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J. R. Moon pencils

The J. R. Moon Pencil Company was founded in 1961 by James R. Moon. Moon was a pencil industry veteran, having previously worked at both the Linton and American pencil companies, following a career as a school teacher.

Some background information on the company:

Mr. Moon (born in 1912), passed away in 2002, and a scholarship in his name at Columbia State College is a testament to the mark he left on his community.

In 1999, the company name changed name to Moon Products, Inc., possibly reflecting the wider range of writing implements and supplies being sold at the time.

In 2003, crayon maker RoseArt Industries Ltd. of New Jersey purchased Moon Products Inc., claiming to become the second largest pencil manufacturer in the US. It isn’t clear how such a calculation was made, as Dixon and Newell Rubbermaid’s Sanford division were widely acknowledged as being the largest American pencil manufacturers of the time.

In June 2005, Mega Bloks Inc. (a predecessor name of Mega Brands) acquired RoseArt for $350M.

(In March 2008, Mega Brands announced they might sell the unit.)

Today, Dixon (acquired by FILA of Italy) and Newell Rubbermaid (who seem to have dispensed with the Sanford name in the US, in favour of the Paper Mate, Parker, etc. brands) have both moved US manufacturing abroad. Due to the historical prominence of the Dixon Ticonderoga and Paper Mate Mirado brands and products, the two companies are still the most associated with recent American pencil making.

Some industry followers and pencil aficionados, and probably many pencil talk readers, are aware that two smaller family owned companies, General and Musgrave, continue to operate in the US.

Moon Products factory.

Yet there is another manufacturer. This manufacturer has no website, garners no press, and seems to operate in a stealth mode, with no brand or identity management. That manufacturer is Moon Products, which today operates in Lewisburg, Tennessee as a division of international toy conglomerate Mega Brands.

With great thanks to Pencil Me In, who supplied the pencils shown here, let’s take a look at the offerings of Moon Products and the larger Mega Brands organization.

The first possible surprise is in the branding – the “J. R. Moon” name still exists on a product, as do “Moon Products”, “RoseArt”, and “Mega Brands”. It gets even better – the company appears to use original imprints on some products, producing delightful new pencils that appear vintage. Lyra (in Germany) is also known for this practice.

Try-Rex B21 and B23

J. R. Moon pencils.

The Try-Rex is distinguished by an unusual shape – an equilateral triangle with rounded corners. This in contrast to other triangular pencils which are more like a three sided curve of constant width or a Reuleaux triangle . The shape comes from the Richard Best Pencil Company, which was purchased by J. R. Moon.

J. R. Moon pencils.

This pencil format is surprising similar to Mitsubishi’s triangular “Penmanship” pencil.

The Try-Rex B23 is just a bit larger than a modern standard pencil, and wouldn’t fit in some sharpeners I tried. It has a white imprint on a very dark navy blue finish. The B21 is an oversize pencil in the same shape with a red finish. Both share an oversize 4mm graphite core.

“Big-Dipper” 600

J. R. Moon pencils.

The “Big-Dipper” brought to mind the Musgrave Choo-Choo – delightful jumbo sized pencils for learners. This pencil includes the text “J. R. Moon Pencil Co.” Round, it is topped by a gold ferrule and ruby eraser.

Crown Cedar

J. R. Moon pencils.

Simply marked “U.S.A. Moon Products Crown Cedar 2″, this appears to be a standard yellow office pencil.

USA Gold

Please see an interesting comment by WoodChuck about this pencil’s background. The packaging says “Made in the USA” and “Made from American Cedar.” The pencil is labelled “www.megabrands.com U.S.A. Gold 2 HB” and also appears to be a standard yellow office pencil.

USA Green

We mentioned this pencil here. It appears to be a sibling of the USA Gold.

Recycled Denim

A fun pencil, we previously saw it here.

Recycled Newsprint

A rolled newspaper type of pencil. Included for completeness.

J. R. Moon pencils.

RoseArt Colored Pencils

Made in Indonesia, these represent the RoseArt name, though Mega Brands is mentioned on the packaging.

The Write Dudes #2

Made in Vietnam, this appears to be a “deep discount” pencil.

The colour pencils won’t be evaluated today, but the breadth of the graphite pencil offerings from this little known company is compelling. I can say that there were some distinctive differences between the products in terms of performance.

Sharpening

J. R. Moon pencils.

I used a new Faber-Castell Contour sharpener for the test. There was no trouble distinguishing that the three pencils with the old imprints, the Try-Rex B23 and B21, and the “Big-Dipper”, use a different and superior type of cedar. They all sharpened exceptionally well. The Crown Cedar, USA Green and USA Gold, were in a second tier, and noticeably less pleasant to sharpen. The Write Dudes (presumably basswood) pencils were distinctly rough.

Writing

The two Try-Rexes are both nice writers. Very smooth with moderately dark, rich cores. I couldn’t decide if the two ungraded pencils were the same or not. Perhaps as a side effect of the greater weight, the larger seemed to leave a darker mark.

J. R. Moon pencils.

The “Big-Dipper” was a welcome surprise. Musgrave’s Choo-Choo, as an example, does not use the same quality lead as that company’s standard sized pencils. Fortunately, Moon Products didn’t skimp, and the “Big-Dipper” is a great writer.

The USA Gold and Crown Cedar seemed so-so – I doubt they would be anyone’s first choice. I have to note that samples of both were slightly warped, perhaps (sadly) par for the course from today’s office pencil. The Write Dudes pencil is a disaster – gritty, scratchy, almost not writing.

Overall

J. R. Moon pencils.

The Try-Rex and “Big-Dipper” are almost worth buying just for the style of their imprints. But the quality of the wood and graphite is superior, and makes them recommended items.

The USA Gold and Crown Cedar, which probably deserve some regard for their last ditch stand against cheap imported competitors, are rather disappointing.

My thanks to Pencil Me In for her kind support of pencil talk, and considerable work in assembling this amazing collection from a little known manufacturer.

29 comments to J. R. Moon pencils

  • Adair

    I am SO glad to see some recognition at last for the J.R. Moon pencils. The Try-Rex and Big-Dipper lines are superb American-made pencils, available only at teacher supply stores. They are very inexpensive, and I buy them in large quantities, usually around back-to-school time in mid August. The Try-Rex contains within it the lineage of those wonderful Richard Best pencils of the 1950′s, namely the Royal Scot and the Futura. I hope that J.R. Moon pencils manage to survive…I get nervous when the acquisitions start…RoseArt wasn’t too hot, and now MegaBrands…well, you will understand my anxiety…The Big Dippers have the most gorgeous imprint of any contemporary pencil.

  • Very interesting. Thanks to Pencil Me In and Pencil Talk for this article.

  • MJD

    Ah…TRY-REX No 21. I still have 2 although they are not Moon products. However the only difference I could see in the one in the photo and my old ones was the company name below “made in USA” and the model has become B21 instead of No. 21. The writing looks a little bolder on the one in the photo but it is hard to judge. From your review I gather that the quality is about the same. Also your new one looks brighter but that may be the lacquer aging on mine. Are they a slightly different red now? I have never seen them in a store but my dad always had them in his classroom so I know i nicked them at some point. I think he has Dixon beginners 308 now. I like them a bit better but then I was always a sucker for a Black finish. Hence my love of the old Black warrior #1 (which incidentally I cant find anywhere… are they not being made?) But this has gotten over long. Thank you for reviewing a pencil that brings back pleasant memories of my childhood.

  • Quite an informative and detailed post, for I was unaware of the existence of this American pencil company either. Hope they continue to thrive even in stealth mode.

  • Thank you for that very interesting post! It is great to see that there are more than the big names, and I also hope that J. R. Moon will continue to thrive.

  • Great post! A few of the large-diameter pencils I bought my daughter at a teacher-supply store near Baltimore were Moon pencils (Big Dipper and the Tri-Rex), and I’ve been wondering how they’re write. She’s only ten months old, though; so I can’t bring myself to sharpen them. There are also some very nice TOT models from Musgrave.
    (I might have to buy myself some to try and leave hers alone!)

  • Thank you for the comments. I’m envious of anyone who can purchase these locally! It seems, perhaps without surprise, that the educational market is the customer for the Big-Dipper and Try-Rex pencils.

  • A great article, thank you for this. The curved triangle shape looks really interesting. I hope JR Moon will keep manufacturing in the USA and I would be very happy to see their products being sold in Europe. Let’s hope they or their parent company decide to enter other markets.

  • Pencil Me In

    Thanks for such a thorough and informative article (with great photos, as always!) – your posts are always a pleasure to read!

  • Adair

    Matthias—even in the USA these pencils are very uncommon, sold exclusively at special teacher stores. (At least, I have never seen them anywhere else!)

  • It might be very difficult to get into the distribution chain of more US stores, or maybe it’s a conscious decision by JR Moon as they cannot produce more and don’t want to invest, but these days many multinationals move production back to the USA (BMW in SouthCarolina, VW in Tennessee, …). OK there is a big difference between a car and a pencil, but I really hope more people can pay a decent price for a pencil (if you think how long they last they are dead cheap anyway) so that there will be many different pencil companies, manufacturing in many different countries …and lots of variety. I hope I will see one, but I fear I will never see a JR Moon in a shop in Europe. Here in the UK where the high street and supermarkets are dominated by national and international chains the choice of stationery brands and products seems to get worse all the time. In Germany it is not that bad yet as there are fewer chains and more independent shops, but it is probably only a matter of time before similar changes are happening there as well.

  • adair

    Matthias, I’ll be happy to send you some of these, no problem. I believe you have my email. (Gunther, would you like some as well?) As for Germany: I pray and hope that the wonderful offerings available there, even in regular department stores, will never end…Berlin is a stationery fanatic’s dream! The Ka-De-We stationery department ( a WHOLE department!) makes me giddy. Imagine, being able to buy Faber-Castell Steno’s by the handful!

  • adair, thank you for your kind offer – yes, I would be happy to get some of these as well! May I offer you some Steno pencils from Faber-Castell or Staedtler? ;-)

  • adair

    Absolutely, Gunther. Does Matthias have your email? Or do you have his? If so, you can get my email from him and we can proceed.

  • [...] “The J. R. Moon Pencil Company was founded in 1961 by James R. Moon. Moon was a pencil industry veteran, having previously worked at both the Linton and American pencil companies, following a career as a school teacher. Some background information on the company…” (penciltalk) [...]

  • Adair, thank you for your kind offer. I sent you a message and gave Gunther your email.

  • [...] J.R. Moon Pencils – Pencil Talk [...]

  • Thanks for the post. I like reading this kind of thorough blog post with nice pictures to as well.

    EWian

  • I just picked up some of the pencils listed in the review along with some “Little Dipper” and large size eraser capped Try-Rex and a couple “Bare Wood” at the local teachers store.

    As far as I can tell the Mega USA Naturals use the same lead as the Try-Rex and are practically the same pencil as the “Bare-Wood”.

    I also noticed that some of the “Try-Rex” were capped with a plain brass ferrule and others were topped off with the Mega green-striped one.

  • Adam Gale

    Hi there, We are writing from the UK and came across this article when searching for a pencil we just found from the local charity / second hand shop. My mum picked it up in a bundle of pencils for 15 pence (around 25-30 cents) and we were interested about the JR Moon Pencil Company as we had never heard of it before. Its exciting to think that someone brought this pencil from the USA all the way across the sea to the UK – I wonder what stories it could tell (or perhaps write!). All the best, from the UK, Adam and Sandra

  • David E. Thompson

    I saw a package of USA Gold pencils in a Tulsa K Mart. Seeing MADE IN USA, I was so delighted, that though i didn’t need any pencils, I bought a package of them. IO believe it is SUPERIOR to the imported ones I have bought for years. In fact, searching for American made writing instruments brought me to this website.
    I and many others will gladly pay more for American made products. Where may I find Moon products in Tulsa, OK?
    Thank You, Dave

  • I’ve found them at “the Teacher’s Store”.

  • Dan

    I enjoyed your post about Moon pencils and a quick blurb about General pencils.

    I’ve been using the Moon Try-Rex T-25T pencils for many years and they are awesome wood pencils! I also have General’s No-Roll 932 pencil which is made of cedar wood and has a wonderful core.

    As a long-time collector and user of cedar wood pencils, I admire and respect the fact that Moon and General still continue to survive and make great American-made cedar wood pencils!

  • David O.

    Is the no-roll 932 still available somewhere Dan? This is the current General Pencil selection:
    http://www.generalpencil.com/index.cfm?page=products&categoryid=6

    Someone had commented that he liked the Cedar Pointe a lot, as it reminded him of the old Blackfeet Indian pencil. I have been using one quite a bit and like it. It is still available at the above link.

    I noticed that the Moon pencils are still available from many teacher supply websites, usually with writing for kids (1st graders are #1, etc.). You can also get them from 3rd party sellers via Amazon.

  • Dan

    Hi David 0.

    Sorry for the delay in replying. I purchased these General 932 No-Roll pencils back in the late 1990′s and have several dozen of them, unsharpened.

    If you want to get a dozen of these 932s or the JR Moon B21 (no ferrule/eraser) or B21T (with ferrule/eraser), let me know.Again, sorry for the delay in replying. I’ve seen a dozen unsharpened B21 pencils on eBay for around $25, which I think is a crazy price!

    BTW: The Cedar Pointe, I believe the General 332 model is a regular-sized barrel wood pencil and not a larger barrel pencil like the B21 or the 932…Good US pencil and you can smell the cedar as General does not put varnish on the 332, totally natural.

    I also have some original Faber-Castell “American Naturals” with ferrule/eraser, unsharpened. These were very similar to the General 332 Cedar Pointe.

    Dan

  • David O.

    Thanks Dan. I have a bunch of the old Faber-Castell “American” pencils, as well as the Eberhard Faber “American” pencils (very similar). They are both are great and so much better than most pencils today.

    Right, the Cedar Pointe is a regular sized pencil.

  • Virginia Garcia

    Hi! I have a couple dozen Try-Rex B23 blue pencils for my Special Education studenets. BUT I am having a hard time finding eraser tops that will fit these pencils without splitting. Do you know where I can buy ones that are big enough to fit them? Please help!
    Virginia, Special Education Teacher

  • Donna Byars

    would you be able to quote a price for your pencils and where can they be picked up. this is for kids that are sponsored at our church. thank you

  • Bob

    J.R. Moon can be found on the internet: http://moonproducts.com/

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