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California Cedar: What’s going on?

California Cedar, a global pencil slat business, is known online for their pencils.com website, their Palomino pencil line, and now – a type of marketing dishonesty that completely shocks many of us who have admired them for years.

The company has introduced a “Blackwing 602″ pencil that takes the name of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencil. The new pencil has been marketed with claims of association with Frank Lloyd Wright, Duke Ellington, and John Lennon. Each of these claims has been demolished, in succession, at Orange Crate Art and Blackwing Pages.

There are many historical figures who used the Eberhard Faber Blackwing – Sean has painstakingly researched and documented this over at Blackwing Pages for years now. Claiming the usage by these people as an endorsement of the replica pencil is somewhere between questionable and outrageous (and others would find that statement mild). But fabricating stories about Frank Lloyd Wright, Duke Ellington and John Lennon using (or even favoring) the Blackwing pencil is unbelievable, and I don’t follow or understand.

And that’s just the beginning. Each of these marketing deceits (except for Lennon, as I write this) was withdrawn after being revealed and challenged. It is a sort of “Liar Whac-A-Mole”. New nonsense sprouts up when the old nonsense is debunked.

Even further, this global company seems to have taken their marketing lessons from the Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy movie Bowfinger. To quote the IMDb synopsis, “When a desperate movie producer fails to get a major star for his bargain basement film, he decides to shoot the film secretly around him.” Many of the claims about famous writers, musicians, and artists using the Blackwing are clearly lifted without credit from the Blackwing Pages.

So, California Cedar, what’s going on?

Further reading:

Blackwing Pages

Blackwing posts at Orange Crate Art

46 comments to California Cedar: What’s going on?

  • So, can we go after Moleskine now for claiming that their generic Chinese notebooks were used by Chatwin, Picasso and Hemingway?

  • scruss: That subject has been covered at great length around the blogosphere already, and is still ongoing.

    CalCedar’s sins are in many ways worse. As far as I know, Moleskine have been misleading in their claims about the pedigree of their notebooks, but they haven’t repeatedly expanded upon these claims, or stolen the work of others for use in their publicity materials.

  • Kelly

    Am I the only one who thinks CalCedar has done nothing wrong? Where do I start?

    First of all, calling the Blackwing 602 a “replica” makes it sound like some cheap knockoff a la a “replica Rolex”. That’s a low blow that’s entirely unwarranted.

    Secondly, as I understand it, the point of advertising is to sell things. The reason that the “original” Blackwing became extinct is that next to nobody was willing to buy them at whatever it was–50 cents a pencil. The point of the stories about famous people, also as I understand it, is to illustrate that the quality of writing instruments matters (something most people do not believe) and to get the attention of the vast majority of people who don’t know one pencil from another by tapping into the absolutely ludicrous romance surrounding the “original” Blackwing. That was the reason to call the pencil the Blackwing instead of the Pegasus in the first place.

    If this new Blackwing doesn’t sell any better than its highly exhalted predecessor then it won’t be made for very long. For years people in the blogosphere said, “If only somebody would make the Blackwng again.” Nobody is saying that it is not a great pencil. Instead the claim is that the ADVERTISING is “shockingly dishonest”. Say what?

    I am not an employee blah blah blah—just a satisfied customer.

  • Kelly,
    I appreciate your point of view. There are a few things that I wanted to add, though.
    “Replica” isn’t a low blow in my estimation. The company themselves stated that they wanted to come up with a version of the pencil that came as close to the original Blackwing as possible; in other words, they’ve replicated it. As far as being a “cheap knockoff” as you stated, no one is really talking about whether their pencils are good in and off themselves — that’s for everyone to decide after they have tried them. But, please take a look at this page, at the photo of the two label imprints: http://mleddy.blogspot.com/2010/08/new-blackwing-pencil.html can you understand why words like replica, and your own words “knockoff” come to my mind when you see this?
    RE: extinction — the reason you stated as to why the Blackwing was discontinued is just factually incorrect. There were several factors that contributed to that decision, and the price point may have been the least of them.
    RE: Advertising — of course the point is to sell, but to what extent are you willing to say the claims are genuine? Isn’t it the least bit crass to conclude that someone was a fan of a certain pencil simply based on a single photograph of him using it, and then use their name in advertisements? And in the case of Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s not even that — all they did was *say* he used them. Surely you can’t feel that’s O.K.

    One last thing — Just think of the infinite possibilities that existed for them in terms of advertising. It boggles the mind at how many different ways they could have gone about promoting their product, but the ones they’ve chosen have at the very least been distasteful at times. Why go that route? I don’t think having the point of “selling things” means that anything goes. I don’t expect for you to agree with me on all points, but surely we can agree that honesty and accuracy in advertising is preferable to distortions and innuendo, no?

    You stated that there is a “ludicrous romance” surrounding the Blackwing, which makes me think perhaps you’re not so much a fan. That’s O.K., I don’t think you need to be in order to like CalCedar’s pencils. But the pencils have never really been the issue.

  • Sorry, one other thing…

    I think that if we look only at one or two of these incidents (or maybe even three or four), my reaction would be similar to yours Kelly. But the truth is that it has been going on for about 2 years, so each time something new comes up, it gets placed on an already large pile. That might help to explain why some of us are reacting the way we are, that’s all.

  • Bill

    So, buy a CalCedar pencil to write in your Moleskine. They are both over rated, but at least the pencils are made in the USA last I bought one. Moleskines are overly priced over rated Chinese Junk.

  • Kelly

    Sean,
    Off the top of my head: J. Herbin says that Napoleon used their ink, Southworth says that Abraham Lincoln used their paper, Crabtree and Evelyn say that Geo Washington used their cologne, and Crane says Paul Revere was a customer. That’s marketing, because in no case can it be said that any of those men used, much less endorse, any of the current products. I don’t know what factual basis there is for any of those claims. My point is simply that it is a common advertising practice, and not something that marks CalCedar as dishonest. Yes, some of their claims have been a stretch, but I think the idea of using famous dead people to tie the product to the romance of great art is valid.

    You mention that they could have gone in any number of directions with their advertising, but not if they wanted it to be effective. If CalCedar had put out a super-premium pencil called the Palomino Pegasus, as was apparently the original plan before they discovered that the name Blackwing was again in the public domain, then how would they market it to a wider audience? It would compete with the Tombow, Hi-Uni, et al, for that small segment of the market willing to pay $2 for a pencil. But by tapping into the romance around the original Blackwing they have a hook they can use that will allow them to sell to a wider audience than that of pencil bloggers and their readers. The story of people paying $60 for a dozen old Blackwings with dried out erasers is the hook that gets the attention of people who would otherwise never consider buying a premium pencil.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that the price point of the original Blackwing was the reason that it went out of production. By our standards they were giving the things away. What I wanted to say was that the original Blackwing would still be in production if the demand for it had been greater. Perhaps better advertising, complete with stories of how it had been John Steinbeck’s favorite, etc., might have saved the original.

    Finally, I’m a fan of all good pencils. What I find ludicrous is the idea that this one pencil was so special that there was something magic about it. and that no pencil made before or since can ever hope to equal it. And now it seems that the Blackwing is so sacrosanct that a handful of poorly sourced claims that it was used by some famous people who may never have used it, have turned the maker of the 21st century version into an internet pariah.

  • Kelly,
    Unfortunately, naming those other examples has no bearing on what Cal Cedar does. In other words, just because someone else does it doesn’t make it OK, but those examples don’t serve as good analogies either. And calling someone a “customer” is much different than what CalCedar has done. Further, CalCedar used words like “favored” in their ads sometimes—I think you and I will have to agree to disagree as to how far a claim such as that is ethical. I personally believe that invoking famous names in the mere hope that they might have used a product is unseemly, but to go as far as claim that the product was favored by them is much worse. But most importantly, there is another component at play: none of those people actually used CalCedar’s products. So their ads are asking us to make several leaps: first is that the Blackwing was as significant to those people as they claim, and two, that their pencil then stands-in for the Blackwing.

    As far as “how would they market it to a wider audience?” I’m not in the marketing of pencils, but I can think of all kinds of ways…you make it sound as if they had no choice. Can you think of no other possible marketing angles?

    Regarding how “ludicrous” you find that one pencil could be thought of as so special, etc., well, now you’re just talking about people’s preferences. You must then feel the same way about anyone who says that nothing could replace their favorite of anything. So what? When people say that nothing can replace the Blackwing — and I’m not speaking for them — it’s seems to be out of a sense of nostalgia and loyalty I think, not because they think Cal Cedar’s or others’ pencils are bad. They just love those pencils.

    You speak so emotionally with words like “ludicrous” and “sacrosanct” in criticizing how you perceive people feel about this pencil, and that’s saddening, because that’s not what it’s about. I’ll repeat what I said before, that this doesn’t have anything to do with the pencils themselves. If there is any “uproar” it’s not about the pencils, and as someone who has deeply researched what has been said about the Blackwing online and off, I’ve never heard someone say “that nothing can replace” the Blackwing in a mean, nasty, or short-sighted way in reference to other pencils. It’s just their favorite, that’s all. I agree that the pencil’s reputation is overblown, and I’m sure CalCedar’s pencils are good in and of themselves. But if you’re going to step into the Blackwing’s shoes and legacy, shouldn’t they at least have gotten the facts straight? I mean, even if we disagree about whether it’s ethical to use the celebrity names, didn’t those people deserve a little more research than a single photo or a rumor?

  • fisk

    Ah, Kelly beat me to it. Well done Kelly.

    I’m reminded of a two page spread… an image of Mikhail Gorbachev sitting in the back of a limo with a Louis Vuitton bag in plain view. I do believe that most intelligent people recognize the hype when a company uses an element of celebrity to encourage sales.

    Companies lie, that’s the truth.
    This should not be ‘shocking’ to anyone.
    They do it outright and they do it creatively so that consumers create the lie for themselves. They do it to sell you a thing and take your money.

    Mister B./woodchuck wants to sell you his product. Are you shocked?
    Ah well, “A fool and his money…” I guess.

  • You ask “California Cedar? What’s going on?”

    It’s pretty simple. Sean doesn’t like our marketing approach to how we are re-inroducing the Blackwing pencil brand into the market. He thinks it’s unethical, disingenuous and accuses me and our company of theivery and lying. Others agree on some points or others. I am sorry to see you’ve now publically joined them at least on the points you have mentioned.

    The reasons I have not responded to date on Blackwing Pages are clearly stated in a letter I have just sent to Sean and have also posted over on my Timberlines blog.

    Regarding the three names you mention. Frank Lloyd Wright, Duke Ellington and John Lennon. The first I have already responded to on Sean’s Blog in December and gave a further private apology to Sean in January. The second, Duke Ellington, Sean has posted a picture of this on his blog. So it’s a fact he used the pencil at least once. If Sean feels CalCedar or I has failed to acknowledge sufficiently his role in this discovery I am sorry, though I seem to recall commenting on that post it was a good find at the time. Certainly, it’s debatable what level of engagment Ellington had with the Blackwing pencil. Honestly, I don’t know what if any additional research has been done on that by our team, nor do I know all the various adjectives that our marketing team may have used here or there to describe such engagement. I don’t have time to read everything we publish, have delegated most of the routine marketing functions and really don’t know that we’ve retracted or modified any claims on Ellington. Apparently Sean has the time. John Lennon. As far as I know we have never claimed he was a user of the Blackwing. I understand through our research we have heard from several sources in New York who knew him that they believed he was a Blackwing user. On our Blackwing in Pop Culture Page at Palomino Brands site (where we provide independent references for every name we have listed) we published that it has been rumored Lennon used the pencils, and we’ve actively asked fans to inform us if they have any clear evidence one way or the other. Was it prudent to post this about Lennon? Perhaps not given we are now being accused of promulgating a fiction, but we have not claimed anything other than asking others to help us out on this research. We could remove it, but then we’re subject to more charges of “Liar Whac-a-Mole”. Thus it will remain, perhaps forever unproven.

    Further, just because we correct an error here or there is not evidence of a nefarious strategy to decieve anyone. It may indicate some sloppiness on our part. No more so than the quality of reporting, claims and accusations about our intentions being made about Cal Cedar staff, me personally and most unfortunately about outside partners working with us proactively to create an exciting event in New York next week. No one, but Andy Welfle, has ever contacted me directly to ask me about these things and get a complete picture. I certainly respect Sean for his dedication to unearthing the history of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing, but that does not make him the sole authority on the topic. I recognize that he has put in a number of years of effort and is personally highly invested in what he has accomplished at Blackwing Pages, he’s told me so himself. I think he can and should be proud of the overall body of his work. However, over the last few months I feel he’s lost some of his objectivity in his approach, being quick to cry foul without fully investigating. Perhaps he’ll look back in time and be just as proud of this current period, perhaps not.

    Finally, we have never once claimed that the use of original Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencil by these people was an endorsement of our Palomino Blackwing pencils. Such a claim would be ludicrous and as far as I know we have never made it. Nor to my knowledge have we ever claimed our pencils were a replica pencil. Those are your words and perhaps those of others. We have told the story of the original pencil and it’s users because it’s history is interesting and it imparts positive emotional and other values to the Blackwing brand. We gained the rights to the Blackwing brand. We are simply reviving the Blackwing brand and transferring it to our Palomino pencil, because our Palomino brand is representative of the quality of the original Blackwing pencils and it will help us to develop our Palomino family of products overall. In fact, it was people out on the internet on thier blogs that first started comparing our Palomino pencil to the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. We never started this association, our customers and fans did. We were given a great gift, because we dedicated ourselves to great quality with Palomino and great customer service on Pencils.com, and of course we have taken this opportunity and run with it. Who wouldn’t in our position? We have not lied and stolen and there is no hidden agenda in our marketing efforts, which I’ve just stated very clearly. Sure we’ve made a mistake in our facts here and there. Who hasn’t? Finding the right balance of marketing hype to put on our product or prose to associate with the history of the original product is a matter of personal judgement. I think everyone who cares about the integrity of thier brand shares some angst over these kind of questions. Just ask my staff about the debates we’ve had internally on that topic, but in the end you also need to support and trust your team if you want them to be self motivated and committed to your overall vision. In the end, I simply fail to see what’s so unethical and disingenuous about all of this.

    Thank you for asking the question and providing a forum I hope will be more conducive to reasoned discussion. For obvious reasons I have been unwilling to comment at Blackwing Pages. I also don’t plan to continue debating in public here or elsewhere. Reasonable people are able to disagree on whether our marketing approach is ethical or not. Make your own judgements, and if you still feel we are subject to your charge of “a type of marketing dishonesty” then I can live with that. But before anyone accusses another of theft and outright lying, which as far as I know only Sean has done so far, they should first get the facts straight. I certainly will not be addressing any claims of such nature in any public forum and have politely requested Sean contact me directly on those matters.

    Charles Berolzheimer
    President, California Cedar Products Company

  • Allen

    I don’t understand how this has become such a big deal. . . some times I wish they’d just released the Palomino Pegasus so I could enjoy a quality pencil in peace without all the conspiracy nonsense.

    Say what you want about marketing, the pencils speak for themselves. The build quality absolutely blows the original Blackwings out of the water and the graphite is fantastic. I love my Palomino Blackwings, I think they deserve the Blackwing name and all that entails. It’ll be great when all this blows over and I can admit what I write with in public without having to fear somebody going off about guerrilla marketing.

  • Kevin

    The issue as I see it, is that for every reader of Blackwing Pages who are looking for seriously researched historical facts on the EF Blackwing, there are a hundred readers of Calcedar’s tenuous and lightweight version of the EF Blackwing history. This just muddies the waters and further promulgates feathery and fluffy versions of Blackwing history – whether in the guise of marketing or not is an irrelevance.

    Having said all that I’m still more interested in the PB 602 as a very nice pencil in it’s own right…I just wish it had a more clarified name, because some people online see Palomino as the Palomino pencil and others see the Palomino as a shorthand form of the Palomino Blackwing, not to mention the two versions of the PB … and further confusion caused by casual reading of marketing hype, which leads some people to believe thay are actually purchasing the old EF Blackwing 602. What a confusing mess.

  • Robert M.

    I’m not wholly ignorant of marketing, and I was fairly quick to turn bitter regarding this issue. I guess it is kind of absurd, but the whole thing has sort of turned me off pencils, and I have not bought any pencils in months. I haven’t even used one in a few weeks, even though they used to be my preferred instrument in daily life. Yeah, it’s sick, I know.

    I have not changed my position really, whatever little it may be worth. I’d like to apologize to Sean and others for not having the energy to offer the occasional word of approval or encouragement.

  • fisk

    I especially liked the Mister B’s comment in the last paragraph about a judgement of marketing dishonesty being acceptable.

  • I know this post is about the marketing of the Palomino BW, but I don’t want to leave Allen’s comment unchallenged.

    Allen, you wrote “The build quality absolutely blows the original Blackwings out of the water”. I very much disagree with your claim especially because you worded it so strongly (and would be interested in knowing how you came to your conclusion).

    I am not saying their build quality is poor, but the Palomino BWs and Palomino BW 602s I have used were nowhere near the build quality of the (Eberhard) Faber(-Castell) Blackwings I have used. My main point of concern with the Palomino BWs is that the ferrule of my Palomino-made ones comes off easily and the print isn’t as good and well done as on the real Blackwings either. No big problems, at least the print issue isn’t, but certainly not what I would call a build quality that blows the original Blackwings out of the water.

    Maybe I got a bad batch, maybe the ferrule problem has to do with temperature, I don’t know – but the American made Blackwings that are several decades older don’t have these problems.

  • After the “Mark” debacle, I now find myself in the position of being suspicious of semi-anonymous comments that defend Cal Cedar and their replica Blackwings.

    Matthias: I had similar issues with about half the PBWs I bought. The glue used didn’t seem to hold up to the task, and they came off quite easily. I agree that the printing was also woefully substandard for a premium pencil — similarly priced pencils don’t display the same problem, and even much cheaper pencils (Staedtler Noris, for example) have gold-blocked imprints that don’t come off so easily).

  • At the beginning, I found it interesting to see the rebirth of a pencil classic, and was happy to get two pre-production samples of the Palomino Blackwing and the questionnaire. The pencils were nice (albeit too soft for me) but had some quality issues (e. g. the specks ). My enthusiasm was further dampened when I learned that the pencils were no pre-production samples but the final ones. I felt like California Cedar took me for a ride.

    Later a box of the Palomino Blackwing 602 came in. At first I was amazed by the quality (although there was still room for improvement, e. g. with the print) but after learning about California Cedar’s marketing I was put off. It’s not me to judge but it definitely left a nasty taste in the mouth. (By the way, I have always disliked Moleskine’s marketing.) I haven’t used a Palomino Blackwing 602 since – I just don’t like it anymore because of everything that went with it.

    When looking back at it I would say that the unpleasant aspects outweigh the pleasant ones. Even if the Palomino Blackwing 602 will be improved in the future and the memory of California Cedar’s will fade: This pencil will never be number one like the original, and to me it would have been better if it was named differently and marketed with its own merits. In other words: California Cedar has given away a chance.

    If I now look at a Palomino Blackwing 602 I see an inadequate copy which is advertised with questionable methods.

  • Allen

    Koralatov: I’m just a guy who likes pencils, I don’t have a website to push and my only relationship with CalCedar is trading money for pencils. I’d be more than happy to send you an email if it would help ease your suspicions.

    Matthias: The first Palomino Blackwings I got did have some ferrule issues. IIRC, 2 out of 12 came lose. That ratio is unacceptable, I know. . . fortunately, I haven’t seen that issue come up since, I guess it was a bad batch. I have had no issues with the PB602′s, which are my reference point when speaking of build quality v. the original. When making this claim, I am referring primarily to materials I suppose. The wood, ferrule and eraser are of higher quality. The graphite seems to me close enough to make a comparison. That’s not to take away from the original, the original was an inexpensive pencil, the Palomono’s are NOT, so their build quality damn well better be superior. For that reason alone, I don’t think the PB602 is a proper “replacement” or “successor”. But I think it’s a very fine pencil marred by conspiracy.

    How many people are actively writing with either pencil, or better yet both? Are we discussing two tangible objects before us or are we discussing a romantic memory and hated marketeer? I honestly believe people who say things like “If I now look at a Palomino Blackwing 602 I see an inadequate copy” are not referring to the instruments but are wholly influenced by the intangible.

    At the end of the day, I’m not really looking at the PBW602 as a successor to the “original”, only on the Internet does it come up. It’s just a pencil I really like. Probably best I just go enjoy them quietly and stop paying attention to the Internet :)

  • Allen: If the intangible was insignificant for the creators of the Palomino Blackwing 602 they would have named this pencil differently. In other words: The intangible was (and is) an important part of the marketing so it should be no suprise that it also influences the assessment.

  • Ricardo

    “Pretty much all the honest truth telling there is in the world is done by children.”

    Oliver Wendell Holmes

    ;-)

  • Jankdc

    I posted this in the comments recently at blackwingpages.com. My experience mirrored Gunthers:

    “These last posts have felt like salt in a wound that is the utter failure of the California Cedar blackwing experiment. I was so hopeful when I heard that they were going to bring back the Blackwings because the Palomino 2b were some of my favorite pencils (I initially thought that they had bought the copyright and aquired the formula). I was part of their “pre-release” group that worked hard to give them encouraging feedback in the hopes that they would release something really good. I was really dissapointed that their pre-release pencil was actually a post release. The first version is too soft and is unusable as a writing pencil. Again I got excited when they relesed their second version (the so-called 602), but they screwed up and went too far in the other direction, using a HB lead (they could have done better with a mediocre release of the Palomino 2b lead inside their “602?).

    The truth is, I could have forgiven them for their misrepresentation on what they were bringing back, their mismanagment of the “pre-production” release, and their stupid marketing ploys if only they came up with a really great pencil. Instead, we have a mockery of something special. Their coporate culture that produced these marketing blunders is the same corporate culture that took shortcuts in trying to bring back a legend.

    As it is, they turned a loyal and passionate customer into one who will probably never buy another of their products again. I have a bunch of California Cedar pencils, including the Palomino 2b’s that I use to love. Now if I want to use a modern pencil, I get much more pleasure from picking up a Hex (HB) or Unigraph 2b from Musgrave: Honest pencils that aren’t trying to be something that they are not.”

  • Kelly

    This whole thing reminds me of when a favorite indy band signs with a major label and many of their formerly most avid fans declare that they will never listen to so-and-so again because they’ve “sold out”.

  • That’s an interesting analogy, Kelly, but in your example it’s the audience placing blame on the band (which in this case would be the pencil) for selling out. I don’t think that’s the case in this instance. Here’s how I see a band analogy in this situation:

    The favorite indie band breaks up, then ten years later a major label exec wants to bring the band back, but he can’t get the original members. All of the band members are then replaced but with similar-looking people as well as the hallmark instruments they played (though a little rough around the edges), and rights are acquired to use the band’s previously well-known name and logo. The label hopes audiences come to the conclusion that they’re still getting the same thing as before — i.e. the band has been “revived”, when really only their name and “look” has. Unknowing audiences are a little confused, but not so much that it bothers them because the band kind of looks the same and kind of sounds the same. You then see advertisements where famous people are quoted as saying that this band is one of their all-time favorites, when really those quotes are referring back to the original version of the band, but the label is careful to avoid that distinction. The revived band continues playing cover-versions of the older songs to previous fans, stoking nostalgia, but fail to generate enough newer fans for their own original material, then eventually falter: this once-favorite and original band is now only a pale imitation of itself.

    This happens quite a bit in the music industry, actually.

  • Kelly

    In my analogy the band was CalCedar.

    But your analogy illustrates what I think is at its heart a misunderstanding that has developed between CalCedar and the keepers of the flame of the Blackwing legend. CalCedar said the were reviving the Blackwing BRAND. They didn’t say they were bringing back the pencil itself. You and others seem to believe they are engaged in an attempt to hoodwink the public into thinking their “fake” Blackwing is a “real” Blackwing. But it seems clear to me that they are engaged in an exercise in branding. They have said that they adopted the name as a TRIBUTE to the EF Blackwing and what it stands for. The first version didn’t look anything like the EF Blackwing, and the blogosphere pushed them to be more like the original. So they brought out a second version that looks a lot more like the original, and they are treated as if they have produced a knockoff.

    In essence, their exercise in branding is no different than if they had called it the Pegasus and advertised it with stories about the myth of Pegasus, and the importance of Pegasus in Greek mythology, and concluded with something like “Bring thunderbolts to YOUR writing with a Palomino Pegasus—the pencil fit for a god”. If there are any adherents to the ancient religion they might object that the sacred horse was being treated in a disrespectful, factually inaccurate, and insulting manner. But associating your pencil with a Greek myth is branding, nothing more or less. It is image building. That’s just advertising.

  • Thank you for your comments Kelly, I understand your points, and your passion to defend CalCedar is remarkably intense for a passer-by.

    If an advertisement reads “The Blackwing is Back” (which some have) — what is your first thought? That the pencil is back, or that the “brand” is back? Come on, now…honestly (though I’m not expecting you’ll concede). I have never said nor felt that CalCedar claimed that their Blackwing is identical in every way, shape, and form to the original—that would be absurd. My complaint lies in the fact that they have intentionally let the distinction between the two be murky, and that has been reinforced by some of their marketing—this is undeniable. You seem O.K. with that, but I’m not O.K. with that—”keeper of the flame” as you put it, or not. We just disagree on this.

    Here’s the test: you and I could argue on and on about the minutiae of how honest or not their marketing has been, and likely never come to an agreement. But I don’t think agreeing on those facts is the point. My question is, if a company has been forthright, why would anyone come to question an ad to begin with, regardless of it’s a winnable argument or not? It’s because a built-in jive detector goes off; something doesn’t add-up. And despite your ad hominem attacks, not everyone who has voiced a dissenting opinion could be considered a “keeper of the flame” — they’re just people who dislike being bamboozled or flimflammed.

    I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but my sense is that of those upset with CalCedar’s tactics, many feel that it was all completely and utterly unnecessary. I certainly feel that way. It almost reads like the screenplay written from a book called “Every Way One Shouldn’t ‘Revive’ the Blackwing”. I am, and continue to be, a fan of the Palomino pencil — I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. But this whole Blackwing business, which as one wise man said should have been “an occasion of great happiness for serious pencil users”, turned into something much different. And passing this off to picky users seems disingenuous to me, Kelly. A sense of goodwill among consumers is vital for a company, and CalCedar has truly burnt-up a great deal of theirs; a lot of people–including me–are scratching our heads and wondering why.

    And even though Charles and I are likely never to agree on anything, I’d like to think even he would join me in wishing for a Mulligan here—a great big “do-over” button that could be pushed. I think that would be a relief for everyone.

    P.S. Your analogy with Greek mythology is ironic: on the one hand, it doesn’t make much sense vis-à-vis the topic at hand, but yet I think what you wrote would have been a really eye-catching way to promote their new pencils!

    May Hades forgive me. :)

  • Kelly

    I don’t mean “keeper of the flame” as an ad hominem attack. I’ve certainly admired your website, and wished that someone had gone to that much trouble for my favorite dead pencil, the Wallace Invader No.1, which I always thought was the best pencil made. I think we have a case of two groups of people—CalCedar businessmen and admen on the one side, and Blackwing enthusiasts on the other—who misunderstand each other because they are speaking past each other. Companies big and small engage in branding every day.

    I’ve observed this conflict from the beginning—the “pre-production” samples misunderstanding—and now am amazed that you’ve decided not to post anymore because of it, and there are people who say they don’t want to use pencils anymore because of it, and people who will never use another CalCedar product because of it, and so on. From my perspective CalCedar isn’t doing anything that Proctor and Gamble doesn’t do, or Levi Strauss, or anybody else.

  • If I were as wise as Sean suggests, I’d read and move on, but I cannot. One crucial difference between a Pegasus campaign and the current California Cedar effort: Pegasus is a fiction. Duke Ellington, John Lennon, and Frank Lloyd Wright, whose names have been invoked in advertising, are not. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that suggests any particular Blackwing affection or preference for Ellington, Lennon, or Wright. That Ellington’s name and Wright’s name have disappeared from Cal Cedar’s pages seems to admit as much. Lennon’s name should be removed as well: using his name and likeness in advertising on the basis of a purported rumor reaches into the absurd.

    We live in a world in which rumor and hearsay of all sorts have reached toxic levels in cultural and political life. It is said that … I read online that … They say that … and so on. But facts, as John Adams wrote, are stubborn things. It is not enough to say it’s branding or that everyone does it. Facts are facts.

    Facts are facts even when it comes to matters of fiction. Pegasus, for instance, wasn’t a god. Nor was his rider.

  • Adair

    Kelly, I don’t know, but from what I have seen of CalCedar’s disastrous PR since the start of the Blackwing project, I doubt that there are many professional admen or businessmen on their team. That could actually be the problem. Whoever is in charge of their PR and marketing has done a clumsy job, or we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

    Those of us who love pencils had every reason to expect CalCedar to do a credible job in reviving the Blackwing. The Palomino, after all, seemed to revive the American pencil community itself—it even inspired one of the first important pencil blogs. So when Charles first mentioned his plans—initially for the Pegasus and then for the Blackwing—many of us thought his company was the natural choice for such an ambitious undertaking. As the maker of one of the very finest contemporary pencils, we thought he was after more than just a brand. I can’t help but think that, deep down, he still is. Somewhow, somewhere, the project’s goals got muddled and became contradictory: on the one hand, exploit the aura of the original Blackwing; on the other, dismiss the details and characteristics of the original, dismiss constructive criticism as “picky,” and start to deny the very possibility of the project itself. The result? Mixed messages, tasteless marketing, a relentless vulgarization of the Blackwing legacy, and two pencils that are outstanding in their own right but that in terms of lead have little to do with the Blackwing, even as “tributes.” With a different coat of paint and a regular ferrule, they could just as easily have been branded Wallace Invader No. 1 and No. 2. Why expend so much effort and not go the extra steps to produce what, in the end, the customers REALLY want: a pencil that attains the graphite characteristics of the original Blackwing 602, not just its external appearance.

    I think, despite everything, that there is hope. CalCedar should take on a professional PR consultant to replace its current “team,” which has only managed to make missteps and tarnish the company’s image. Then, concentrate on fine-tuning the existing Palomino Blackwing 602 until it fulfills as closely as possible what the pencil public ultimately seeks: a pencil that recovers the smoothness and darkness and point retention of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing. If anyone can do it, CalCedar can. The Palomino is proof of the company’s abilities. They’ve come this far—why just settle for a brandname when they could conceivably make the finest pencil in the world? Let’s start over!

    And Sean, I can only hope that your blog will return. I have learned so much from you about the Blackwing’s history and about pencil history in general. Your scholarship and integrity are admirable!

  • Surely, Kelly, you can see there’s no misunderstanding or grey-area about materials from my posts being appropriated. I stopped posting because I’ve no room left on my back.

  • Claire

    I’m mostly with Adair on this.

    But speaking objectively:
    The confusion, whether intentional or not, has already spread. Check out the blog writing of this vendor. “The iconic Palomino Blackwing Pencil 602 has been favored among artists, designers and writers for many years” followed by the history of the EF Blackwing 602, then “With that sort of past, the excitement at the return of the Blackwing is warranted”, then sales information for the PB Blackwing 602.

    This abovementioned blog post quoted a CNN article, not something CalCedar published, so I can’t conclude from this example that the advertising by CalCedar is misleading. But what I can conclude is that, for this reason or that, people outside of the pencil blogsphere are already confusing the Palomino with the EF BW 602, they seem to be thinking they are the same pencil, instead of different pencils with the same brandname.

    Is such effect intended by the CalCedar advertising team or is it just a happy side-effect? Is this fair game, is it acceptable? whether intended or not, has the CalCedar advertising been misleading? What does it take to cross the line and become unethical, or is there no such thing as unethical in advertising?

  • Claire

    By the way my comment is not a response to Adair’s comment, the questions are not pointed to Adair.

  • Henrik

    To me it is about ethics. The pencils are excellent.
    It is obvious, that the Calcedar team has ”lifted” information from Sean’s Blackwing pages, after the FLW affair, deliberatly and in spite of Sean’s copyright claims, which they must have been aware of, since they have read the pages to do so. Why?

  • Sapphire

    I don’t remember this much fuss when BMW “brought back the Mini” even though their car bore only the most fleeting resemblance to the Issigonis classic.
    I dare say the car fiends did have summat to say – but I missed it.

  • I would note en passant that copyrights don’t protect abstract information as such, but rather methods of delivering that information. I’m not saying that contributions to one’s fund of information should go unacknowledged or otherwise unrewarded; but the issue of copyright per se is something of a red herring here unless actual passages or somesuch were appropriated.

  • The copyright matter has to do with a photograph.

  • John

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t there at least TWO companies who produced a Blackwing before Cal Cedar? I wish they had avoided this whole debacle by sticking with their own branding, but they do make a good pencil. At the end of the day thats what matters to me.

  • Adair

    Well, John, it is nice to see what really matters to you at the end of the day. I only hope that your work, whatever it may be, is never lifted without permission, acknowledgement, or remuneration. Meanwhile, enjoy your pencils.

  • > Am I the only one who thinks CalCedar has done nothing wrong? Where do I start?

    No, you’re not the only one. Cal Cedar has done nothing wrong whatsoever. This overdramatic toddler-tantrum blog post is a ludicrous slander of a perfectly fine product and company.

    So, let me get this straight: you’re upset because a legacy pencil, which has gone extinct and is no longer purchasable at a reasonable price anywhere in the world, has been re-incarnated with fully legal licensing rights, referencing the greatness of the previous brand? Oh cry me a river. Be happy that it exists at all.

  • Tristan: If you’d read the article upon which you’re commenting, you’d understand that the “reincarnation” — whilst poorly handled — isn’t the cause of the upset.  What caused the upset is misleading marketing claims and repeated use of copyrighted materials in said marketing *without the author’s permission*.

  • Mark

    Umm…interesting blog. All that aside, they’re pretty nice pencils. $1.67 each.

  • Henrik

    “mark” again? Poor marketing?

  • These claims have now made it to the Levenger website: “Pencil aficionados from John Steinbeck to Thomas Wolfe to E.B. White have sung the praises of the Palomino Blackwing pencil, which was originally created in the 1930s by Eberhard Faber.”

    http://www.levenger.com/palomino-blackwing-soft-pencils-black-casing-with-8367.aspx

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