The Blackfeet Indian Pencil revisited

Native American ceramics

It’s almost two years ago that I wrote about the Blackfeet Indian Pencil. It remains one of the most popular posts at pencil talk.

While a lucky few were able to buy this pencil at retail, it never broke into mainstream distribution channels. The picture above shows some hand made ceramics that were sold along with the Blackfeet pencils in the early 1990s via specialty catalogs. Since a lot of people are interested in the culture around the pencil, this bit of context seemed relevant.

I recently gave the Blackfeet Nation offices a call to see if there is any news about their beloved product.

It’s not good. The Blackfeet Writing Instruments factory has been fully converted to another use, and all the pencil making equipment removed. With the machinery gone, a revival of the pencil isn’t even a remote possibility anymore.

The company was founded in 1972, and sold by the Blackfeet Nation to a private firm in 1992. In 1997, sales were a mere 27,000 pencils [1]. That’s probably a minuscule fraction of the number sold by the large firms. I’m not sure when they folded, but it seems to be around 2000.

They are sadly missed.

[1] Indian Country Today, March 20, 2000 An informative article.

43 Replies to “The Blackfeet Indian Pencil revisited”

  1. Thank you for sharing information about that pencil.

    Only 27,000 pencils! Only 2,250 dozens!
    Oh, it will really be a hard decision that sharpening one of that pencil.
    But well, if I could get one, I want to sharpen, and use it.

  2. I used to use these pencils as incentives when I was a substitute teacher. The kids loved them. 1n 1987 I could get three for 56c at K-Mart. I still have a couple. A shame that they are gone now.

    I can’t believe that they sold so few– when I bought so many!!

  3. Blackfeet Indian pencils sure do bring back some memories! When I went to Catholic elementary school in the late 70’s and early 80’s, we used to sell these pencils as a fundraiser every year.

  4. I have a box of 18 of them.

    Nifty little pencils, I wonder how much they’d go for on ebay.

  5. I’m sad. I bought a box more than 10 years ago, and I still occasionally find individual pencils from that set here or there when I go through a drawer or box of odds and ends. My daughter is going off to kindergarten in a few days, and I have managed to track down a couple of my old Blackfeet pencils to send with her, but I had hoped to be able order more online. What a shame. Those were the finest pencils I have ever used. Why have we as a nation sold our souls for cheap foreign crap? There is something to be said for quality craftmanship. Plus, I would rather know that my money is going to a well-deserving American tribe instead of some greedy Asian sweatshop tycoon.

  6. I bought a gross of the Blackfeet Indian Pencils (# 3 hard lead) in the mid-1980s. I have used them sparingly for years, but alas, they are now nearly gone.

    I am left-handed and many pencils smear when I use them. The Blackfeet Indian Pencil # 3 lead never did. I loved them Joe

  7. If you are interested, I have a large inventory of Blackfeet Indians Pencils (red and blue).

  8. I just went into my last box of Blackfeet Indian pencils and realized I needed to get some more. I was thrilled when I googled it to see there were web sites–and now I see this very bad news. NOBODY makes a pencil like theirs anymore. In fact, no one ever did. I’m a magazine editor and no matter how much I work online, I still write all my editing comments in pencil. I am in mourning.

  9. WOW!! I just found a full box of these pencils in my old office supply carton. We bought them from K-Mart around 1989 – 1990, and have LOVED them. So sad to hear the factory has been recommissioned. :-(

  10. Does anyone have any #2 or #3 soft to sell. I am coveting my last box. As an earlier poster mentioned- these are the only pencils for lefties!!

  11. I too mourn the loss of this factory. My young students become frustrated and discouraged when their cheap made in China pencil leads constantly break.

  12. This is discouraging news. No wonder that older folks get fed up with change and want to throw in the towel. That which was familiar and appreciated for its unique qualities gives way to unfamiliar products of lesser quality. I suppose it is this type of thing that inspires self sufficiency. By God, I’ll just have to whittle my own damn pencils!

  13. For those who still have some of the Blackfeet Indian pencils, you could try pencil extenders as a way to make them last down to the ferrule. I got my extenders thrown in with other pencil buys on ebay, but you can also still buy them new. Search this site.

  14. This sucks so bad. I was hoping to buy some more. I bought some, through Sundance catalog for my oldest son for school years ago. I liked them so much I bought another box for myself. They came in a cedar box with a brass clasp. I loved my pencils. I came online today to buy some more for my younger children. Mine are all gone and all I have left is my cedar box. I’m very sad about this. They were one of the few simple things left that bring a little joy. :(

  15. My Father built the plant from the ground up. He loved Browning and Cutbank,and the Blackfoot Nation’s people. My parents were there for nearly 3 years until he suffered a near fatal heart attack. My Brother Bob, left as a Navy Pilot to join my Father to help with the company. I have a few pencils left. They made a great product….sadly the company did not survive. My Dad died in 1991.bill Buchanan

  16. The plant was built with SBA loans at very high interest rates in 1972. Weather conditions were brutal. The main purpose was to provide year round employment to the Blackfeet not only seasonal logging etc. My father, Bose Buchanan designed, built, and purchased all equipment as well as training all employees to operate.
    Some of the original blackfeet were: Donald Little Bull, Georgia Standing Elk, Betty Longtime Sleeping, Carmen Calf Boss Ribs, and Floyd Comes at Night to name a few. All the pencils had Indian Derivative names. We also made pens and markers of high quality and a wide variety. The original Blackfeet Indian pencil in all natural cedar was my suggestion and had 6 coats of clear laquer over California Red Cedar. I had as much pride in our prouducts as
    My father and all our Blackfeet Family there in Browning. My Dad suffered a heart attack there and that is why I joined him from a Naval Aviation carrer. Originally from Shelbyville, Tennessee (Pencil Capital of the World). Cedar runs in our Veins. Hello to all my Blackfeet friends who mar read this.

  17. Neat history Bob! Not sure if I have any Blackfeet Indian black stick pens left. Sure wish I did though, if only for the history. We used them a lot when I worked at Martin Marietta in the 80’s.

  18. Hi- Is there anyone out there who is willing to sell a few of the BF Indian pencils (regular lead, no colors)?

  19. I just wanted to say how fed up I am with cheap Chinese pencils. I was buying US made Papermates at Sam’s Club, but the last batch I bought was made in Mexico. The lead isn’t even glued properly to the wood and the lead is slightly off-center. So, I remembered from my days at the University of New Mexico from 1978-1983, I used to buy Blackfeet Indian Pencils at the college bookstore. I remembered their high quality and that aromatic cedar. So, I thought maybe I could buy some online. I was sad to discover they went out of business around 2000. Bummer. I saw a dozen on Ebay for $65! Can’t the US even make a decent pencil anymore?

  20. I have not used them a lot thus far, but the Papermate “Earth Write” pencils might fit the bill. I’ve purchased a bunch of packages on clearance at the U.S. office supply stores such as Office Depot. They are made in the USA with cedar remainders (so nice & fragrant), a more “shiny” finish for a better grip, and decent graphite – a bit darker than the Mirado/Black Warrior.
    You can order the “Earth Write” from Amazon if you can’t find any locally.

    I share your frustration with the China made pencils (same issue with portable AM/FM radios made in China – most are junk).

  21. August5, 2012
    Hi to Bob Buchanan (and Bill even though I never met you). I was hired by the fed & state govs, and Great Western Industries to run appraisals on a couple hundred Blackfeet, pick individuals for each job, run 1 month orientation classes, then help Boze with on-the-job training. I ran appraisals for Boze, Mary Anne and Bob. I still have all the appraisal records. Reviewing the appraisals is like going back to Browning to visit again, which I’ve done a number of times.
    Side note: Lockley Bremner’s son is now Mayor of Browning.

  22. To the crew at Blackfeet Writing Company: Hi from Ken Neils. If you see these comments, send an email. I’d love to hear from you.

    Fortunately, I still have some pencils, even colored ones. I also had pens but they all dried out.

  23. I’ve got a box from the 1970s with 60 Blackfeet pencils left in the box they’re sundance # 2 I posted them for sale on Etsy I hope I’m allowed to say that on here . I was going to keep them for another 40 years to see how valuable they would become but after my kids got into them I decided to get rid of them. The box originally had 72 pencils .

  24. Hi, I found a sealed package of 72 count 2B Blackfeet Indian drawing pencils at an artist’s estate sale. I read so much praise about them that I am torn between offering them for sale and opening the shrink wrap to see what’s inside. Are they 1’s or 2’s? What color is the ferrule? Are they really that much better than the German pencils I buy at the art store for an arm and a leg? Send me an email and maybe I’ll part with these.

  25. I just found a Blackfeet Indian Marker, permanent ink – quick drying, Blackfeet Indian Writing Co. Inc. of Browning MT. It’s green ink, but unfortunately it’s all dried up!

  26. I worked for the Blackfeet Indian Writing Company for 18 1/2 years before resigning in March of 1991. Our ink came from Germany and our wood came from California. We were working with a company in France that had a formula that would give us the capability to use our lodge pole pine, when treated, for pencils. We were the best!

  27. I had The Blackfeet Indian Writing Company as part of my sales territory and sold them the adhesive used for assembling all the parts of the pencil together. They gave me samples of all the manufacturing steps that the pencil would go through to the finished product. My kids used to be a hit at school when they took all those parts for their “show and tell”. I wish I would have bought a few more boxes for myself. I had no idea that they were in trouble. They made such a great product.

  28. My dad used to use these when drafting poems, when I was a little kid. Now I write poetry too, and he gave me a few to take with me to college. I still use these!
    Though I’m always careful to keep them away from my office mates–they like them a bit TOO much, methinks.

  29. I am a person who I thought was odd because I have an affinity for pencils. I have a friend who recently passed and I was given a box of Blackfeet pencils. Can’t express who much they mean. Dying to use and never want to use

  30. Great story my friend very sad to hear about the company shutting down but did stay proud of it’s product to the end that for sure. I just recently learned of these pencils I like to draw and a gentleman offered me a box of 12 blackfeet pencils for $5 I got on line to learn more about them and to maybe purchase some very fine pencils. The gentleman who sold me them 12 pencils in the box said he’s got more he’ll sell me he found them in the trash? Lucky find I’d say I’m hoping he’s got color pencils also he said it’s a whole big box full so I’m very excited to see them and get them. Thanks for sharing your story friend and God bless you and your family and the Blackfeet nation.

  31. I found some while cleaning out an old laundry room. Cool to see that there’s so much Native American history and stories from you all tied up in the 5-6 Blackfeet pencils I found! I’m a carpenter, but might just end up leaving them I sharpened and passing these pencils down!

  32. I came to this site to research the markers this company used to make. I had a Blackfeet marker that I used for many years, and last week it finally gave out. It didn’t fade out as I would have expected; it just was working perfectly one minute and was totally dry the next. It made me feel I had gotten every drop of what I had paid for. I’m sorry the company didn’t make it, since the marker was better than any Sharpie I ever owned, and I would have been happy to buy more if possible.

  33. Blackfeet Indian pencils were on every national account office product contracts throughout my career in the office products industry. That meant, every office of many Fortune 500 businesses were sold these pencils all across our nation. It is sad that their business either diminished or wasn’t marketed as a Native American owned company which, like. woman owned companies filled certain requirement for government contracts. The company I represented, named National Office Supply at that time, extended those same products to all our large clients who were also required to comply with designated purchasing requirements for tax purposes. And, not the least of which was demonstrating diversity.

  34. I was able to get two gross of #2s and a gross of #3s a few years back. I like their graphite. It’s every bit as good as earlier US pencils from Venus, Eagle and Dixon. Grayer and with a more mineral smoothness than Japanese pencils.

    It’s too bad the company folded, but by that time they weren’t Indian-owned, which I think has always been part of the draw. Mine are from the ‘80s and would have been made under tribal ownership – something I think of every time I write with one.

  35. Robert Winters and Bob Buchanan, do either of you know where the graphite was sourced for these pencils? Any additional history of the people who worked at the plant?

  36. I worked with a fellow who worked on the marketing plans for Blackfeet pencils. His name was Larry Bennett.
    I know I’m very late to this conversation but wonder if those who were involved with the Blackfeet enterprise knew him or could share any information from those days?

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