General’s Supreme 550 pencil

General's Supreme 550 pencil

Those looking for inexpensive pencils soon discover that almost every large department and office supply store has a no-name or house brand – yet such pencils are often less than ideal.

Made of poplar or basswood with inferior leads, the pencils often just barely serve their purpose.

Yet if you’re buying pencils as a school teacher or department head, or for your workplace or organization, and have a limited budget, the options may seem very limited.

I don’t personally believe that children should have inferior pencils. Let’s think about this. Which will better promote learning – a pencil that is hard to sharpen and hard to write with, or a pencil that is easy to sharpen and easy to write with?

Yet financial realities may still be paramount.

It’s been a delight to recently learn about a budget pencil that is a remarkably good value. I have to thank a regular blog reader for telling me about this pencil, and sending a few my way.

The Supreme 550 is made by the General Pencil Co. of New Jersey. General is the oldest independent American pencil company.

The packaging for a dozen pencils is a re-sealable plastic bag. (A format also used by some other General products.)

The bag has a label stating: “Since 1889, General’s Supreme #2 Graphite, Sustained Yield Cedar Wood Pencil, Made in U.S.A.”

The pencils are labeled in green:

Obverse: USA General’s Carbo Weld SUPREME 550 2
Reverse: [bar code]

The pencil body is yellow, the ferrule gold with a black band, and the eraser dark pink.

General's Supreme 550 pencil

The finish overall is not great – it seems to be a very thin paint coating that easily shows defects. But it’s okay. And the classic lettering will bring a smile to many.

The pencil sharpens very easily. After trying out various basswood pencils recently, I realized that I was delighted to again be able to easily sharpen a pencil. Wasn’t ease of sharpening once an integral aspect of every pencil?

The lead writes well. I tried to use the pencil over a period of time, at home and work. It could not be called smooth in comparison to most pencils discussed here. It unfortunately is somewhat gritty. But it also seemed (compared to other HB pencils) to be relatively solid, non-breaking, and non-crumbling. And keep in mind that I’m comparing it to much more expensive “name brand” products. It functions very well compared to “budget” category pencils.

At US$1.50 for a dozen at retail, I’m thinking that large quantity purchasers can get the pencil for well under ten cents a pencil. I hope that price puts these reasonable quality, easily sharpened cedar pencils in the same range as those bad no-name, origin unspecified pencils.

Why don’t stores like Office Depot, Office Max, or Office Brobdingnagian offer General or Musgrave pencils? I think some of us should ask.

But in the meantime, I hope the Supreme 550 might be a candidate for those seeking a budget pencil.

General sells this pencil via a distributor who aims at U.S. college campuses. It can be purchased online (more expensive) or in person at various college bookstores. A larger order would have to be facilitated directly through the distributor.

19 Replies to “General’s Supreme 550 pencil”

  1. I don’t know about this one but the Musgraves are excellent! One of my favorites. I wonder if General or Musgrave or any of the smaller companies market to the big box office stores or have their foot in the door, so to speak. The only brands I see at my Office Depot are Dixon Ticonderoga and Papermate, and the store brand. Once they did have the Staedtler Ergosofts but that didn’t last long.

  2. I also should add that I’ve heard many schools aren’t teaching penmanship; the focus has gone from writing to keyboarding. I wonder how true that is?

  3. Slightly offtopic, but if price is not an issue (and I do realize that does not apply to everyone/every situation) – why not try General’s Cedar Pointe 333 HB? I saw someone mention on this board that it is available at Utrecht Art Supplies. I visited the Utrecht on Michigan Ave in Chicago and bought about 19 of them. Good pencils! I got them for $0.35 each before tax. Sure beats having to pay shipping to Dick Blick!!

    I would totally be interested in trying the Supreme if I could find it locally. I will be on the lookout. Thanks for the information about the Supreme.

  4. Thank you for the comments.

    The Unigraph and HB are great pencils, and I’ve heard good things about the Cedar Pointe.

    But this post veers a bit from our more typical quality-focussed discussions, and is aimed at someone like a purchaser who has to buy perhaps a few thousand pencils, but has a very limited budget. Or even someone who has ten dollars for a pencil purchase. That would buy a half-gross of these at retail, including tax if the rate is 11% or less.

  5. Just an update. I visited Pearl Paint in Downtown Chicago and they had General’s Semi Hex pencils for sale. I bought a couple at 24 cents each + tax to try..will let you know what I think of them..

  6. I bought a pack of these pencils for about $1.35 at my university’s student store; definitely a great find. I don’t like the finish very much, it is very thin, but I’m very fond of the grittiness of the lead. Pencils just don’t seem like proper pencils without that roughness to them, which is why I don’t like Ticonderogas very much (except for the eraser). Anyway, my favorite pencil has been the Dixon Oriole for awhile but since I’ve been unable to find them for sale I’m glad I’ve found the Supreme 550.

  7. Yes, if General used a bit different formula (more clay?) I think their pencils would be more appealing for me. I bought a few boxes of the semi-hex and experienced more grit – as noted above. The erasers are great. If the lead were more like the old Eberhard Faber pencils it would be a slam dunk for me. I think the 90’s were the last great decade of American pencil making. By 2000, it was all downhill, including the “Papermate” branding of the Sanford & Black Warrior branded stuff. I must admit that the Mirado Classic quality seems to have improved bit, but I heard it is going to China or Mexico now? I think General is hanging in there with the art related materials they make.

  8. Ther seems to be some confusion between the gritiness of a pencil and the lovely crisp note a good pencil produces. When a pencil has grit in its worst form the pencil will not even lay down ANY graphite it will just scratch the paper so I don’t understand the comment above from someone who liked the grit – were they just being sarcastic and I missed the point. The Faber – Castell 9000 produces a lovely crisp note in dry air/paper but with higher humidity the crispness decreases because the paper has a higher moisture content. This is one of the subtleties of graphite use that some people miss.

  9. General’s art pencils outlook should be fairly bright given that they have widespread distribution at big box retailers. While I have tried a couple of their offerings, I find that I cherish too much the smoothness of premium Japanese pencils to find any “grittiness” acceptable in my sketching tools. I wonder if General’s might have a pencil with a higher graphite and wax content that would be closer in performance to that of Tombow or Mitsubishi pencils. Good point about the air humidity and the moisture content of a paper affecting the laydown of graphite strokes. I noticed that some pencil sketches drawn outdoors in the humid Florida weather came out blurrier than usual yet the cause did not dawn on me until I read the previous comment.

  10. I have used the Supreme 550 and find it to be a superior pencil. I highly recommend.

  11. Looking to order Generals Carbo Weld Supreme 550 #2 Pencils in bulk amounts, anyone know the name of a distributer?

  12. Sasha Nealand: Try calling General direct @ 650-369-7169 or 800-537-0734. They sell the Supreme 550 in minimum quantities of 144. I bought 6 dozen of their Semi-Hex pencils and they said they would be “easy on me” for shipping costs. Just tell them you are supporting them and they are very willing to work with you. They sent me a free sample of 5 of their writing pencils recently.

  13. I was finally able to obtain some of these Supreme 550’s, and frankly, I cannot tell how they are different in any way from the Semi-Hex No. 2. I think they are the same pencils re-branded. The stripes on the ferules are identical, and the lead feels the same when writing. The barrels seem to be of equal thickness. I like the leads, and even the occasional grittiness. The Semi-Hex No. 1, however, is far smoother and darker. These are good pencils in terms of graphite, but I wish that General’s would go just a little further in quality control: on both the Supremes and the Semi-Hexes, the paint jobs are flaking and poor, the bands around the ferrules applied sloppily, and the wood where the ferrules meet the barrels chipped and jagged. Actually, they seem less well-constructed than the current Mexican-made Ticonderogas. American-made is one of the strengths of General’s, but they need to live up to the quality that that promises.

  14. I think that the Supreme 550 and the Semi-Hex are meant to be basic school or office pencils, economically priced, so not as much care is expended on their construction as on more expensive pencils.But I do agree that with just a little more attention to detail, General could make these at least as consistent as Ticonderogas without incurring significant extra costs. And yes, the rare Semi-Hex Number 1 has a great smooth lead. (For some reason, only sells the Number 2 version.) The only difference between the Supreme and the Semi-Hex is that the Supreme states to be “carbo-welded,” which at some point might have been the motto for all the General line, the same way that “woodclinched” worked for E. Faber. I do not think that the lead differs at all between these pencils, and they feel exactly the same. General should look to Musgrave’s, the only other remaining US manufacturer of pencils: their standard HB pencil is a thing of perfect beauty, albeit very hard to locate and purchase. I’ve never encountered a defective Musgrave HB. But when all is said: let’s not knock General’s too much. Their products are made in the USA, and even with some of the lazy workmanship that one finds in these pencils every now and then, they are still fine writers. Let’s rather urge them to raise, or return to, standards.I wonder if General’s is fully automated or if they still use hand-labor, in which case the lack of consistency in fit and finish might be explained.

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