Stephen Sondheim Blackwings sold at auction

Credit: Reddit.

Two full boxes and a partial box of Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencils owned by Stephen Sondheim sold at auction yesterday. The price for the 32 pencils? A cool $US6400.00.

The photos reveal a reverse printed (“left handed”) Blackwing. And the old boxes remind us that the original slogan was “write with half the pressure, twice the speed”. To me, “half the pressure, twice the speed” emphasizes the pencil, but “write with half the pressure, twice the speed” emphasizes what one can do with the pencil.

Ten Dollar Pencils

Pencils costing ten dollars or more
Click to enlarge

When the Musgrave Single Barrel pencil came out, the blog noted that it was priced at $US10 a pencil. (Today it is $14.) This placed the Single Barrel in the same stratospheric market segment as the famous Graf von Faber-Castell Desk Pencil.

Recently I realized there are other very expensive woodcase pencils on the market, and thought it might be fun to take a look at them. I’m defining expensive as costing approximately ten US dollars or more. All of these pencils have a limited production aspect, and a special feature or two. Unexpectedly, I observe that the Graf von Faber-Castell is probably the most traditional and conservative offering here – a cedar wood case pencil with a standard lead, and widely available at retail for many years.

Graf von Faber-Castell No. III Desk Pencil

Official Website

This is one of pencildom’s icons. The fluted design, the beautiful and slightly oversized cedar, and the amazing silver plated cap have made this an instantly recognizable pencil for a quarter century. The pencil line has been extended with less expensive non-silver cap versions and guilloche versions in multiple colours. Something I do note is a current lack of retail availability. I’m not sure if the line is being withdrawn or perhaps refreshed.

Numen Design Unimina Flat: Birch

Official Website

This pencil hasn’t been mentioned at the blog yet, though there is a very popular photo at the pencil talk Instagram account. Handmade from repurposed plywood, it is a beautiful pencil. Numen Design constantly sells out. A few years ago I thought handmade pencils might take off, but there aren’t that many being made and I don’t believe commercial quality ones are easy to make.

Musgrave Single Barrel

Official Website

The inspiration for this post, the Single Barrel was mentioned in 2021. Let’s hope it inspires other manufacturers to dig into their archives.

Les Crayons Caran d’Ache Exotic Woods

Official Website

Mentioned a number of times at pencil talk, this series is now in it’s 10th edition, apparently with patchouli fragrance. There have been some marketing and description issues in the past; it seems quite amazing to have survived all these years.

Shown is the Grey Limba pencil from Series 7.

Caran d’Ache Nespresso Graphite Pencils

Official Website

There have been two editions of the Nespresso pencil, one in Swiss Beech and one in cedar. The least expensive of these six pencils – you might even get one for less than $10 – they’re interesting becuase of the quality construction, interesting lead, and of course the marketing and ability to push what is in some aspects an advertising pencil into the high street.

Shown here is a pencil from the Nespresso 2nd edition with a gold cap, apparently based on a Nespesso flavour called Volluto.

Bosco Woods Pencil

Official Website

A pencil talk favourite, we love this series. It is a tribute to pencil making and the beauty of pencils. After years of availability, it seems to be ending the retail run.

Shown here is Bosco pencil No. 1, made from Japanese Cypress.

So who has some ten dollar pencils? Do you like them?

Made in Asia PaperMate Mongol Pencils

Mongol pencils

A recent post mentioned finding new Mongol branded pencils at retailers in Panama. There are some surprises regarding these pencils. They were made in both China and Vietnam for PaperMate/Newell Rubbermaid, and exported to Latin America. Let’s take a look at them.

Mongol pencils

My first surprise is that the hexagonal pencil is made in China and the triangular pencil in Vietnam. I can speculate, but don’t really know why. The pencil packaging uses a majuscule H to indicate the hexagonal pencil and a T for the triangular pencil, but I found this confusing as H is also a pencil grade.

They definitely have the Mongol look with that copper coloured ferrule. The modern “PaperMate” name seems unexpected, but it’s an enduring brand name. Imprecise ferrule fixation (“tipping” in Tennessee parlance) has left some wood splinters sticking out and the pencil looking messy.

Mongol pencils

The writing and sharpening – for 26 cent brand name pencils – seem good to me. Not the summit of pencil making, but still completely fine.

Mongol pencils

And Newell Rubbermaid cancelled the Mongol trademark in the US in 2021, so there is a question about just what these pencils are. Mongol was and remains a global pencil brand, so I presume an ongoing demand for this brand was fulfilled through the corporate hierarchy.

Mongol pencils of course have been seen in Colombia, Venezuela, and particularly the Philipines, a country which has placed a Mongol pencil on a stamp. In fact I recall the former online store PencilThings offered imported Philippine Mongols. You can see that they are still very popular.


A 2016 post at Pencils and Other Things was my inspiration for visiting Catalinas. More broadly, my preparation for a trip to Uruguay and Argentina greatly benefitted from Sola’s advice.

Catalinas seems to have moved since 2016, and the historical window displays are gone. I would classify it as an art supply store, and a really good one. The building is stunning, at home amidst the fantastic architecture of Buenos Aires.

I am glad they are still in business. I bought a mixed grade set of woodcase Noris pencils, which I gather have been reintroduced in WOPEX.

For anyone seeking more of a paper focused stationer, I would recommend Papelera Contemporánea in the San Telmo neighbourhood:

And if you want to visit a bookstore, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is considered one of the most beautiful. I was amazed:

Pencils from Panama

In April I was able to visit Panama, the very interesting and beautiful country that bridges the Americas.

I looked for a specialty papeleria, but didn’t find one. If you have a recommendation, please let me know! That goes for coffee shops as well. While I expected an array of imported pencils to be available, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

My first stop was the department store Steven’s, which I was told would be the back to school shopping destination for many Panamanian parents.

So what did I find? To my surprise the Mongol brand was prominent, with both a made in China round PaperMate Mongol 482 and a made in Vietnam triangular PaperMate Mongol Tri on offer. The boxes have markings indicating the pencil shape.

Also available were mixed grade sets of the made in Brazil Faber-Castell Castell 9000 Regent and the origin unspecified Stabilo Othello 282.

I also picked up two accessories, the made in Brazil Faber-Castell FC Max eraser, and a made in China Faber-Castell Gum Stick.

The next stop was the chain store Office Depot.

The store did not disappoint, starting with multiple double ended pencils – the Dixon Bicolor (Mexico) and Office Depot red and blue and red and black pencils (China). I don’t think I’ve previously seen house brand double ended pencils.

Pelikan is another brand that I wouldn’t find in Canada – I look forward to trying the Lápiz de grafito and Lápiz triangular (Thailand) as well as the Silverstar (Vietnam).

The sources of the pencils – Brazil, China, France, Thailand, Vietnam – were more diversified than I expected. I’m also thinking that a big box store is not a terrible place for a first survey of an unfamiliar place.