Penguin Classics pencils

These novelty pencils match the format of the Penguin Classics series.

Penguin Classics pencils

Penguin Classics pencils

Penguin Classics pencils

Penguin Classics pencils

Penguin Classics pencils

Accompanying a Penguin novel, they would make a great back to school gift for a student.

Staedtler Mars rasor & Faber-Castell Perfection 7058

Staedtler Mars rasor & Faber-Castell Perfection 7058

In the far corners of pencildom’s taxonomy we have two extremely interesting (and very retro looking!) woodcased ink erasers with brushes.

Both round, they feature ink eraser cores and crimped ferrules that grasp brushes. The blue bristles of the Mars match that pencil’s finish and have an additional appeal.

Staedtler Mars rasor & Faber-Castell Perfection 7058

The crimped ferrules with brushes harken back to typewriter erasers.

Staedtler Mars rasor & Faber-Castell Perfection 7058

The Staedtler pencils are marked:

Obverse: Made in Germany Staedtler Mars erasor

Reverse: [bar code] EAN 40 07817 530948 Art. Nr. 526 61

And the Faber-Castell:

Perfection 7058 Faber-Castell

The font and finish of this pencil suggests it may be one of those marginal offerings where the value of updating to the modern branding wasn’t seen as worthwhile. On the other hand, the Staedtler pencil could fit in (apart from not fitting in at all!) in a modern product lineup.

Staedtler Mars rasor & Faber-Castell Perfection 7058

Though I can’t replace either of them, I decided to try them out, on an Exacompta Bloc Faf (shown) , and also a Rhodia pad.

Staedtler Mars rasor & Faber-Castell Perfection 7058

Lamy ink (fountain pen):

Neither eraser seemed to have any effect!

Pencil (Castell 9000, HB):

The Faber-Castell eraser seemed to have an advantage.

Ballpoint (Bexley labelled, probably from Schmidt – no ordinary ballpoints could be found.)

Here is where these erasers become useful – The Staedtler did a slow but good job of removing the ballpoint ink on the Rhodia paper. On the thinner Exacompta paper, both seemed to spin their wheels.

If you write on thick paper with ballpoint, the Mars rasor seems potentially useful. And if you just want a very unusual stationery accessory, both are high recommended!

Knurly: the Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

The Rotring 600 is a cult classic, a metal mechanical drafting pencil with legions of fans. The pencil (and a product line that includes a fountain pen) doesn’t seek to appeal to everyone, and focuses on a technical look rendered in heavyweight brass.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

With a hexagonal body and round knurled grip, the pencils have a very solid, sturdy look and feel, with an engineering aesthetic.

The Rotring company was acquired in 1998, and is now but a brand in the Newell Rubbermaid conglomerate. Rotring once made staples of drafting and design, starting with the Tintenkuli, a needle-nosed fountain pen that we would today call a technical pen.

The official Rotring site shows the company’s historic highlights. There are so many that the 600 line doesn’t even get a mention!

The 600 series may arguably be most famous for the fountain pen – yet mechanical pencil users also delight in this drafting pencil.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

There seem to be a few varieties around. The oldest versions have the body marked “rotring 600 / [lead diameter]”. Later versions are marked with just the lead diameter. There are also variants with a gold sleeve, and the non-drafting Newton 600 series. I am not aware of a complete taxonomy – if you know of one, please share.

Today, the 600 series pencils seem to be marketed only in Japan. I am not sure of the status of the other writing implements.

More than one source says Parker (itself also now a Newell Rubbermaid brand) is the manufacturer.

I have two 0.7mm pencils, one recently purchased (2008) from Japan, and one from about 2000 from a US vendor. They have some minor differences.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

The packaging has certainly shrunk over time – the new pencil has a small cardboard box and Japanese language instructions. The older packaging has a cardboard box containing a plastic display, and instructions in English and French. Both boxes mention the same Hamburg address.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

Internally, the newer pencil has a metal casing around the lead tube. On a scale, it outweighs the older pencil 22.7 to 21.7 grams. That’s the only difference of note that I could find.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

A more subtle variation that may interest some, is that the older pencil’s clip is marked “Japan”.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

So what’s so special? It isn’t the the only metal pencil, or the heaviest, or the most extremely technical in appearance. Comparing it side by side with some other well regarded pencils, what I notice is that it is the slimmest – at a similar weight to larger pencils, it keeps traditional proportions. It is definitely the most dense and solid feeling pencil, and subjectively seems to be the best made. There is nothing wrong with the products from Staedtler and Ohto, and I may prefer their round shape. But they just don’t have the Rotring’s solid feel. I’ve picked up several thin lead drafting style pencils over the last couple of years (probably due to certain online influences :-), and I’m thinking the money would have been better spent on higher quality, though fewer, pencils such as the Rotring 600.


If you’re curious about the thin lead drafting style of mechanical pencil, you could do far worse than trying a classic such as the Rotring 600.

Pencil news

How pencils are made – video

My thanks to Huib for these YouTube links – these are by far the best the best videos I’ve seen documenting pencil production.

Staedtler This is from the How it is Made televison show. Staedtler is never mentioned by name.


Another Staedtler video

I found these fascinating. Staedler pencils have always had a unique type of factory sharpening, and we see how they do it! Lots of other information as well.

It looks like the guy pouring the graphite and clay dust at Faber-Castell should be wearing a mask.

We also see some quality tests, such as a Staedtler pencil point snapping at 36.2 Newtons of force, and Faber-Castell’s fascinating lead abrasion tester in action.

Steno Pencils in North America?

Two recent blog comments plus direct email reveals that a few people are seeking high quality Steno pencils in North America. The Stenofix or Castell 9008 would be ideal. Are there any known sources, or any vendors who ship worldwide?

Felissimo 500 colour pencil set

More information about this interesting set of 500 colour pencils – it is sold by subscription. 25 pencils are released each month for a period of 20 months! That’s what I call a pencil of the month club!

It looks like Kossy already has the first (and very green!) set: On the desk, at any time

Also, two English language articles about the pencils. The first shows some very interesting arrangements, using the pencils as decorative objects:
Asaborake and design in daily life.

For those who’d like to see the vast array, the official product page.

Also, Felissimo has a New York branch in a beautiful building. I wonder if they stock these pencils?

Lexikaliker quoted by Staedtler

It is really a delight to see fellow pencil blog Lexikaliker being quoted by the pencil industry.

This story was picked up by Staedtler’s company newsletter, which can be downloaded here.

For the curious, Faber-Castell also has a newsletter. Sample interesting fact: There are six machines capable of manufacturing the Grip 2001 pencil. Two are in Germany, and four are in Brazil.

Papermate Black Pearl eraser

Papermate Black Pearl eraser

My thanks to Diane for kindly sending me some Black Pearl erasers in June.

Compared to the other black erasers we have looked at, which were all roughly block shape, the Black Pearl is distinguished by a flattened oval shape. Just for this alone, I like it. It is portable, easy to grip, and works well.

Papermate Black Pearl eraser

It seems harder, and a bit denser, than other black erasers. Perhaps this is a manufacturing requirement for a thin eraser.

Just how well does it work? I used the same Rhodia pad and Staedtler Mars pencil as in the previous review, and have added a Palomino pencil.

Papermate Black Pearl eraser

It erases not quite as well as the Papermate Exam eraser. The softer erasers seem to have an advantage with this particular graphite/paper combination.

See also: Black erasers

Blackwing 602 pencil

“A pencil that is right some days is no good another day. For example, yesterday, I used a [Blackwing] soft and fine and it floated over the paper just wonderfully. So this morning I try the same kind. They crack on me. Points breaks and all hell is let loose.”

-John Steinbeck on his search for the ideal pencil

The Blackwing 602 was not a commercial success – despite praise from novelist John Steinbeck and mentions in Henry Petroski’s The Pencil, Sanford discontinued the pencil in 1997 due to lack of sales.

Blackwing 602 pencil

The story of the pencil’s demise is in a 2004 article at The Pencil Pages. The eraser clasp machine broke, and supply ran out. Why not fix the machine? At sales of just over a thousand boxes a year, the Blackwing had become a marginal brand, and was allowed to lapse.

Blackwing 602 pencil

It’s hard to get a fix on current supply and demand. They seem be regularly for sale on eBay, year after year. A modern pencil, out of production for only a decade, the Blackwing has become highly collectable – selling for $20 to $50 (or even more) per pencil.

Blackwing 602 pencil

A gentleman (and pencil user) from Missouri kindly sent me a Blackwing for inspection this past week. My thanks to him.

The pencil has an unusual ferrule. Up to the 1940s, pencils had more variety in ferrules/erasers (many examples at Brand Name Pencils), but modern production techniques have standardized these interesting varieties. The Blackwing’s ferrule has a gold colour, and presents a rectangular wedge. A family member who paints immediately thought it was a paintbrush clasp.

Blackwing 602 pencil

The wedge allows the insertion of a small block eraser. I won’t test the original (and now dry) decade old pink eraser, but the format does allow one to slice replacement pieces from a regular block eraser – an idea I like.

Blackwing 602 pencil

Blackwing 602 pencil

As charming as the novel ferrule/eraser looks, it seems a terrible idea. First, it distorts the pencil’s natural dimensions. Standard pencils, from the 19th throught the 21st centuries, are about 175mm. The Blackwing is about 200mm including the eraser.

Blackwing 602 pencil

Possibly even worse – the Blackwing’s balance point is quite wrong for a pencil. A standard quality pencil’s point of balance is at the halfway point. But for the Blackwing, it is about 70% up the pencil’s length. As the pencil is sharpened, that proportion will become more extreme.

Blackwing 602 pencil

Blackwing 602 pencil

The reason is that the pencil weighs 5.3 grams – with the eraser/clasp weighing 1.1g. 20% of the pencil’s unsharpened weight is at the cap – and increasing as a percentage as the pencil gets sharpened.

Blackwing 602 pencil

Blackwing 602 pencil

Unless the Blackwing is your only pencil – it is too different from standard pencils to make an easy adjustment to the odd balance.

The pencil is a smoky grey. I like it, and see why others agree.

The obverse is labelled:

USA Woodclinched EF logo Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602

As well , “DB” is impressed into the wood. Any idea what this code refers to?

The reverse has the great slogan:

Half the pressure, twice the speed

I sharpened the pencil in the Carl Decade DE-100. As much as I love pencils, I don’t love most pencil sharpeners, and Carl’s products are great exceptions.

Blackwing 602 pencil

The Blackwing sharpens very nicely, as expected.

On paper, I tried the pencil on a Rhodia pad.

I’ll admit my first surprise – the blogosphere’s perspective on pencils is that that dark rich lines are the best – and the Blackwing seemed quite middling in the category. Okay, mabye not middling – much better than the vast majority of pencils – yet as a pencil that some claim should rest on a throne – it seemed to leave a lighter mark than other top pencils.

The smoothness category may be the key to understanding the Blackwing – the pencil is not smooth – it is more like slippery – floating on paper without tension, but not creating an appreciably dark line. The wax content in the pencil is a main feature.

I also tried erasure – with a Staedtler Mars, it seems to outperform other pencils, erasing very cleanly.

Some darker pencils like to draw outside the lines – emitting crumbles and residue – but the Blackwing excels in staying put!

The Pencil Pages article mentions the Blackwing’s putative successors, and I thought I would try them out as well.

A distinction to be noted – we are told that the Blackwing is a 4B grade lead – but quality pencils ranges today vary the lead diameter with the lead grade – softer lead grades having wider diameters – so these other pencils may have an advantage.

Blackwing 602 pencil

The Turqouise 4B is good, but it doesn’t strike me as being of the same calibre in any sense.

The Blackwing’s lead apparently carried on in the Microtomic (another lapsed label/brand). There are various ‘Microtomic’ pencils – some principally labelled as Microtomic, and some from another principle brand, with “Microtomic” used as an adjective. Some research on the name is here.

I have a few laying around – they typically have have attractive packaging, and I have variants in 2B, 5B, and 6B – but not 4B.

Blackwing 602 pencil

This test left me wondering why I hadn’t previously sharpened them. The Microtomics lay down a superb pencil line. The 2B is exceptionally smooth, and capable of reaching extremely deep shades. The Microtomic line seems perhaps less smooth and waxy than the Blackwing, yet is still an equally worthy pencil.

Blackwing 602 pencil

Another line of enquiry that of course occured was – how does the Blackwing compare with modern pencils?

Modern pencilmaking’s best efforts seem to occur in Japan, and I selected the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B as the main comparison pencil.

Blackwing 602 pencil

Tests were also conducted with the Tombow Mono Special 6B, Craft Design item 17 HB, Tombow Mono 4B, and Kitaboshi Hit 4B.

The Blackwing is in the middle at darkness, it excels at erasability and crumbling resistance, and is also in the middle at smoothness. It isn’t really a peer of the top modern pencils.

This test may be like comparing the automobiles of 1968 to those of 2010 – the past achievements are acknowledged and celebrated, but decades of engineering advancements just can’t be overcome.

The Blackwing 602 was great in the climate of it’s time, but died through lack of support. With Sanford’s pencil production leaving the US this year, the Blackwing is definitely not returning. If you love quality woodcase pencils, now is the time to support today’s Blackwings – the top products from Kitaboshi, Pentel, Tombow, and Mitsubishi.