Goodbye, Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

Back to school season is here, and students are stocking up on school supplies for the year ahead. For most, it is probably the last year they will have a chance to buy an American made pencil.

Sanford, a division of Newell Rubbermaid, and the last major US based pencil manufacturer, will be closing their Tennessee plant later this year.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at Sanford’s mainstay pencil, the Papermate Mirado Classic.

The pencil is indeed a classic, with over a century of manufacture. The Mirado was originally named the Mikado, with the name amended during WWII. It was made by Eagle, and was one of the quintessential yellow school and office pencils for decades. The red band on the ferrule was an identifying trademark.

A range of Mikados can be seen at Brand Name Pencils.

Today’s pencils seem to come in many package types, and are readily found at large office supply stores. If memory serves, I’ve seen packages of three, six, eight, ten, and twelve.

Here is a package of six purchased this past weekend. For contrast, I also have a box purchased perhaps in 2006, and another from about 2004.

Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

The pencil is marked:

USA Papermate Mirado Classic HB 2

The 2006 pencil is the same, while the slighty earlier pencil had a different branding – it is a Sanford Mirado.

Sanford is a global company, and there are at least two other Mirados out there, though I haven’t personally seen either:

  • The Columbian Mirado
  • The British Mirado
  • One other difference – the new pencil has a factory sharpening, while the older pencils are unsharpened:

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    As a writing pencil, I find it average. Strangely (or maybe not), the five year old pencil labeled Sanford seems to use graphite that seems much richer and smoother.

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    In appearance – it is what it is – the very epitome of bland and dull. But sometimes bland and dull work.

    The haphazard application of the ferrule and painting of the red band don’t speak well of the manufacturer’s standards.

    The graphite has that crumbling propensity of some lead cores.

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    While I wouldn’t classify the current version as a great pencil, it is still sad to see it go. And of course, it probably will reappear, manufactured in Mexico or China.

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    If you’re going to have exam pencils, you might as well have exam erasers, right?

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    The Papermate Exam Standard Speederase appears to match the corresponding Papermate pencil, except that it was purchased at retail in Canada.

    It comes in a very unusual black, and is labeled as being latex free, smudge resistant, and dust-free.

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    The eraser detritus forms a very interesting pattern.

    Trying it out on Staedtler 168 exam pencil markings on a Handbook Journal Co. Quattro notepad, it does the job, though not perfectly.

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

    While I once thought that the IBM Electrographic represented a legacy pencil category, I keep finding new exam pencils entering the market.

    The Papermate Exam pencil is probably unfamiliar to North American and European readers. The box says the pencil is “distributed by Sanford Brands, a Newell Rubbermaid company,” and lists the Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Thailand Sanford offices.

    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

    The Papermate pencil website states: “Made in Lewisburg, Tennessee, USA; our pencils are created from fine woods and polymers.” But we’ve also learned that the Lewisburg pencil works will be closing this year.

    This pencil makes no statement about origin, but I think we can be fairly certain it wasn’t made in Tennessee.

    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

    The pencil box has an optical scan sheet background, and makes some atypical claims. Quoting the back of the box:

    Ideal for exam use.

    Darker shade
    100% accuracy using OPSCAN 6 examination checking machine.

    Larger Lead
    2.6mm lead for ease of shading.

    Break resistant
    Stronger lead for long lasting performance.

    So it has a very specialized purpose. I was surprised to see a specific scanner model mentioned. The Opscan 6 seems to be desktop optical scanner that attaches to a PC via a USB cable. Used ones sell on eBay for as little as $200. I had no idea that this technology had become a commodity. I’ll presume that it’s a popular model at schools.

    The 2.6mm lead diameter is in contrast to the standard pencil lead core of about 2.0mm. This seems to be a typical aspect of the exam pencil.

    The pencil itself looks sharp, in an alternating black and silver pattern, with contrasting lettering, and black cap and white cap ring.

    It does not sharpen easily, even in my Carl Bungu Ryodo. The wood is very tough and white in shade – very likely basswood with little or no treatment.

    The lead is rough and scratchy. Though it is sold as a 2B pencil, it seems more like an F grade to me. I also found the lead to easily break.

    While the larger lead claim can’t be disputed, I completely disagree that this pencil would be ideal for an exam – lead breakage, difficulty in sharpening, and the relatively faint mark all make it quite inferior.

    Last large American pencil factory to close in 2009

    And Then There Were Three??, a new post at Timberlines, a blog by pencil industry leader WoodChuck, reveals that the last large American based pencil manufacturer – Sanford – will be closing their US manufacturing facilities in 2009, moving production to Mexico.

    The closures were announced in early November.

    Two newspaper reports:

    Sanford closing; 355 jobs to be lost Marshall County Tribune, November 12, 2008

    Sanford regrouping to cost Shelbyville jobs Shelbyville Times-Gazette, November 11, 2008

    In other relocation news, Woodchuck also noted here this morning that Lyra (Germany) will be moving production to China. (Lyra joined Dixon as a FILA acquisition earlier this year.) has some nice photos of the Sanford plant in Lewisberg.

    When I read about pencils being packaged by hand, I suspect that the factory wasn’t “modern” by any means. The mainstream Sanford pencils – the Mirado and Mirado Black warrior – have their fans, yet there seem to be many who feel the product lines have been allowed to deteriorate in quality over the years.

    I also wonder where this leaves the remaining small independent manufacturers – General and Musgrave. Will the departure of their large competitor impact their own supply chain?

    Though the story still has time to unfold, and could surprise us, it seems like an era is coming to an end. What are your thoughts?

    Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705

    Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705

    It has been over two years since we last looked at a copying pencil.

    The Sanford Noblot, like the Koh-I-Noor Kopierstifte 1561, appears to be a regular graphite pencil, writing with a traditional “black lead” core.

    There are still several copying pencils on the market with coloured leads, but the Noblot is the last one I’m aware of in the graphite style.

    It is a handsome pencil, with silver lettering on a luminous grey barrel, and a metal cap.

    It also has a slogan on the reverse side : “A Bottle of Ink in a Pencil”.

    Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705

    The obverse reads “Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705”.

    Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705

    If you look carefully, you can see an impressed remnant of the Eberhard Faber heritage: “Woodclinched U.S.A.”.

    Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705

    As a pencil, it seems a bit cheap and scratchy. It is definitely an indelible pencil, trouncing the erasure attempts of even the Staedtler Mars plastic.

    To test the copying quality, I drew (imperfectly) a circle on a sheet of Bloc Faf paper.

    Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705

    I then wet the paper revealing a rich cobalt blue:

    Sanford Noblot Ink Pencil 705

    With tissue and other paper types, I’m afraid that I couldn’t pick up much more than a smudge of blue. I’m curious about the exact paper choices and water application techniques that would be required to use the pencil as a working copying pencil.

    Do you use this pencil? What do you use it for, and how do you use it?

    Untangling (a small piece of) Sanford’s web

    Pencil aficionados are aware that many of the pencil brands of yesteryear are now owned by Sanford, a division of the huge conglomerate Newell-Rubbermaid.

    Sanford has acquired a lot of brands over the years, including hundreds of pencil names once owned by Eberhard Faber.

    As a global firm, the offerings vary from market to market. Sanford Venezuela still makes the Mongol, and Berol UK (also in the family) still make the Venus and a Mirado version. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

    Here, we’ll take a look at Sanford’s US woodcase graphite pencil offerings, extracted from their website.

    Untangling (some of) Sanford's web

    On the graphite side, there are two brand labels used – Papermate, and Sanford. Papermate offers the writing/office pencils, while Sanford handles the art/drawing pencils.

    Oh, and one other pencil on the Sanford side – the Eagle Golf pencil. Ouch. One of the great names in pencil history has been reduced to hawking golf pencils.

    I suspect that we won’t be seeing anything new on the pencil front from Sanford. Between competition from inexpensive Chinese made pencils and a declining market, Sanford/Newell-Rubbermaid seem to have decided to put their energy elsewhere.