wonderous pencil.
    I will be back over and over again!

  • David O.

    Aha! I was wondering who made the Home Depot carpenter’s pencils. I just bought a package for kicks last weekend. The wood quality is very definitely seems to be a cedar, but maybe incense cedar and not the fragrant red cedar.
    Hopefully Musgrave and General will be around for a while.

  • William Burrell

    I just found your site. I have been searching all over the web for pencils and it wasn’t until I found your site did I find a path to the Musgrave HD. My wife gave me a gift box, from Levenger I believe) a few years back. It had a dozen Musgrave HD’s in a wooden slide top box. I am down to about 2 short ones and the HB is far superior to others for drawing. So I am heading to the pencil things site that you list. Hooray for wooden pencils. I guess that makes me something of a Luddite. Even though I use a computer regularly, I find it much less satisfying than things that are real.
    cheers bill b.

  • David O.

    I actually purchased these pencils some months ago and they are very nice. Definitely high end.

  • I was actually looking for a wood grain pencil manufactured by Faber Castell back in the 80s called “American Naturals.” When I determined that it was no longer manufactured, I found this blog and settled on Musgrave pencils.

  • David O.

    I actually have the old Eberhard Faber versions – natural and dark gold finishes. Very nice writers and probably my favorites. They also have “USA Bonded” stamped on them (just an impression, no ink).

  • David O.

    I’ve actually started using some of the Musgrave Natural HB’s from my stash recently. The pencil itself is wonderful as far as the finish, look, eraser, etc., are concerned. I agree with the comments about the graphite. It is a bit crumbly and in addition I am coming up against grit occasionally.

    If these pencils had the graphite of the older “Sanford” marked Mirado/Black Warrior era they’d be a home run for me. The Papermate green “Earth Write” pencils also appear to use that Mirado/Black Warrior graphite.

  • Ed

    Try http://www.theschoolstore.org/

    be aware that they sell Musgrave products, but only by the gross(144 pencils)

  • bill b.

    I received a dozen Musgrave HBs in a wood box for Christmas one year. I think they came from Levinger. They were so good that when I used them up I ordered a dozen from the factory. Unfortunately the lead was different. Much harder. The wood, the finish, the eraser were all quite nice. Just the lead was a disappointment. It has been some time, maybe they changed back. Would like to try them again sometime. Also, if I remember correctly, the other difference was the “HD” imprint on the barrel was gold on the old ones and black on the new ones.
    cheers, bill b.

  • nat

    bad news. i called around and Musgrave has apparently stopped making these ones.

  • Adair

    Sad to hear this, Nat. The Musgrave HB was a superb pencil.

  • Bill b.

    I’m sad that any traditional US company goes under. After my last use of the Musgrave HD and accompanying disappointment in the change in pencil hardness, I gave up. Not sure what happened but I saw too much change in pencil uniformity to keep using them. I miss the first ones that I got through Levinger.

  • Adair

    Bill, I had that problem with the green Musgrave Unigraphs. My first batch of HB was wonderful, with dark, rich, smooth lead. With their green design and gold stamping, I was ready to declare them the American competition to Faber-Castell. Then my second and third batches wrote like hard, scratchy H pencils, and I had to stop using them. Well, it is sad to see Musgrave’s best lines go under.

  • Bill b.

    Unfortunately, when any product is relegated to a lesser position of importance, quality control is the first to go. It seems the value of the pencil is a victim of the popularity of other devices of communication. Like this ipad that I am writing with. :-). (Is there an emoticon to express irony?)
    cheers, bill b.

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