The Musgrave Pencil Co. has a solid history in the pencil industry, though their website indicates no products other than novelties. It appears the general use writing and drawing pencil is on the decline compared to advertising and novelty pencils.
It was a surprise to see some of their pencils at a small bookstore this week. And by “some”, I mean hundreds and hundreds! The pencils caught my eye right away. Many pencils don’t state a country of origin, let alone anything more specific. These state:
Musgrave Pencil Co.
The name is “Unigraph” and the model is “1200 Drawing”. Alas, of the hundreds of pencils I saw, all were H hardness. The staff told me that was all they had.
The pencil has a dark forest green varnish, and a pink eraser attached with a gold ferrule with red band. The stamping is gold in colour.
The pencil sharpened easily and writes quite nicely. I don’t have too many H pencils on hand, but it seems a tad darker than a Staedtler Mars H, for example. The lead is quite strong, as one would expect in a higher quality pencil.
I liked the pencil’s association with it’s origin, and can definitely recommend the Unigraph as a good pencil, though I’d really love to try a version with a darker lead.
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.
Sorry for recent downtime – a blast of freezing rain knocked down the line connecting the www.penciltalk.org server. We’re now back up and running!
Pictured above are two pencil extenders (and a new pencil for comparison). They are devices that give a second career to pencils that might otherwise be approaching retirement. Pencils can last quite a while, so the ones that have been used until they turn into stubs are probably the really good ones – the ones we most often choose for our writing or drawing tasks. These extenders can allow a pencil to be used even when many sharpenings have made that pencil no longer comfortable or practical to be held in one’s hand.
Above are a No. 1098 N Koh-I-Noor, and a Cretacolor extender, with a new Cretacolor pencil for comparison.
I found them both at art stores. They are quite comfortable and simple to use. The pencil stub is placed in the opening, and a clamping ring moved to secure the pencil. With certain pencils being hard to replace or expensive (e.g. artist’s pencil crayons), one or two of these extenders could certainly be a good investment.
The Lamy ABC is a pen and pencil set aimed at children, though adults will have no difficulty enjoying these nicely made products.
The fountain pen is essentially a Lamy Vista in a pleasing wood and red plastic case. It takes Lamy cartridges or a converter. My version has a medium nib. It’s a tremendous value as fountain pens go – a great writer, smooth and highly reliable. The cap doesn’t post, which could be an issue for some, and has a space for a sticker with one’s name. It is really lightweight, even compared with a Vista, so it’s no trouble to transport around town.
Matching the pen is a mechanical pencil with a 3.15 mm lead. Unlike most clutch leadholders, which require pressing a button or cap and sliding the lead, this pencil has a really nice twist mechanism. Even Lamy’s more sophisticated looking (and expensive) Scribble 3.15 mm pencil doesn’t have this mechanism. There is also an included lead sharpener, which I love as it works with other 3.15 mm pencils, and is a pretty unusual sharpener.
The pencil is comfortable and writes very nicely. The lead is solid and doesn’t break. Though they ship with an HB lead by default, the pencils also take other hardnesses as well as colour leads from art supply stores.
It’s a mechanical pencil that offers great quality, as well as nice (though not traditional) styling.
A problem I have with many mechanical pencils is the scrawny lead. At five or seven tenths of a millimetre in diameter, many of these leads are prone to breaking. And when they break, they can go flying. This type of lead doesn’t allow much in the way of line variation either. As well, some of us like a more substantial feel than is typical of most mechanical pencils.
In 1999, Faber Castell addressed all of these issues with the E-Motion series, which was initially released as a wood and chrome finish pencil with a twist mechanism, as well as a ballpoint pen. The line has since been expanded with other finishes and a fountain pen.
This pencil is substantially different from others in having a 1.4 mm diameter. That’s right – a substantially larger lead than the norm. The mechanics are also innovative – the lead is advanced by a twisting cap, rather than the typical button push of mechanical pencils. This mechanism is great for both advancing and retreating the lead from the pencil in a finely controlled manner. And not untypical of Faber Castell’s great design, this method matches that of their ballpoint pen, which also extends the pen point by twisting the cap.
The cap is removable, and reveals a white plastic eraser (replaceable) when lifted. The foot of the pencil also has an innovation – two slots for extra leads.
The leads themselves are excellent – the claim of no breakage has been true in my experience. They come in a pleasing choice of B hardness, and draw solid smooth lines. With a 1.4 mm diameter, they also allow different types of line widths to be drawn by holding the pencil at different angles. They’re not wide enough to warrant a sharpener, but much more capable than their .5 and .7 mm mechanical pencil cousins.
The first offering had three wood finishes with matte chrome. This was followed by plastic solid colour finishes, maple and plastic, plastic animal print patterns, and many more. I have wood and rubberized variants, and they appear to be identical save the exterior.
The photo above includes an “Ars Antigua Writing Bloc”, a rather nice notepad.