pencil talk is thirteen years old today.
pencil talk is twelve years old today.
A small trip report. It was a privilege to visit Glasgow and London in September. I loved the trip, and felt very much at home. I was fortunate to meet a Scottish writer and actress who is creating a film project with a strong postal element, an English author and Savile Row tailor, and tour Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen post-dinner, but this report is about stationery.
My first pencil: After taking Virgin Trains from Glasgow to London, my wife and I decided to not plan, fearing we would be quite knackered. We were right. We randomly found Smith & Whistle, where we enjoyed a surprisingly pleasant dinner. To my amazement, there was a small post-cheque treat: a lollipop, a themed calling card, and a pencil! I’ve never heard of a restaurant pencil treat, but it set me up nicely!
Art galleries and museums were delightful. Gift shops typically had branded pencils and notebooks – but usually without attribution to the manufacturer, or recycled pencils, etc. Readers of this blog may imagine that over time – I have enough of this stuff, and declined to purchase these.
These shops excelled in their book selections – super interesting, curated, engaging. I am or have been a member of several museums and art galleries around Southern Ontario and Northern California – and the bookstores at the Tate Modern and Design Museum seem to be a level above.
The Design Museum had an exhibit focusing on the industrial designs of four companies – Apple, Braun, Olivetti, and Sony.
Here is some of the Braun collection:
They had the famous Sotsass Olivetti Valentine in red, but also blue and white:
As to specific stationers, we found time to visit three. I’ll mention the two worth special trips:
Present and Correct is an internet powerhouse. Their Instagram account may be the most popular stationery account in the world! I was really surprised that the store is the size of a postage stamp! It is chock full of stationery goodness (and also has a great book section). I met another stationery pilgrim who asked me if I knew of her favourite, The Regional Assembly of Text. (I do!)
Choosing Keeping has an exemplary pencil selection – the Bosco Woods side by side with the Lothar Faber anniversary pencils. And they know the field. I enjoyed hearing their perspective on the industry.
They are also an exceedingly tiny store.
Did I buy anything? Yes. I hope to feature some purchased items in the future.
From Princeton Architectural Press, we have A notebook for visual thinkers and 12 pencils for visual thinkers in their “grids & guides” series.
The paper wrappers credit the editor, Jay Sacher, and designer, Benjamin English. The notebook is 144 pages, 146mm x 210mm, and features a black linen cover and an interior with a variety of “grids” and “guides”. It is made in China and retails for $USD16.95.
The pencil box features twelve unmarked hexagonal pencils, six in graphite, six in light blue. The box also contains a very thin plastic ruler with circular cutouts. The pencils are made in Taiwan and retail for $USD14.95.
Perhaps because they come from a book publisher, both products have ISBN numbers.
It took me a while to recall that I have other products in this series – both notepads and a red linen cover notebook. They were purchased separately and I no longer have the packaging material.
Overall, the products strike me as thoughtful and that they might be good gifts for the right person. If you actually are a designer or engineer who uses logarithmic or polar graph paper, etc. – I doubt you’d want it presented in the notebook’s semi-random layout. That’s where the novelty side becomes prominent.
The pencils are good basics. I didn’t test if the blue is a real non-photo blue. The ruler is a nice extra, but very flimsy.
The notebook and pencil set pair very nicely, and I’m glad to see that these products were produced.
It is a true pleasure to present an outstanding modern pencil product. Previewed here, some of the creators of the original and renowned Colleen Woods series have reprised the series with an even more impressive rendition of a multi-wood species pencil set.
Some details of the set are recorded here (audio in Japanese):
The original set was two volumes of twelve, for a total of twenty-four pencils. The new set has a more modest ten pencils. Eight repeat wood species used in the original set. I photographed these eight (new and old) together for contrast. Some have different national origins or specific gravity. The rosewood pencil in particular seems to differ in tone.
The new set has better typeface rendering on the pencils, and are about 3mm shorter.
One end exposes the leads, and the other is sealed, an appropriately sophisticated finish.
Like the original, the packaging is modest cardboard, though the pencils come in a pleasing maple tray..
One of motivations for reviving pencil talk was the ability to discuss truly great pencil products, and this set meets that criteria. There are a few matters around the origins of this set that I don’t fully understand, and there seem to be presentation variations in different markets. I’ll mention a major difference from the original set that may be of interest to readers – these are currently for sale in multiple markets.
The Krasin pencil company of Russia dates from 1926, and may be the most prominent national brand not yet seen at this blog. Named after a diplomat (Krasin seems to be in a lot of online newsreels, visiting Western capitals in the 1920s), the brand states they are the leading pencil producer in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The Krasin catalog shows a full product line – colour, writing, drawing, carpenter, red and blue, and probably other varieties that I can’t discern, not speaking or reading the Russian language. One of the graphite lines is the Constructor, and the pencil we see today is the Constructor Vintage.
One notes right away the Cyrillic lettering, and the replacement of the familiar “HB” grade indication with “TM”.
The pencil is distinguished by a simple attractive design with a clear varnish. The packaging is very nice – not super fancy – but it nicely presents the product. It is not the typical afterthought.
Full name and model no: Constructor Vintage
Background: See above.
Weight: I’m not in current possession of a scale. I’ll update this post when I get one.
Dimensions: Rounded (though less rounded than most European pencils) hexagon with unfinished cap. The box helpfully states the pencils are 177mm long, 7.1mm side to side, and that the core has a 2mm diameter. I did not confirm these measurements.
Appearance: The pencils are hexagonal and factory sharpened. The cap is not finished. The pencil surface is a clear or very light lacquer.
The pencil is marked: The imprint shows the Krasin logo, some symbols offsetting the Russian word for “Constructor”, and the pencil grade. To my eye, it is a pleasing and minimal look.
Other notes: The pencil box may contain further information, but I am not able to read it.
Grip: I found the lacquer to be a bit “grippy” or “tacky”, especially on a humid day. The appearance is nice, but the touch doesn’t convey that this was the best possible approach.
Sharpening: I started with the excellent Möbius + Ruppert Pollux. To my surprise, the lead was so off centre that unremoved wood made the pencil unusable (David Rees had a term for this, didn’t he?). I tried two other pencils, and the leads kept breaking. I thought this must be another Pollux-unfriendly pencil. I switched to a KUM 300-2 and had the same problem. So I just kept going until I got lucky.
The wood type is unknown to me.
Writing: There is something funny going on. Even though the pencils were almost unsharpenable – the leads seemed better than I expected. Not great, but definitely a notch above discount pencils, especially the 2M. There was variation among the grades.
Erasure: I did not notice anything unusual using a Muji eraser on Ito Bindery paper.
Overall: This is a really interesting pencil, one I hoped to find years earlier. Also, I suspect that this particular version is sold as a special item. But as a national flagship pencil, it is very disappointing.
See also: Krasin Pencil Co.