2008 saw some major pencil industry developments.

Sanford, a division of Newell Rubbermaid, whose portfolio includes famous pencils such as the Mirado and Venus, announced the 2009 end of their U.S. pencil manufacturing operations. Whether a sign of the times, a reflection on the state of the pencil, or just one company’s fortune, it is definitely a pencil industry milestone.

Fila of Italy, who also own Dixon, added the 202 year old Lyra brand to their portfolio. The end of Lyra’s production in Germany, just as Dixon ended US production, suggests a global strategy of keeping established national brands, while moving production to China.

Colleen, one of Japan’s top manufacturers until about 1997, has had the brand revived in Thailand, and the line is slowly being re-introduced to Japan.

Closer to home, it was a good year for pencil talk. From 2005 through 2007, the few external links received were usually from a familiar handful of other pencil and stationery blogs. While those mentions were always appreciated, it has also felt good to get some wider recognition, especially recent attention from major artist sites such as Booooooom! and lines and colors. Thanks very much!

(lines and colors has some very erudite pencil and graphite discussion! Take a look at JG’s rebuttal of the Kuru Toga praise. (Comment #2.) I hope JG will some day contribute a bit of that knowledge here!)

The site is now visited by about 600 unique IP addresses each day, and hopefully not all of you are bots. We have almost 2000 comments, and over 300 posts. I’ll call that success, but like last year, I’m still frustrated that the blog can be so hard to find with a search engine.

The blog has become semi-moderated, meaning there are some rules to prevent spam which will trigger the moderation function, but many – and I hope most – comments should be automatically approved. I hope this increases the level of interaction.

Now as to the future of the blog – here I’m less certain, and any feedback is welcome!

Is anyone interested in seeing more of what’s behind the curtain of the pencil industry? What makes a lead good or bad? What’s in a lead? (Let’s not let the industry just cite the 200 year old graphite/clay/wax formula when modern patents are now online.) What wood species are used, and from what sources?

Are ‘pencils of the world’ of interest? They can be quite challenging to get, and with a couple of exceptions, rarely get comments when featured. (I’ll still finish showing some Hindustan Pencil Co. and China First pencils, kindly sent by blog readers.)

Would comparison articles be more useful than single item posts? They would of course be fewer in in number.

There have also been regular (and unsuccessful) invitations for guest articles. If I offered to mail the materials, such as a set of related pencils (theme, manufacturer, etc.), would that assist someone in deciding to write a brief review? Just wondering.

Finally, let me mention some great blogs out there.

I’ve neglected to previously mention Strike Thru, perhaps out of the guilt of having sent both a manual Underwood and an electric Smith-Corona to places of transcendence. (Will I be barred from commenting there?) The Underwood may have been highly desirable in some ways, but I hope I can be forgiven – at the time, in a walk up apartment with no spare space, with no car, it weighed a ridiculous amount, and there were no takers after three months of searching. It was used in the family for over 50 years, so it was hard to depart with.

The Smith Corona felt like moving from black and white to colour computer monitors – not necessarily any content improvement, but so “improved”. That “correction” part of the ribbon removed so much anxiety about making errors! No more figuring how to turn around a bad sentence, mid-sentence!

I’ve also been reading Iron Whim over the holidays. I’ll finish it before commenting.

So about Strike Thru – it is a great read, well written, and always interesting. Please take a look.

Spritual Evolution of the Bean is what critical users of paper and journals need. Not just “here’s a PR photo”, but real product photos, testing, use, and description of journals and paper. Absolutely the best information I’ve yet seen on the subject – often testing a journal in ten ways. I do note a corollary – the fountain pen/ink/paper association is a remarkably fragile one, and often doesn’t succeed.

I know that this research isn’t easy to do, and appreciate Bean’s work.

On the pencil front, Dave’s Mechanical Pencils remains the foremost place to read about mechanical pencils. I like those fancy Parker and Delta pencils that have been reviewed! I’ll also mention that I bought a mechanical pencil in 2008 (not yet reviewed at Dave’s) that I love, more than a Lamy 2000, Pentel Kerry, or Pilot VP, all of which I also bought in 2008.

Pencils 11 shows an amazing variety of collectible mechanical pencils, though “Germ” won’t answer my email.

In German (though the humour and excellent photography should be universal) is Lexikaliker. Regularly updated with interesting new pencils and stationery items from Germany, Japan, and elsewhere, it is a must read!

In Japanese – and these can be read through translators, or enjoyed for the photos –

By isu:

the uncomfortable chair This is the name of a novel, not an architect’s stool!

the uncomfortable chair 2

By Kero556:

Collections of Colleen Pencil products that have gone bankrupt , and miscellaneous notes about COLLEEN Pencil.

Kero 556 Annex

By Kossy:


By bundoki.com:

Stationery Not the store website – an amazing assortment of the latest pencils and stationery accessories.

(And if you explore the links from these sites, you will see quite a few more stationery related blogs.)

Did I say “finally”? Two more subjects:

1. People want quality pencils! This is the main subject of direct email here, and a good portion of comments. I’ll guess that those taking the initiative to write are the “tip of the iceberg”. There is a huge business opportunity out there to offer an international selection of quality pencils to consumers – if anyone is interested in doing so. I am almost tempted to try this myself.

2. Favourite pencils. A few design firms, artists, and architects have written or commented about their need for a pencil that may no longer be manufactured. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to these questions. If you rely on a specific pencil for your living that you think can’t be replaced – buy the supply you need now! It supports the manufacturer, encourages future production, and provides insurance to yourself.

Happy new year to all!

Tajima SH20FM 2.0mm leadholder

Tajima SH20FM 2.0mm leadholder

The ultra-industrial design of the grip is this leadholder’s unmistakable key feature.

Over the top in many ways, I knew I wanted to get one as soon as I saw a photo. If the technical pencils from Ohto, Rotring, and Staedtler leave you asking “what’s next?”, this might be for you. Tajima pulled out all the stops in creating a striking leadholder.

Tajima SH20FM 2.0mm leadholder

I can’t decide if this pencil is truly usable. If you don’t like the knurl of a Rotring – this grip will feel even less pleasant. It may have gone a bit too far. If one moves a finger or thumb up or down – ouch. It requires finding one’s grip and keeping it.

Tajima SH20FM 2.0mm leadholder

Yet, I like the design!

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Super-DX and Hi-Uni 8B pencils

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Super-DX and Hi-Uni 8B pencils

As a sequel to our recent look at Mitsubishi’s 10B pencils, here are two special pencils in the 8B grade.

First is the Hi-Uni Super-DX. A few pencils have passed this way since the website started in 2005, and I have no hesitation in stating that this is the nicest, most refined finish I’ve ever seen on a woodcase pencil. There are several coats of lacquer which create an impression of depth, with tones ranging from cherry red to rich maroon popping out, depending on the light and angle of viewing. The advanced craftsmanship that went into designing and creating this pencil’s surface is exemplary. The gold lettering and cap are nicely contrasting.

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Super-DX and Hi-Uni 8B pencils

The Hi-Uni 8B is one of five new grades that was introduced by Mitsubishi for the Uni’s 50th anniversary, along with 10H, 7B, 9B, and 10B. Premium Japanese pencils all have first rate finishes, and it is a testament to the Super-DX that it makes the Hi-Uni look relatively ordinary.

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Super-DX and Hi-Uni 8B pencils

The core diameters are quite different – the Super-DX is oversized like the 10B pencils, while the Hi-Uni is closer to traditional size.

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Super-DX and Hi-Uni 8B pencils

Both are great pencils, leaving super dark and rich marks. Yet – the formulas seem to be different, with the Super-DX being even smoother and waxier. Others who have tried both pencils agree.

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Super-DX and Hi-Uni 8B pencils

The Hi-Uni Super-DX is an amazingly great pencil. My apologies, as I don’t think these photos give it full justice.

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Super-DX and Hi-Uni 8B pencils

(The pencils were photographed on a Maruman Mnemosyne 182 notebook, which seems to handle graphite extremely well.)

Mitsubishi Uni pencil holder

Mitsubishi Uni pencil holder

This is the first luxury woodcase pencil accessory we’ve seen from a pencil manufacturer other than Faber-Castell. In this case, it is Mitsubishi, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of their Uni brand. As well as new pencil grades, which we have mentioned, Mitsubishi has unveiled this luxury pencil holder.

As opposed to other holders/extenders, this model can grasp an entire pencil as well as making use of the last bits of a pencil, and includes a full cap with clip.

Mitsubishi Uni pencil holder

In the box, it might appear to be a fountain pen. Yet the two woodcase pencils therein indicate otherwise.

Mitsubishi Uni pencil holder

The holder has three detachable parts.

Mitsubishi Uni pencil holder

The base is the closest to a traditional pencil holder. It is a wood finish holder dyed to Mitsubishi’s traditional maroon colour. Accents are in gun metal and gold. Unlike other holders, the end of the base is hollow, so that the cap of a new full-length pencil may protrude.

A pencil is gripped by a cylindrical chrome clasp that screws on to the base.

The piece that makes this really special is the cap – gun metal with gold clip and gold and black accents. It protects the pencil point when closed, and can be ‘posted’ on the holder to achieve a very nice balance while writing.

Mitsubishi Uni pencil holder

The case is a very dark wood, simply marked ‘uni’, with a very efficient hidden magnetic clasp.

Mitsubishi Uni pencil holder

Mitsubishi has done a great deal to raise the quality of the manufactured pencil, and this is a great accessory to match.

SAX Grafit pencil

SAX Grafit pencil

Here is a modest office pencil that I quite like.

The SAX Grafit is an uncapped hexagonal pencil, finished in metallic silver, with minimal markings. (We like minimal markings, as regular readers know.)

The lead performs above the office pencil weight class – dark, rich, somewhat compacting. It is first rate.

SAX Grafit pencil

This is one of those pencils, that if more widely available, would have a lot more people using pencils!

It is also interesting as the first representative of the Austrian SAX/Jolly/Breviller-Urban pencil conglomerate that we’ve seen at pencil talk.

My thanks to der Lexikaliker for sending this interesting pencil to me.

Musgrave Choo-Choo pencil

Musgrave Choo-Choo pencil

The Musgrave Choo-Choo pencil is an oversize round pencil for children.

Made in Shelbyville, Tennessee by the Musgrave Pencil Co., it is finished in yellow with a gold ferrule and pink eraser.

Musgrave Choo-Choo pencil

The type and graphics are delightful. Made of cedar, sharpening (which I would think is important in a children’s pencil) is a breeze. Unfortunately, the lead, though okay, doesn’t seem to be up to Musgrave’s usual high standard.

Musgrave Choo-Choo pencil

Overall, it steams ahead of the competition in the category.