Tombow versus Mitsubishi

Please allow me to call attention to the essay The Golden Age of Japanese Pencils, 1952-1967, published by St. Louis Art Supply.

I’ve not previously been aware of this art supply company. I learned of the essay via a post at the Reddit pencil forum.

The conclusions are very interesting to me. Are the Tombow Mono 100 and the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni the greatest pencils the world will ever see? (And I’ll mention that the Mono 100 is no longer made in Japan.) Very possibly. Super high quality OEM pencils such as those from Pentel were on the market only briefly. And as the article notes, we haven’t seen the “Hi-Hi-Uni”.

But let’s note something else – the pencil market is likely still growing at a global level, due to population growth and increased educational opportunities. There are $10 (even $20) woodcase pencils that can be bought today from Musgrave (USA) , Faber-Castell (Germany), and Caran d’Ache (Switzerland). These expensive pencils are more in the collectible/luxury segment, but why wouldn’t it be possible to try a new super-high quality pencil?

8 Replies to “Tombow versus Mitsubishi”

  1. Matthias, my suspicion is a pencil for artists, as there are $6+ colour pencils (and the artist buys several). A $10 super high quality graphite pencil seems possible in this context.

  2. Thanks for pointing out this article! I find it very worth reading.

    Through an order at Amazon Japan in November 2021 I got a dozen Hi-uni F with the old JIS sign. Since this mark was used until 2008, the pencils are at least 13 years old (I do not know how they came into Amazon’s range).Comparison with a current Hi-uni F has shown that the latter is significantly better, i. e. there were probably further improvements to the Hi-uni after its introduction.

    I also find the details mentioned in the article about the particle size of the graphite and the origin of the clay exciting. You rarely hear about such details!

  3. Gunther, thank you for sharing that observation about the Hi-Uni.

    There are still patents being filed for pencil innovations – many from Japan. So if these innovations make their way into commercial products, it makes sense that pencils should continue improving.

    One thing about 10 and 15 year old quality pencils – I feel they are just a little more difficult to sharpen than new pencils. Perhaps the wood slowly loses moisture, or the wood treatment loses effectiveness over time?

  4. Stephen, you’re right – in view of the many patents it would be surprising if the pencils were not improved.

    My statement regarding the Hi-uni was very imprecise; here is an addition. I haven’t noticed any differences in the wood and the finishing but the lead of the new Hi-uni F writes blacker and smoother than the lead of the old one. However, this could also be due to different impregnation. (But I only have a few of these pencils to test so my assessment could also be wrong.) – By the way, I find it remarkable how little one learns about the impregnation of the leads, although it plays an important role (but in my experience the companies are very secretive about this).

    Regarding the wood: In my experience, ageing (also depending on the type of storage) can have a negative effect on the cutting properties of the wood. However, it is difficult to make a conclusive statement because no direct comparison is possible.

  5. I love St. Louis Art Supply. Incredible pencil selection and the best prices. I did not know it had a blog, nor did I put it together (sadly? Anyone else?) that the green/gold scheme for Mitsubishi 9800 and Tombow 8900 was inspired by Castell 9000. Difficult to believe you could make among the world’s best pencils, substantively; but slow up at the superficial. Seems it should be the easy part.

    Love your blog!

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