California Republic Palomino

California Republic Palomino
Being quite a pencil aficionado (a.k.a. leadhead) myself, I really looked forward to trying this pencil. I had read quite a few blog entries about how excellent it was. Alas, getting some in Canada was quite a chore. Initial email to Cal Cedar went unanswered, but I didn’t give up and tried their Ebay webform, which provided the necessary contact.

For me, there was a big surprise about these pencils, whose plastic box uses the phrase “American ingenuity” and whose name and marketing invoke the name of California. I had also read about international pencil dumping issues on the excellent Timbelines blog. The surprise for me was that they don’t say “Made in U.S.A.” or any other country of origin on the pencil. Some further web browsing indicated that the pencils are made in Japan. But the phrase “Pan-Pacific ingenuity” may not read as well.

They are packaged in a clear plastic box. I think Cal Cedar should consider either a tin or wooden box as an option. There were dozens of Faber-Castell centennial tins at a local store a few weeks ago – they are all gone now (late January), and I have no idea who around here (other than me) spends so much on pencils – but many people clearly do.

The pencils were coated in graphite dust when I took them out of the plastic. I’ve never seen that before, even with the cheapest pencils, though it was a minor issue. Unpackaged, the first thing I noticed is how the web photos I’d seen hadn’t conveyed the colour, which isn’t exactly red – more a light reddish orange, though not dark like a “blood orange”. The finish is nicely lacquered, richer than most pencils and similar to a Staedtler Mars Lumograph (though I fear the new Staedtlers with the silver markings already represent a diminution of their previous outstanding level of quality).

As a writing implement, I think I finally found the source of the praise – it’s the lead! While different manufacturers may have different grade interpretations, the Palomino is degrees darker – at the same level of hardness. By this I mean an HB seems like a typical 3B, but isn’t as soft and doesn’t need the constant sharpening of a 3B. The only downside I can think of is that some may find these pencils too dark in comparison to their expectations of pencils at specific grades.

I tried side by side comparisons with other pencils, and the Palomino HB is easily the darkest. It’s probably as dark as a 2B or 3B Staedtler. It’s also a smooth writer, and the lead is strong, so overall, it’s an excellent pencil.

14 Replies to “California Republic Palomino”

  1. So, what gyrations did you have to perform to get these pretties in Canada? I’m in Vancouver, and it seems it’s all about the Staedtlers here.

  2. Just the gyrations mentioned above. There have beeen some improvements in the last couple of months- CalCedar will now take an order from Canada via their ebay store, and carries Palominos and ships to Canada.

  3. I agree, the Palominos are dark, but I found with that, came an inherent softness that warranted tons of sharpening. Maybe it’s me.

  4. No, not just you. After more use, I agree that they wear down quickly, and have leads that are more powdery than most pencils. Their markings seem more smudgable as well – which may be good or bad depending on your intent.

    The composition is clearly a bit different than most leads – maybe fewer binding elements (wax?).

  5. I agree, the Palominos are powdery and soft (words you rarely read in the effusive web praise for these pencils). I still love the dark line and the paint is the best I’ve seen (and surprisingly, paint did begin to matter to me over time, these pencils are pleasing to the touch).
    I’d rate the Mitsu Hi-Uni 4B graphite higher than the Palomino HB (darker, harder) but I’m less taken with Tombow (my criteria is completely subjective, I’m not an artist so much as a doodler and scribbler).
    Thanks for the site.

  6. I have begun using these (in 2B) for composing and arranging music and they are very nice – the orange paint is nice and distinctive (no one can mistake my pencil for theirs) and the lead makes beautiful note heads, stems and barlines easily.

  7. I have been using the Palomino 2B for my music composing as well, and I’m very pleased with how this pencil writes so smoothly and darkly on staff paper.

    Have any of you composers tried the Judy Green Music Writer Pencil available at

  8. Hi, Has anyone ever heard of the Alpheus music writer pencils? I used to order them out of North Hollywood. but they must have closed shop. Great pencils for music writing and a nice large attached eraser.

  9. As splendid as the Blackwing 602 was, I’m not one of those who believes the magic is in the pencil and can’t fathom spending $40 for one on eBay – regardless of its inherent mellifluous wonder.
    I used the Pacific Music Writer for a while and liked it very much.
    I now happily use the Palomino 2B for all of my composing.


  10. To Rick Berg:

    I too used these wonderful pencils for years. Wondered if you or anyone else ever found Alpheus or a substitute pencil.


  11. i too am looking for a substitute for the alpheus music writer. has anyone found decent sub? i’ve used up my secret stash!!!

  12. I loved using the Alpheus musicwriter pencils…such smooth lead and it reproduced well. I have one left and it is not for sale! I am going to try the Judy green pencils soon, although I use pens almost exclusively now.

  13. Did Anyone ever find the Alpheus Music Writer Pencil? I used them for years in Hollywood and Dallas. I have almost used up my stash.
    I would pay plenty for a box of those silver MS 560 Pencils.The 800 phone number on the silver pencil is now a Lexis Dealership in Orlando, FL. May 8th, 2014 Fort Worth, TX

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