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Disappearing pencils

1. The Wall Street Journal recently mentioned (as part of a larger story) that the Musgrave Pencil Co. had laid off staff. That’s unfortunate for those involved as well as for users of quality pencils. I think the better Musgrave pencils – the Unigraph and the Musgrave HB – are first rate.

2. Some while ago, I was asked if there was a luxury American pencil, something that could compete with Faber-Castell’s fancy offerings. The answer is – I think there may have been. New York retailer Mrs. John L. Strong had a “hand-lathed” pencil apparently made from Eastern Red Cedar. Like other top offerings, Marco Ferreri’s book Pencils (which is a museum catalogue, not a coffee table book) has a photo.

Alas, I can’t even find a digital photo of these pencils at the moment. I emailed (no reply) and telephoned (out of order) Mrs. Strong earlier this year to try and get some of these pencils. The lack of reply may have been indicative of other problems.

17 comments to Disappearing pencils

  • That’s awful about Musgrave. I love the HB naturals. I hope they survive the recession. I would hate to see such a great company disappear after all these years.

  • I just skimmed this:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124303310871748603.html

    How cool is it that there’s a Pencil Street!

  • David O.

    Maybe they can hang on by doing specialty stuff, like the Home Depot carpenter’s pencils. I may need to snag some of the Mugrave HB’s while I can. Wonder how General is doing? I know that they do a lot of art related pencils, which has probably kept them alive. I think the moral here is to diversify after you main product becomes a commodity.

  • I think they need to do better marketing—to retailers if not to the public! The Web site is pretty out of date and could do so much for them.

  • David O.

    Yeah, the website could definitely use some work. Looks like they specialize in specialty pencils with various designs. I seem to remember General revamping their site in the past couple of years. It has a much better look now: http://www.generalpencil.com/
    General has always been better at stressing the Made in USA aspect.

  • Adair

    Sad to know that Musgrave is in trouble. They do really need to improve their marketing, though. Their website is terrible. You cannot even buy directly from them. I am sure that many pencil enthusiasts would buy their pencils if they could just obtain them more easily. In my opinion, the Musgrave green pencils–I think the Unigraphs–compare well to Faber von Castell. Let’s hope that Musgrave can survive!

  • Bob S. in Phoenix, AZ

    Musgrave makes the “Money” pencils that are available from Staples here in Phoenix. They appear to be reasonable writers and sharpen well. They are sold under the Musgrave label “Design Way” and painted with facsimiles of American currency. These are the only Musgrave pencils that I have ever used. I don’t know of any other source of Musgrave pencils in Phoenix.

  • Bob S. in Phoenix, AZ

    The following is a link to an image of the “Design Way Money” pencils referenced in my previous post:

    http://www.designwayproducts.com/78898money.jpg

  • David O.

    Hmmm…. I may check out the Staples here. I very close to one tonight. I do have some Musgrave HB’s, which are like a “cadillac/high end” pencil to me. White eraser on them as well.

  • David O.

    I was just at Staples and bought two packs of 12 each. The various. U.S. denominations are on different pencils ($2, $1, $50, etc.). I couldn’t find any reference to where they were made on the packaging or pencils, but two other “novelty” wood pencil packs with different designs (also “Design Way”) were made in Taiwan.
    The “money” pencils sharpen easily and appear to be pine due to weight and fragrance, which is rare now. I did some quick writing and that was good.
    A worrisome thing is that the Musgrave website doesn’t appear to be working right. Only the “history” link is working:
    http://www.pencils.net/history.cfm

  • Bob S. in Phoenix, AZ

    I also looked for where they were made explicitly on the package and I couldn’t find a reference on the packaging or the pencils, themselves. I assumed that they were US made, but who knows. I was also wondering about the wood because the pencils were so lightweight, although perhaps low density would be a better description. However, they weren’t soft in the sense that finger pressure did not dent the pencils.

    I also noticed that virtually nothing worked on the Musgrave website, but the Design Way [Products] website was entirely functional.

  • David O.

    I like a mystery! I don’t think that the wood is pine now. It is actually more “balsa” like. In the right light, the grain looks a lot like balsa grain and they are softer than my cedar pencils. I could put a decent sized mark/dent in the sharpened wood with my finger nail, a bigger “dent” than with the incense cedar Sanford Mirado.
    The pencils are very light and sharpen even better than cedar.
    The line laid down is actually darker than the line from the Mirado, so closer to a “1″ I think. It would be good for music marking.
    I speculate that they are U.S. made, as I’ve never used a southeast Asian import that was so easy to sharpen. Now I wish I bought a package of one of the Design Way Taiwan made novelty pencils. Hmmm….

  • If the wood is like balsa it could be Jelutong, a very popular pencil wood that is also used by STAEDTLER and STABILO.

  • David O.

    I think that you may have identified it, Gunther. This image of Jelutong looks a *lot* like the grain of the pencil:
    http://www.fotosearch.com/bigcomp.asp?path=WTD/WTD361/CRF01739.jpg

  • David O.

    Speaking about Jelutong, this is a fascinating (at least to us pencil nuts) article about the wood and Indonesia. In hindsight, I think that the pencils were either made there or in Malaysia:
    http://www1.american.edu/TED/indones.htm

    It also gets into the worldwide market for pencil slats, etc.

  • David O.

    I was at Staples again tonight, and remembered this thread. I decided to buy the “sports” wood pencils also from DesignWay Products, but marked Made in Taiwan. I sharpened one of them and found it to have different wood (possibly basswood) and a wrapper with the design.
    The DesignWay “Money” pencils appear to have Jelutong or similar wood, and the design seems to be painted on. The plot thickens… ;)

  • David O.

    This may indeed be my last post on this topic for a bit, but I was surfing around tonight on the Musgrave site and realized that they have more than one variant of the “money” pencil:
    http://www.pencils.net/catalog.cfm?CFID=5571901&CFTOKEN=64590848

    You can even order a custom imprint version.

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