Mirado Black Warrior pencil

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

After posting about pencil shapes and round pencils, topics which inevitably reference the Mirado Black Warrior, I decided to give these pencils a try, and use them at home and work for a couple of weeks. Many of my observations about their quality have already been noted by past commenters.

A few years ago, I didn’t typically see them at retail, but today they seem to be available from a variety of retail sources, such as department and office supply stores. They are part of the PaperMate brand, which is owned by Sanford, a division of the Newell Rubbermaid corporation. The official product page of the pencil is here.

The pencils are round, and painted black. They have a gold coloured ferrule with a red band, and a “Pink Pearl” pink eraser.

They are marked with gold colour lettering:

USA Mirado Black Warrior B 1 [logo]

The box is pleasant enough, and announces that they are “The World’s Smoothest Writing Pencil – Guaranteed!” As least Sanford can spell the word. And the guarantee looks real – they have an address for returning the product “if it fails to perform to your satisfaction.”

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

My first impression of the pencils is not good – the black paint has crept up over the ferrule, and even on to the eraser on a number of pencils. (I bought two boxes in B/No. 1 grade.)

The stamping appears quite second-rate, with the gold letters in “Mirado Black Warrior” blurring into one another.

Some people say round pencils are harder to sharpen, but with various handheld sharpeners, including the “long point” variety, I didn’t perceive any special trouble.

Now let me address the issue of the pencils rolling away on one’s desk – most of these pencils are warped, right out of the box, and won’t roll away. One of them has a deep vertical crack. I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true.

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

Perhaps these came from a bad lot or batch. Still, Newell Rubbermaid is a huge corporation that must have the capacity for some sort of quality control.

Now I know there are people who adore this pencil – but presumably you are not regularly seeing these serious quality issues?

For writing, I think it’s possible that the round shape is more comfortable over the course of a day. It’s certainly a personal preference.

The lead is okay, and did not break, but I don’t think it’s as smooth as our reference Lumograph 100 or the Castell 9000. To be fair, the Black Warrior is sold at a much lower price point than those pencils.

Mirado Black Warrior pencil

Overall, I am somewhat perplexed. The pencils are so badly made that they occupy their own unique category. I cannot recall ever buying any other brand of pencil with so many quality issues. Yet, the Mirado seems to have commercial success, with an ongoing following. Is this because they are almost alone in the category? Would the market have room for a higher quality round pencil?

48 Replies to “Mirado Black Warrior pencil”

  1. I saw these pencils at Walmart during a recent visit. They are 2 HB and come in different packaging and quantities than what you have. They seemed straight and solid. You probably got your hands on a bad batch. Maybe they were exposed to some extreme heat during shipment from the factory? Where did you get yours from? I’m also quite surprised to see your top picture of the ferrule digging in so deeply into the lacquer. Wow! At least you know it’s not coming off but it does look sloppy, doesn’t it? I haven’t tried these myself yet but the time is coming.

    Where are they made? Sometimes I wonder if companies take cost saving a little too far. Saving on labor is OK as long as the same machinery, processes, and materials are used during manufacturing. Maybe they got greedy here?

  2. Yeah, I think you got a bad batch somehow. The ones I picked up from OfficeMax work very well, and are made straight and true.

    I had never heard of this model of pencil until I recently re-discovered woodcase pencils.

    However, I did see a lot of 10 dozen Berol Mirado and Black Warrior pencils from the 1980’s go for over $100 on eBay in the last week or so. Someone out there must have really wanted some of the original Black Warriors in their pencil collection.

  3. The Black Warrior used to be my favorite American pencil—until Papermate took over. From that point on, quality plummeted. Not only was the elegance of the pencil destroyed by the silly Papermate hearts on the barrel but I started started encountering problems with the pencil itself, from shoddy paint jobs to breaking leads, and yes, severe warping. It is a pity, because it was an ideal pencil at the perfect price and widely available (my sole reason for going to WalMart, where you could once buy it by the gross). I can well understand those who seek out the older, pre-Papermate Black Warriors on ebay. It was a different and superior pencil than the one with the same name today. Pencil-making in America is a lost art; our last hopes are General’s and Musgrave, and unfortunately, they do not distribute their outstanding pencils widely.

  4. Hello everyone, and thank you for the comments. I’ve heard enough statements over the last few years (such as by adair) to believe the problem is more widespread than just a single ‘bad batch’.

    I’d hate to think of these pencils being purchased as back to school supplies, and forever turning a child away from pencil use. Or someone trying a “brand name” pencil for the first time, and concluding they’re not worth it

    Following up on Boris’s comment, I see three variations of the Black Warrior for sale online: The ones I have match the photo at Amazon’s site:

    Black Warrior at Amazon

    Black Warrior at PenCity

    Black Warrior at PaperMate

    Perhaps the other variants – newer? – older? are better overall.

  5. I have bought and used perhaps 80 or more Black Warriors through the past few years, and have never had a warped one, or one with sloppy paint work at the ferrule. That said, I have noticed a slide in quality since Papermate took over (lead quality and centering in particular), and now one cannot get the 1B. Sadly, the demise of a great pencil in the face of global economics. I’m switching to Generals, eventhough they don’t make a round.

  6. Ha! Maybe, like the eraser crimping machine that made the Blackwings, the 1-B machine has also broken…Sanford-Papermate are hellbent on destroying the last remains of American pencil-craft. Just think of the great products this company inherited from Eberhard Faber, and what they’ve done to them…A pity.

  7. How do they even get those warped pencils to fit in the box?

    I would send the link to this post to the relevant person(s) at Newell Rubbermaid and see what happens.

  8. You should take advantage of the guarantee and send them back to Sanford, along with a copy of your review. I would be interested to hear what they say in reply.

  9. Thank you Kelly, adair, Michael, and Don for the further comments. Hearing what the manufacturer might say could be a benefit of attempting to return the pencils. Or, I might just get a form letter. The postage for a small parcel might be close to or as much as the price of the pencils, so it wouldn’t be for economic reasons that I’d try to return them.

    There is a local snowsquall warning today, so I’ll wait for a nicer day before contemplating any further steps.

    By the way – they do function as pencils, which I hope I noted. Pencils with constant lead breakage are more of a problem for usage than warped pencils.

  10. I have a pack of Black Warriors from 1998, when they were made by Sanford. They look like the ones that are advertised as being sold by Pen City. None of them have the problem of the lacquer creeping up over the ferrule. Compared to a newer set of Mirados, the newer ones have some problems with the lacquer. It isn’t as thick and the ferrule digs into the lacquer. They aren’t warped like this batch, though. The difference in lead doesn’t seem that much different, although the 1998 variety seem to be able to write a little darker and the new variety seem to write a little smoother. Note that both these pencils are the number 2 hardness.

    So is this the beginning of a “call to arms” concerning the Black Warrior?

  11. The Mirado used to be a nice pencil. Unfortunately, Newell Rubbermaid has managed to ruin the brand. The last straw for me was when they decided to stop using Pink Pearl erasers for the Black Warrior. I actually wrote Papermate to complain. Papermate said it was an economic/marketing decision. Not enough people really care about quality wood-cased pencils anymore, I guess.

  12. I loved the old Sanford Black Warriors and had dozens of them at some point. Then I moved and got rid of a lot — it sounds like I could have sold them! The new Papermate Black Warriors are a shadow of the old pencils.

  13. The ones you refer to on Amazon seem to be the “current” incarnation I’ve seen in major drugstore and office supply chains, though I’ve only seen blister packs and never the long boxes above (well, once at a Wal-Mart, yes, but several years ago).

    Would it be correct to say that the Mirado Classic and Mirado Woodtones have the same lead as the Black Warrior? (Some of the blister packs I saw a couple of months ago, for both the Classic and the Black Warrior, echoed the comments on Pencil Revolution. I purchased the former — sometimes great, sometimes better than nothing, although probably far removed from the pencil heralded in the 50s ad on Woodchuck’s blog.)

    FWIW, an old _Sanford_ American Natural I tried (in a capitalized font like on the Prismacolor Turquoise) was actually not that bad, compared to the current Papermate offering (or the older Faber-Castell rendition, for that matter) (see also Pencil Revolution).

  14. I’m surprised to hear what a rotten experience you had with the Mirado Black Warrior pencils. I’ve been buying them for a few years, but only during the PaperMate era, so I can’t report on whether they’re better or worse than in previous years.

    Anyway, after going through many dozens of these, I’ve never seen the problems that you reported — hearing about that and the elimination of the Pink Pearl eraser in the comments, I’m now planning on cleaning out my local office stores to get what’s left of the pre-Rubbermaid old stock.

    I’ve found these pencils to write smoothly and keep a point for a reasonably long period of time. But for me, the real selling point is this — I’m left-handed, and these are the only pencils I’ve found that I can write with for an extended period of time without ending up with massive graphite buildup on the side of my hand, and the resulting “smeary” look all over the page.

    If there are any other lefties out there who have other suggestions for pencils that are extremely smear-resistant, I’d like to know about them.

    I’ve tried the Palominos, and while they’re really nicely made and incredibly smooth to write with, I have the same problem with those as I do with other pencils. My (right-handed) wife and daughter, however, love the Palominos and have gone through several dozen.

  15. My Mirado Black Warrior eraser really stinks. I get instant sinus congestion from the smell. Does it have petroleum or some other Cancer-causing chemical in it? I am allergic to petroleum products.

  16. betsy,

    The Mirados have had the standard-issue Pink Pearl eraser for a while. According to http://users.wpi.edu/~jen.lu/PDFs/IntroLitReview.pdf and http://aic.stanford.edu/jaic/articles/jaic22-01-001_2.html, there is factice (as in factis? vulcanized vegetable oil, which is a key component in most any eraser), “rubber, antioxidants, softeners, pumice, and coloring agents” (Stanford html) and “silicate magnesium, iron, aluminum potassium, chloride, CaCO3, and possibly some Ti” (WPI pdf).

    There’s also the MSDS for the Pink Pearl at http://sanford.com/sanford/pdfs/Paper%20Mate%20Pink%20Pearl%20Eraser.pdf, which seems to suggest that it’s “relatively harmless,” much like any other pencil.

    I’m afraid I’m not so savvy with regards to the “latex-free” aspect of plastic erasers (of which the Pink Pearl is not a plastic eraser, I believe? Correct me if I’m wrong).

    If, OTOH, you’re referring to the new Mirado Black Warriors (and other Mirados?) with the non-Pink Pearl eraser, I’m not sure if anyone has come across this particular one in the wild.

    Do you have a Pink Pearl eraser with which to compare it?

  17. *Likewise, plastic erasers are without the vulcanized vegetable oil (factice), instead being made up of (for example) PVC.

  18. I am all to familiar with the quality problems of the Mirado Black Warrior. Every pack has atleast half the pencils with one blemish or the other – warped pencils, lousy paint job, chipped paint near ferrule etc, you name it, the Black Warrior suffers from it.

    But on my most recent visit to Walmart, I saw some Black Warriors with a Matte black finish – the pencils looked allright. I am not a fan of rounded pencils (actuallt hate them) so I didn’t purchase any.

    If you really want to experience a Mirado pencil without the pain job problems, get yourself the Mirado Woodtones. They are available at OfficeMax for $2.50 (8 count pack). No issues with fit and finish.

  19. I just want to say that i started buying these for my children to use at school a few years back. it seemed like every other pencil we purchased the eraser would smudge their homework papers. I love the mirado black warrior and it’s the only pencils i will buy the kids to take to school. the only problem i have now is that i told like everyone about how wonderful these pencils are compared to you ordinary yellow #2 pencil and now i havent been able to find ANY at the stores for this school year. I am however ordering 2 cases from the website for starters. it’s a great pencil

  20. I truly like the black warrior pencil. I do believe you bought a really bad batch. I have never seen such warped pencils. I am concerned though that for the past few weeks I have not seen black warriors for sale at any of my local stores such as Wal-Mart, Office Max etc. Have they been discontinued? If someone knows something please let me know.

  21. Robert – Not sure if you’ve found them since your post, but FYI I bought a pack at my local OfficeMax last night.

    It’s my first pack of Black Warriors, so we’ll see which side of the debate I fall on after I go through a few of them. :)

  22. There must be a lot of bad batches out there. I was in CVS today and happened to notice the Mirado Black Warrior pencils in a blister pack, so I could easily view the full length of the pencils. The quality was horrendous and looked just like the pictures shown in this posting. The leftmost pencil in the pack was badly warped (several millimeter deflection). The lacquer was badly applied and had creeped up over the ferrule on some of the pencils. The gold imprinting of the name/logo was sloppy. I am ashamed on the manufacturer’s behalf that these were made in the USA.

  23. Yes, the Mirado Black Warrior quality has really fallen off with the Papermate branding. I was lucky, and bought 48 (4 boxes of 12) of the older late 90’s Sanford version. I also still have around 20 of the “Sanford” Mirados left – shiny paint and all.
    The old Warriors are 1’s that I use to mark music. Wonderful pencils and erasers. I also have a bunch of the older Eberhard-Faber Naturals (great lead), and others.
    I did buy some of new the Papermate Mirado’s at a closing Office Depot recently as they were 30% off, and their quality seems to be higher than other examples I’d seen in recent years. Prior “Papermate” Mirado’s I’d seen had the really poor, streaky finishes. Also, ferrule to pencil connection had the shavings like the image of the Black Warrior above.

  24. I bought an 8-pencil blisterpack of Black Warriors at Office Max. They had a satin/soft finish instead of the shiny finish pictured above. They were all straight and wrote very well, so I decided to order a dozen-count box online. They’re in a box exactly like the one pictured above and while they’re all straight with only a couple having issues with paint on the ferrule, they write very poorly. A scratchy, light line that’s nothing like the Black Warriors from the blister pack. I’m wondering why there’s such a difference.

  25. I do believe I must cast my vote on the pro-MBW half of the thread.
    Like the others said, you unfortunately got your hands on a bad bunch.

    These pencils are one of my favorite everyday ones to use.
    The one I happen to have right in front of me, like its 7 other pack-mates, is of a satiny/matte finish, with a firm ferrule, good paint job, durable lead and pink pearl eraser. I bought them recently.

    As I happen to both write and draw with these (among other pencils), I can tell you they write/draw just fine, though their HB seems more like a H sometimes, what with the hardness and lightness. But it works for when I sketch details and such.

    Hmm, if only I could get a chance at some of the old brand, for comparison.

  26. I also think you must have gotten a bad batch. My wife is a pencil fanatic… not just a connoisseur, but an actual fanatic, and she’s also an elementary school teacher. She says that the black warrior is her favorite pencil too. I once bought her a gross of Dixon Ticonderogas, because they were always considered the best of the best when I was a kid, but she’s hooked on those mirado black warriors. I’m going to buy her 6 dozen and see if any of them are in the same bad way as the ones you got.

  27. News flash! I needed to get some other things at the local “Big Lots” store here in the U.S., and I noticed a bunch of HB/2 Mirado Black Warriors for sale in packs of 10 for just $1 each, or 10 cents/pencil! They are the newer “flat” black non-glossy ones with the “scrunched” font, but quite a deal with the better cedar (in fact the smell is wonderful).

    Just for kicks, I also bought 2 packs of the Papermate “Choice” pencils in the same 10 packs, but they are made with the lower cost pine-like wood. I didn’t see much of a difference in the graphite between the two.
    I’ll be heading back to stock up on the Black Warriors in a day or two! With production moving to Mexico, this is going to be it for these pencils stamped with “USA”.

    I’m amazed that they had the pencils, and that they’ve already got the school supplies out in the front of the store. I’m glad they did, as it was hard to miss the Black Warriors. I need more pencils like I need a hole in the head (more than a lifetime supply), but I want to grab some more of these fragrant babies while I can.

  28. Just picked up some of the Black Warriors 2HB at Staples in the 12 pack. Found them to take a nice sharp point and they produced a satisfingly dark line. Easy dark shading. As a drawing pencil they are the best I have seen. No sign of warpage.

  29. I’ve used Mirado Black Warrior pencils for years, and sang their praises to the skies. Now I am reluctant to praise them too much, since I, too, have noticed a decline in quality, although none are as bad as those described above. All the ones I have now are the PaperMate/Sanford No. 2 cedarwood pencils with pink pearl erasers.

    I teach a Human Potential class using the book “How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci,” and give my students a Black Warrior in a little ceremony commemorating the Renaissance (which widespread availability of pencils and paper helped make possible)!

    I never take a pencil for granted anymore, and remain loyal to my Black Warriors.

  30. We have some lovely pencils at work printed “Berol BLACK WARRIOR 372” in number 2.

    These write great. I don’t know if more than one company produces Black Warrior pencils but I would rate these as a step above Steadtler.

    I’m a fountain pen user so I appreciate a smooth writing pencil more than most.

  31. If you still have some Berol Black Warriors, hold onto them. Berol became Sanford, and then Sanford’s pencils became PaperMate.Each name change was accompanied by a step down in quality control.

    (The same pattern happened with the FaberCastell/Eberhard Faber American, a perfectly usable cedar pencil which took a dive when it became the Sanford American, and another when they became the Paper Mate American Classic, with nary a trace of cedar left.)

    Wasn’t there a time when the Black Warrior was materially different from the regular Mirado? Today, the only difference is the shape and finish, but I seem to recall a time in which the Black Warriors were held to have better graphite and/or wood than the regulars.

  32. Once upon a time two buyouts ago there was a pencil called the Eagle Elite. It was black all the way through and made of some sort of composite. The real show was the graphite, thick and soft. They called it a 2hb, but I would say on a drawing pencil scale it was about a 4b. Best damn sketching pencil I have tried. I’m saving my last few dozen for special occasions and filling in with the Dixon Ticonderoga 1b ex-soft.

  33. I just bought the last three boxes of Mirado Black Warrior #1 pencils from pencity.com. I actually ordered six boxes, but the pencity order confirmation said they were sending three boxes and were backordered on the other three. Then I got another e-mail saying that the item is no longer available from Papermate and that the backorder was cancelled. I hope the ones I did get are decent quality. I’m giving some away as gifts (to fellow musicians) and keeping the rest. I still have 4-5 Berol Black Warriors from a box I bought in 1996. They are excellent for music, just like David O. said. The erasers are all dry and stiff, but I just put the cap erasers over them. Hopefully I’ll have enough #1 Black Warriors to last the rest of my career!
    If I run across any other sources for these pencils, I’ll be sure to post it here.

  34. Well, I got my three boxes of Mirado Black Warrior #1 pencils today, and they mostly look pretty good. In one box, there was one pencil that was a little bit warped, and a couple others were not crimped just right. But they will work just fine. I noticed that although the box said Papermate, on the back, it also said Sanford. I’ll try one out sometime. Still have a Berol one that I have attached to my instrument that works OK, but a couple more sharpenings and it will be too short to hold!

  35. I have used the Black Warrior exclusively for 10 years or more. I am a musician and use pencils on music alot. These pencils are easily identifiable and write dark and smooth. The name and the look are sexy, bold,and elegant. Exquisitely perfect.

  36. I still sort of wish that they had the older glossy finish vs. the current “flat” paint finish. They are a bit more slippery to hold now, especially when compared to something like the old glossy finish “Carmine Red” Prismacolor (Col-Erase) pencil that I also use periodically.

  37. I too have noticed the decline of the Black Warrior pencil. The new ones I just purchased from Office Depot feel nothing like a Black Warrior. They are thin, and have a matte finish. They do not feel anything like the Black Warriors I have always used . The ones I had were much thicker, had a glossy paint and were a joy to write with.

  38. I have a box of 1993 Berol Mirado Black Warriors and they are tip top. Perfect stamping, straight, and best of all, no little hearts…. The box is brown and white with a symmetrical cutout in the front. I have looked for them but cant seem to find them for retail – I dont want to spoil my experience with a more recent version.

  39. PaperMate-Sanford Brands has bought out Mirado Pencils, testing the quality now? So sad if the quality has changed. Mirado was my favorite pencil

  40. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but the ones I use just say “Mirado Classic Black”. What is the story behind the name “Black Warrior”? Is is a nickname by loyal customers that was adopted as a marketing decision?

    Regarding the quality issues: Any package of USA made Mirado Blacks were always of superior quality, even the package I have now which are USA made, by papermate, are still outstanding pencils. It is very sad, this was a fantastic pencil for so many reasons, not the least of all, it’s sleek design and the fact that it’s a ROUND pencil! Not too many high grade round pencils out there, unless you hit up a dollar store or souvenir shop and try to write using novelty graphic pencils.

    Maybe it was a marketing decision, but it was a bad one! I will never buy these pencils again, unless I find a made in USA pack. The ones I see in Wal-Mart these days are CROOKED, bent, and a disgrace.

  41. So I discovered that the “Black Warrior” was a Confederate schooner during the Civil War. I’m still trying to find out the connection with the pencil. I guess Canadians weren’t ready for a Black Warrior pencil.

  42. I am running low on my Mirado Black Warrior HB #2. Checking on the Office Depot site I see “Mexico” on the pencil, the one in my hand clearly says “USA”. What’s up with that??? Can I get a Mirado Black Warrior HB #2 made in the USA??

  43. I’ve got a box of Eagle Black Warrior pencils from the 70s, I think. They are fantastically made and work very well. Even better than the Sanford ones, I’d venture to say.

  44. I found a Mirado Black Warrior on the floor outside my classroom last week. Seems like a fine pencil to me. I like the stylish red band around the ferrule. This pencil will roll right off a slight incline. Does represent a small sample size though. I’ve been giving the Ticonderoga Laddie tri-write to my students with penmanship difficulties. Good grip for the uncoordinated hand.

  45. Once upon a time, these were not “Mirado” Black Warriors, they were just Black Warriors. Around 1980 I worked at the NYC Commodities Trading Floor, back when they had rings and “open outcry” — I have no idea how they do it now — and Black Warrior was indeed the pencil of choice, for both the clerks on the telephones and the traders in the ring, because it wrote smoother and — get this — faster. In a trading ring, speed really does count, along with legibility. That Black Warrior was a better pencil than this Mirado variety, so I’m guessing the company got sold and what so often happens happens. But I do not know if the writing qualities of the pencil have changed. I don’t think traders or clerks would care if the paint creeps up on the ferrule, or even if it’s warped, so long as that special lead is in the middle.

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