Pacon

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This isn’t breaking news, but I haven’t heard it mentioned elsewhere in the pencilosphere. Have you noticed Dixon Ticonderoga’s new logo? Dixon are now part of Pacon, a US educational supply company. The graphic to the left of the text is from Pacon.

A report (it reads more like a press release than a news report) from Wisconsin’s Fox 11 is here.

Though the Pacon executive talks about acquiring Dixon, technically Dixon acquired Pacon. But the logo and statement by the executive suggest that Pacon will be the leader.

So what changes, and how does this relate to Fila? Fila acquired Dixon in 2005 and Pacon in 2018, so it looks like a consolidation of Fila’s US assets.

Stationery Critique Blog

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New to me is a 14 year old Japanese language stationery blog, the self-titled The Critique of the Stationeries with an Affiliate blog.

Stationery Critique has hundreds of very in-depth reviews and comparisons of Japanese and international stationery products including pencils and sharpeners. The product discussions often use multiple quantitative measurements. Reading it in translation, I had some challenges with the navigation but it is well worth the effort!

Musgrave Single Barrel 106

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Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil
Along with the Tennessee Red, heritage pencil maker Musgrave announced another product just as interesting to pencil aficionados – a pencil made from rediscovered vintage slats.

A bell rang for me when I first heard this, because NYC luxury retailer Mrs John L. Strong (now revived) used a very similar story to market an Eastern Red Cedar pencil just a few years ago. They similarly claimed a secret stash of Eastern Red Cedar. This blog wrote about that pencil in 2009 (coincidentally, beside a note about a layoff at Musgrave). The Mrs. John L. Strong pencil was photographed on page 33 of Marco Ferreri’s book Pencils:
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

Though regularly mentioned online, I could not find a substantial written review of this pencil, and was motivated to contribute this effort.

The pencil is unsharpened, with a black metal cap. It presents itself with a lacquered dark wood body and a black imprint. The contrast isn’t high, but I think it is appealing. The pencil is offered in a cardboard sleeve.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil
Technically, the lead isn’t off centre between the slats – the issue is more that one slat is twice the height of the other.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

The imprints have a nice aesthetic.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

I thought a vintage sharpener might pair well with a vintage wood pencil. I broke out a decades old Eagle sharpener, but the results weren’t great. I tried a quick correction in an M+R 502, but the lead snapped. Did I mention that this is a $US10 pencil? So a dollar down, I felt it was time to get serious, and the impressive El Casco M-430 on the No. 2 (second most blunt) setting did a great job.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

The pencil writes very nicely (the lead seems to be a step up from that of the Tennessee Red), with a dark line, nice glide, and minimal crumbling.

I’d love to know the lead origin. In 2008, a pencil industry CEO commented here that the US manufacturers, with an exception, made their own leads. But given the date, the comment may have applied to the then large US companies – Dixon and Sanford.

To summarize, there are some challenges, but I really like the story of this pencil. Telling me that the slat is 90 years old grants a lot of forgiveness.

I note that just like Mrs. Strong, Musgrave has found a way to sell a pencil at the price point of the Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil. I’m not a professional marketer, but I salute Musgrave for this breakthrough.

The pencil is gaining some superfans – people purchasing large quantities and sharing photos online, especially since Musgrave lifted a two per customer limit. I am really curious about where this offering may go.

Pencils, eh

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Please allow me to recommend the blog Pencils, eh. With a focus on Canadian pencils, this blog offers a leadmine of information on both independent and international pencilmakers in Canada. I particularly enjoyed a post on the Dixon Chancellor, a historic pencil that used Canadian graphite.

Musgrave and the pencil supply chain

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American heritage pencil maker Musgrave introduced a very interesting product in 2019: The Tennessee Red pencil. The pencil’s notable feature is the use of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), the original American pencil wood. The pencil is very fragrant and visually interesting – each pencil is different, and many contain both cedar sapwood (pale colour) and cedar heartwood (dark colour).

Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil

The pencils are reminiscent of the old Musgrave HB in presentation, though the wood and lead are different. I found the Tennessee Red challenging to sharpen in a handheld sharpener like the M+R Pollux, with the lead snapping. Fortunately it is easily handled with the standard Grenade or a desktop sharpener. Still, the wood seems just a bit too tough for a pencil. I suspect this isn’t the fault of the timber – it is more that the slats just haven’t received the conditioning treatments to which we’ve become accustomed.

The lead is dark and rapidly crumbles. It certainly isn’t the quality of the old HB. It is perfectly usable, and I find this lead preferable to the anemic grainy lead of many no name pencils.

It isn’t a good pencil. Yet, it is unusual and compelling in multiple ways. I hope it will continue, perhaps with gradual improvements. In an unusually transparent act, the manufacturer has noted that the pencil has issues.

There are product reviews at Weekly Pencil and Pencil Revolution.

The Tennessee Red has a second aspect – it appears to be the subject of a small advertising campaign being conducted on Musgrave’s website and social media. The pencil has some nice new packaging including a cedar box option, and they are selling paraphernalia such as T-shirts.

Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil

Congratulations, Musgrave! It is really nice to see a new pencil being promoted.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this pencil is Musgrave’s disruption of the pencil supply chain. They have found a way to circumvent the cedar slat supplier CalCedar. Did you read the pencil’s imprint? “Genuine Eastern Red Cedar”. Wow. That is to me a very clear shot across the bow directed at CalCedar’s “Genuine Incense Cedar”. (They aren’t the first to rework this phrasing to make a point.) This pencil is also a statement about the pencil supply chain.

So how were these slats made? Perhaps pioneer fellow Tennessee manufacturer Wagner Pencil, who process American timber into pencil slats, gave assistance. Or perhaps Musgrave engaged with a wood processor not part of the pencil industry to create these slats. In any case, it is very interesting.

Private companies of course don’t reveal their internal business, but in some countries (including the US), there are public customs records that show import activity. Records from Import Genius show that in the last two years, Musgrave’s imports include:

Item source
Basswood Slats Qingdao Greatwall (China)
Slats Vinawood (Vietnam)
Erasers Kunshan Greenwill (China)
Poplar Slats Qingdao Greatwall (China)
Erasers and Ferrules Shai Tai Shing (Vietnam)
Slats Lishui Liancheng Pencil Manufacturing (China)
Slats Pt. Gemilang Jaya Makmur Pratama (Singapore)

From another perspective, Import Genius says that Musgrave’s top international suppliers (ranked by number of containers imported) are:

1. Tianjin Custom Wood Processing Co. (CalCedar’s Chinese production)
2. Great Wall Industrial Qingdao
3. Lishui Liancheng Pencil Manufacturing
4. Kunshan Greenwill Co.

Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil

Very clearly, this small town Tennessee company is highly engaged in the international economy. As the company notes, “… today Musgrave is able to work with a handful of different varieties of wood from all over the world.” Managing this complex supply chain must be almost as challenging as manufacturing the pencils.

Investing in and testing a historically proven local wood source is just savvy business sense. It benefits the environment and eliminates multiple containers from having to be shipped across the Pacific. For many reasons, local initiatives like this pencil from Musgrave should be supported!