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!

Wagner: The All American Pencil Company

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The Wagner Pencil Company of Bakewell, Tennessee has been previously mentioned at pencil talk.

They rarely make the press – a 2010 safety award, and a 2017 fire are what I can find. But also, a three minute 2014 WTVC clip (below). One of the staff interviewed on camera previously commented on pencil talk‘s 2010 post!

What is so interesting about Wagner is that they make their own slats from Eastern White Pine! You heard that right – an American pencil pencil company that few have heard of, managing their own supply chain. I don’t know if they make their own leads – but not using slats manufactured in China makes them absolutely unique in the United States. Their pencil is as special and local as the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood. According to their general manager, they’ve been around since 2002.

The WTVC clip mentions the Snowy Owl (a protected species) nesting in the Eastern Red Cedar as being a reason for that wood species no longer being used for pencil production. That is different than the story we most often hear.

I wonder if Wagner was involved in the production of the Musgrave Tennessee Red? They are two hours by road from Shelbyville.

I’ve tried to contact them, but haven’t succeeded. I would love to try their pencils and learn more about their story. They make novelty and advertising pencils – as a commenter wrote in 2010, you might be using a Wagner without knowing it!

(c) 2021 pencil talk

Happy 100th anniversary, Blackwing clamp!

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Blackwing clamp
First paragraph of US patent 1373062.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of a very important part of the famed Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencil: the patent for the pencil’s distinctive ferrule and eraser, originally called a clamp. (The name changed over time.)

Blackwing clamp

The clamp patent was awarded to Lothar W. Faber on this day one century ago. The mechanism was shared with the Van Dyke and Microtomic pencils, mechanical pencils, and stand alone erasers. The Blackwing itself was launched a decade later. The clamp did have predecessors, but the 1921 patent was the most successful and widely known model.

The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company clearly took pride in the invention, noting the patent date on the box of Item 1281, their four eraser plus one clamp refill kit:
Blackwing clamp

Also on some versions of the clamp itself:
Blackwing clamp
(c) Swann Galleries

For more on the clamp, please see “Clasp to Clamp” at Contrapuntalism and Patent 1373062 at Google Patents.

Pencils and humidity

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Seven previous posts at this website have mentioned the potential interaction between pencils and humidity. The Staedtler 190T and Tajima carpenter’s pencil have specifically claimed to address certain humidity concerns.

With help from the Wayback Machine, we have some specifics courtesy of a brief article in the 2003 Pentel Library. (The page loads slowly.) Pentel suggests that a 2B lead in humid Okinawa performs like an HB lead elsewhere! The idea is that paper becomes softer in high humidity, with the lead adhering less to the paper. A 2B lead in humidity is thus needed to make a mark similar to an HB mark in an arid environment.