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Red and Blue pencils

Red and Blue pencils

An interesting traditional specialty pencil is the red and blue pencil. Still manufactured today, this pencil is one half red, one half blue. (Both lead and varnish.)

While accounting, school, and editorial uses for this pencil may be traditional, I can imagine many other functions, including U.S. political consultants using these to plot on electoral maps.

Red and Blue pencils

Though I saw an interesting Koh-I-Noor at Lexikaliker, the three pencils I was able to quickly acquire from the excellent pencilthings.com were:

Musgrave Hermitage Thin 525 Red and Blue Combination
Musgrave Harvest Thick 725 Red and Blue Combination
Prismacolor Verithin 748 Red and Blue

The “Thin” and “Thick” labels of the Musgrave refer to the pencil cores – not the pencil diameter. The shape is the externally distinguishing feature – the Hermitage is hexagonal, while the Harvest is round. The Prismacolor pencil is also round.

Red and Blue pencils

While attempting sharpening, I found the leads of both Musgrave pencils to repeatedly break in a variety of sharpeners – especially the red ends. The Hermitage in particular seemed extremely averse to sharpeners. The Prismacolor pencil had no such problems.

As pencils, each had merits – the Prismacolor had the richest and most vibrant colours – so it would be the best on a blank sheet – yet the lighter and more muted tones of the Musgraves might be better for correction on a printed page.

Oddly enough, while preparing this post on the weekend, I saw a red and blue pencil used in the film “The Ninth Gate”. Johnny Depp’s character (a rare book dealer) uses this type of pencil to take notes:

Red and Blue pencils

In appearance, these pencils are a great blast from the past, and both Musgraves having great styled details. The Prismacolor has a serious presentation issue – the blue end appears to be a type of foil on top of the red varnish. Since the pencil shipped with a bar code sticker on the blue end, the foil now looks extremely dated and tattered. Almost like the fallen disco ball on that bad remake of the Poseiden Adventure.

Red and Blue pencils

Despite some issues, I think the Prismacolor Verithin is the best of the lot – reliable sharpening, and rich vibrant colour.

15 comments to Red and Blue pencils

  • Harry

    Tombo also make a beautiful red/blue pencil (the 8900VP) and it’s so smooth to sketch with that it’s become one of my favourites. I would like to try the ones in your article but I haven’t seen them anywhere.

  • Thank you for the review and the excellent photos. I am suprised to see how many of these red and blue pencils are still available. Thanks to Harry for pointing out the Tombow. There is also one by Caran d’Ache (namely the Bicolor 999) and – as far as I know – one by Mitsubishi. By the way: The great book “Pencils” also has a chapter on red and blue pencils.

  • adair

    May I ask where you found the Musgraves? Here in the US, only the Unigraph, Scoring Pencil and the natural-wood cased lines are available (through Pencilthings.com). The Hermitage looks impressive!

  • Interesting to learn that so many manufacturers still produce these!

    adair, all three pencils came via mail order from pencilthings.com.

  • Matt

    I have a Mitsu red/blue (a freebie included in an old pencil order), looks cool not sure what to use it for other than editing notes. Because I only have one and mitsus are somewhat hard to come by, I always feel guilty using it!

  • The Musgraves can be found at pencilthings.com. I prefer them to the Prismacolor Verithin, which to me was not as vibrant in color. They are also weightier in feel, which is a good thing.

  • Felipe

    Verythins were my “standard issue” red and blue pencils when I was in elementary school back in the 90s, while very versatile because they have both colours, they lasted less than a full size one colour pencil, so many of us ended up switching to a single colour Verithin. I’m not sure if those were sold outside Mexico (they were made by Berol), what I liked the most was the tiny metal endcap (like the one on Turquoise pencils, but in normal bras colour).

    There is an interesting story, supposedly the guy who designed the Panamanian flag had only one of those pencils handy, and that’s why the flag is only composed of one red rectangle, one red star, a blue rectangle and a blue star.

  • Brad

    30 or so years ago I used to have several red pencils that were about the diameter of a sip stick and maybe 5 inches long. Do they still exist?

  • Brad – pencils can survive for decades, so they might still exist. Do you recall where you left them?

  • Michael

    Philosophically the matter of existence is extremely debatable, Hmmmmm, existentially the red pencils were never there in the first place but will always be there ( only a man like Rod Serling could ever comprehend this )

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existence/

  • Interesting. I just picked up a Prismacolor Verithin today, but finds it gets chewed up pretty badly in the various hand held sharpeners I’ve tried…. Guess I have to find my Opinel

  • endlsdremr

    I recently found a red and blue oval pencil at a flea market. I have only sharpened the blue side, and it makes a very light mark. I wet the tip and it creates a brilliant blue mark. There are no markings on the oval pencil, and I can’t find anything online about any others. Do you have any idea what kind of pencil this is? I’d be willing to go back and buy an extra one for people interested.

  • endlsdremr, from that description, it is a copying pencil.

  • Larry

    We use these Red/Blue pencils in our dental office for dental charting. I was having difficulty finding these pencils at local stores and thought I’d try online. Great info on the histoy of the Red/Blue pencils. I also used them while in the Navy back in the early 1980′s B.C. (Before computers) doing accounting.

  • Rita

    We have used the Prismacolor Verithin for years. We have destroyed our electric sharpener because they apply their bar code to one end of the pencil (the middle part that never gets sharpened would be the ideal place to put the label). Also, we found that when the manufacturer changed several years ago, the core or color part broke easily when we tried to sharpen them. It would break inside the wood above the sharpened part.

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