The lack of art and craft in the packaging of modern stationery is regularly lamented at this blog. A manufacturer who is bucking the trend is Viarco, who have launched a new carbon pencil that is beautifully housed.
A set of six pencils are wrapped with paper and tightly bound with string at both ends. This is historically accurate, but with a new design and product.
The cores constitute a large proportion of the pencil, with the wood slats being unusually hollowed out:
“Carbon” can signify a range of ingredients. This pencil is very waxy – the core can be indented with a fingernail. If you think of the brittle characteristics of vine or willow charcoal, it is the opposite, while being in the same broad family. On Strathmore Charcoal paper:
I salute Viarco for paying attention to the little details that many of us treasure.
Poppin was kind enough to send a few samples this way.
The pencil is round and has black dyed wood and black finish with an integrated (black) eraser without metal ferrule. The lettering and trim are silver, and they list for $3 a dozen. The erasers are three for $2. Rather remarkable for the price. I know this pencil will appeal to a lot of people because black dyed pencils are a regular topic in the blog inbox.
The lead is dark and rich, yet scratchy and gritty. Almost right, yet problematic.
The block eraser is reasonable:
The black eraser mainly smears:
Poppin uses custom packaging. Air pockets:
Internal box divider:
At first, I couldn’t tell how they sold (or intended to sell) their product. My reading of their website suggests they love corporate accounts, but also sell directly.
I used one pencil and one eraser – I’ll send the other eleven pencils and two erasers via Canada Post to the first commenter who mentions that they would like to receive them.
It seems to have been a while since this blog has been so excited about a new stationery product. The notebooks shown here are from Design.Y, the brand of Mr. Hiroshi Yoshino-san, a bookbinder from Sendai, Japan.
The products are amazing because every aspect of the notebook is of exceptional quality – the cover, the binding, and the paper. I learned of these notebooks at the Fountain Pen Network, where many fountain pen users are claiming it is the finest paper they’ve ever used.
The two notebooks shown are the Record 216 and Record 336 models. These numerals refer to the page counts.
The covers are in brown goatskin. Black is also available. At first, I found the look stern, and perhaps conservative. But I’ve warmed up to the look, especially after starting to use the smaller notebook. The goatskin is luxurious and very pleasant to the touch. I am not aware of ever having seen anything nicer as a notebook or journal cover.
Ruled and plain paper are available, and depending on the model, elastic closures, bookmark ribbons, and dyed edges are available as options. The Record 336 shown here has dyed edges and two bookmark ribbons.
The notebooks do not lie perfectly flat, but there is no difficulty using the whole page.
There is a small notch exposing the ribbon:
The back has a small maker’s mark:
The goatskin covers and hand binding are beautiful, but the paper is what seems to have received the most online English language recognition. (The notebooks have been featured in several Japanese stationery magazines, but I’m not able to read those reports.) Of course, this praise is in the context of the fountain pen community, which finds most modern paper unsuitable for water based fountain pen inks.
The paper is exceptionally lightweight. It is called Tomoe River, and comes from the Tomoegawa Paper Company. This allows thin notebooks with 336 pages, for example. Yet the paper doesn’t bleed or feather. Being thin, it does show through to the other side. A Bruichladdich list taken with a medium 14K Lamy nib and Lamy blue ink:
An HB Mitsubishi Hi-uni pencil also works:
These notebooks are on their way to becoming cherished items, and I’ll join the chorus of those praising their quality. If the look is to your taste, you may want to try one.
To my surprise, the Aaron Draplin All Points Ontario Tour landed in Waterloo, Ontario tonight. Luckily for me, I learned about this mid-afternoon today.
It was a thrill to meet Mr. Draplin, a successful (by both conventional and unconventional measures) graphic designer, the creator of Field Notes, and a notable pencil collector. There was a brief chance to chat with him about pencils, and he said some kind things about this blog.
The talk was ostensibly about graphic design, but what came through for me were the themes of pursuing one’s dreams, being true to oneself, and the deep rewards that can come from doing work you believe in for people you like. I was quite surprised to hear prices mentioned. If you’re a rural clover farmer, you can probably afford him, and I bet he’d love to work for you. The talk was erudite, witty, and inspirational.
Some Field Notes news: – if I understood correctly, there is a strong “labour of love” element to many of the special editions, and they don’t break even. And Aaron is fine with this, happy to fund interesting projects via more commercial offerings.
There was what appeared to be a (not advertised online) limited edition numbered Field Notes edition for sale at Aaron’s “merch table”. Some (other) guy bought all of them!
Those of us north of the border have probably looked fondly at the County Fair Field Notes edition, a set of fifty featuring each US state. The Canadian provinces version is coming! I hope that a Canadian printer and/or designer will be involved.
It was a great evening, and I recommend attending the tour if it comes near you.
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?
A recent noon hour stroll took me near a university bookstore. As a bookstore, this place is only average for casual book browsing, as it is mainly a textbook store. But they also have a small stationery shop which was stocked with a few items I’d not previously seen in person.
One item that caught my eye was the Field Notes Brand steno book. To me, Field Notes is one of those “internet sensations” that is known to stationery aficionados, but which I don’t expect to see in “real life”. So, it was a nice surprise to see a small Field Notes display in a local store. I picked up a steno pad, and thought it might be fun to compare it with a “real life” item – a steno book that I’d find back at the office.
The office supply cabinet steno book was Staples brand.
A few notes: The Field Notes steno book is 80 pages, and the Staples steno book 350 pages. The Field Notes was $9.99, and the Staples book lists for $3.73. This makes the Field Notes approximately 12 cents/page, and the Staples 1/cent page. Twelve times more expensive per page is a significant difference. Is it worth it?
The two steno books in profile:
Both books are made in the US. The Field Notes has very strong cardboard covers front and back, and the Staples has a medium strength back. The Field Notes has brown lines which nicely match the covers. The Staples has green and red lines.
Green vs. brown:
With some steno pencils:
The Field Notes paper is thicker, and one gets a sense of sturdiness. The results with graphite are similar:
The Field Notes gets style points, but I wonder if it would really be the choice of anyone who just needs a steno book?
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