Pacon

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This isn’t breaking news, but I haven’t heard it mentioned elsewhere in the pencilosphere. Have you noticed Dixon Ticonderoga’s new logo? Dixon are now part of Pacon, a US educational supply company. The graphic to the left of the text is from Pacon.

A report (it reads more like a press release than a news report) from Wisconsin’s Fox 11 is here.

Though the Pacon executive talks about acquiring Dixon, technically Dixon acquired Pacon. But the logo and statement by the executive suggest that Pacon will be the leader.

So what changes, and how does this relate to Fila? Fila acquired Dixon in 2005 and Pacon in 2018, so it looks like a consolidation of Fila’s US assets.

Musgrave Single Barrel 106

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Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil
Along with the Tennessee Red, heritage pencil maker Musgrave announced another product just as interesting to pencil aficionados – a pencil made from rediscovered vintage slats.

A bell rang for me when I first heard this, because NYC luxury retailer Mrs John L. Strong (now revived) used a very similar story to market an Eastern Red Cedar pencil just a few years ago. They similarly claimed a secret stash of Eastern Red Cedar. This blog wrote about that pencil in 2009 (coincidentally, beside a note about a layoff at Musgrave). The Mrs. John L. Strong pencil was photographed on page 33 of Marco Ferreri’s book Pencils:
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

Though regularly mentioned online, I could not find a substantial written review of this pencil, and was motivated to contribute this effort.

The pencil is unsharpened, with a black metal cap. It presents itself with a lacquered dark wood body and a black imprint. The contrast isn’t high, but I think it is appealing. The pencil is offered in a cardboard sleeve.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil
Technically, the lead isn’t off centre between the slats – the issue is more that one slat is twice the height of the other.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

The imprints have a nice aesthetic.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

I thought a vintage sharpener might pair well with a vintage wood pencil. I broke out a decades old Eagle sharpener, but the results weren’t great. I tried a quick correction in an M+R 502, but the lead snapped. Did I mention that this is a $US10 pencil? So a dollar down, I felt it was time to get serious, and the impressive El Casco M-430 on the No. 2 (second most blunt) setting did a great job.
Musgrave Single Barrel 106 pencil

The pencil writes very nicely (the lead seems to be a step up from that of the Tennessee Red), with a dark line, nice glide, and minimal crumbling.

I’d love to know the lead origin. In 2008, a pencil industry CEO commented here that the US manufacturers, with an exception, made their own leads. But given the date, the comment may have applied to the then large US companies – Dixon and Sanford.

To summarize, there are some challenges, but I really like the story of this pencil. Telling me that the slat is 90 years old grants a lot of forgiveness.

I note that just like Mrs. Strong, Musgrave has found a way to sell a pencil at the price point of the Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil. I’m not a professional marketer, but I salute Musgrave for this breakthrough.

The pencil is gaining some superfans – people purchasing large quantities and sharing photos online, especially since Musgrave lifted a two per customer limit. I am really curious about where this offering may go.

Musgrave and the pencil supply chain

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American heritage pencil maker Musgrave introduced a very interesting product in 2019: The Tennessee Red pencil. The pencil’s notable feature is the use of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), the original American pencil wood. The pencil is very fragrant and visually interesting – each pencil is different, and many contain both cedar sapwood (pale colour) and cedar heartwood (dark colour).

Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil

The pencils are reminiscent of the old Musgrave HB in presentation, though the wood and lead are different. I found the Tennessee Red challenging to sharpen in a handheld sharpener like the M+R Pollux, with the lead snapping. Fortunately it is easily handled with the standard Grenade or a desktop sharpener. Still, the wood seems just a bit too tough for a pencil. I suspect this isn’t the fault of the timber – it is more that the slats just haven’t received the conditioning treatments to which we’ve become accustomed.

The lead is dark and rapidly crumbles. It certainly isn’t the quality of the old HB. It is perfectly usable, and I find this lead preferable to the anemic grainy lead of many no name pencils.

It isn’t a good pencil. Yet, it is unusual and compelling in multiple ways. I hope it will continue, perhaps with gradual improvements. In an unusually transparent act, the manufacturer has noted that the pencil has issues.

There are product reviews at Weekly Pencil and Pencil Revolution.

The Tennessee Red has a second aspect – it appears to be the subject of a small advertising campaign being conducted on Musgrave’s website and social media. The pencil has some nice new packaging including a cedar box option, and they are selling paraphernalia such as T-shirts.

Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil

Congratulations, Musgrave! It is really nice to see a new pencil being promoted.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this pencil is Musgrave’s disruption of the pencil supply chain. They have found a way to circumvent the cedar slat supplier CalCedar. Did you read the pencil’s imprint? “Genuine Eastern Red Cedar”. Wow. That is to me a very clear shot across the bow directed at CalCedar’s “Genuine Incense Cedar”. (They aren’t the first to rework this phrasing to make a point.) This pencil is also a statement about the pencil supply chain.

So how were these slats made? Perhaps pioneer fellow Tennessee manufacturer Wagner Pencil, who process American timber into pencil slats, gave assistance. Or perhaps Musgrave engaged with a wood processor not part of the pencil industry to create these slats. In any case, it is very interesting.

Private companies of course don’t reveal their internal business, but in some countries (including the US), there are public customs records that show import activity. Records from Import Genius show that in the last two years, Musgrave’s imports include:

Item source
Basswood Slats Qingdao Greatwall (China)
Slats Vinawood (Vietnam)
Erasers Kunshan Greenwill (China)
Poplar Slats Qingdao Greatwall (China)
Erasers and Ferrules Shai Tai Shing (Vietnam)
Slats Lishui Liancheng Pencil Manufacturing (China)
Slats Pt. Gemilang Jaya Makmur Pratama (Singapore)

From another perspective, Import Genius says that Musgrave’s top international suppliers (ranked by number of containers imported) are:

1. Tianjin Custom Wood Processing Co. (CalCedar’s Chinese production)
2. Great Wall Industrial Qingdao
3. Lishui Liancheng Pencil Manufacturing
4. Kunshan Greenwill Co.

Musgrave Tennessee Red pencil

Very clearly, this small town Tennessee company is highly engaged in the international economy. As the company notes, “… today Musgrave is able to work with a handful of different varieties of wood from all over the world.” Managing this complex supply chain must be almost as challenging as manufacturing the pencils.

Investing in and testing a historically proven local wood source is just savvy business sense. It benefits the environment and eliminates multiple containers from having to be shipped across the Pacific. For many reasons, local initiatives like this pencil from Musgrave should be supported!

Caran d’Ache Block Erasers

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Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

Wow, it has been a decade since the last comparative eraser review at pencil talk. I think the reason is that erasers have generally reached an excellent quality level. There are of course differences, but synthetic erasers from the top manufacturers in Japan or Europe are usually excellent, and the motivation to review them is diminished.


The Technik is the lightest.

The Caran d’Ache block erasers are interesting because of the shared dimensions, but differing appearances and stated functions. Caran d’Ache is also regarded as a leader in art supplies, and these products come with a reputation to uphold.

The three erasers are:

Artist 0173.420. Description: “Graphite and charcoal extra soft plastic eraser.” Green.

Design 0172.420. Description: “Graphite and colour pencil eraser.” White.

Technik 0171.420. Description: “Non-abrasive pencil eraser, does not remove ink.” Slightly translucent.

Years ago I sometimes set up very complex erasure tests, and there is indeed a complex pencil/paper/eraser/environmental factors relationship, but I wanted to keep this simpler – these erasers tested with one pencil and one test paper. I though a Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil (freshly sharpened in an El Casco) would be appropriate, and decided that the Biella Index Card would be a nice companion.


All three are much harder than erasers from Tombow, Seed, etc. They also produce fine granular residue, particularly the green Artist. The Technik probably did the best job at complete erasure, and the Design is the one that most veered towards aggregation of the residue in clumps.

Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

The erasers are good, but I don’t find them compelling when there are so many outstanding offerings available today. Of course, these are from Caran d’Ache.

Paint it Blue: The Caran d’Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

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In late 2020, Caran d’Ache announced a limited product line featuring the very special colour International Klein Blue.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

According to The Secret Life of Color by Kasia St. Clair, the artist Yves Klein loved the intensity of ultramarine pigment, but was disappointed with the paint it created. He worked alongside a chemist to create a resin that exposed more of the pigment’s lustre. (Klein sadly passed away at 34. He patented Klein Blue at age 32.)

Patenting a colour is an interesting notion. Rights to a colour are typically only applicable in a context. Klein’s patent is apparently for his process, not literally for the colour.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

The original International Klein Blue is still only made by Klein’s original collaborator and available at the very same art store that served Klein in Paris: Adam Montmartre.

Caran d’Ache announced the adaptation of seven of their products as Klein tributes: At the very high end, Leman fountain and ballpoint pens. And at more accessible price points, a Sharpening Machine, Fixpencil, 849 ballpoint, and two woodcase pencils.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

The Fixpencil and Leman Fountain Pen are differentiated in the offering by possessing the ability to write in ultramarine – the Fixpencil has water soluble ultramarine leads, and the Leman a limited edition ultramarine ink. Given the use of Klein’s name and the “®” symbol throughout the advertising and packaging, it is presumed that the Klein pigment isn’t in the ink or lead as this claim isn’t made. All the products share the use of ultramarine surfaces or highlights, and Klein’s signature.

The Fixpencil is an iconic writing instrument, honoured by a Swiss stamp and familiar withing writing culture. It has been mentioned at pencil talk in 2008 and 2017.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

This particular model is distinguished by the surface colouring, and comes in a metal case. It ships with a 2mm B grapite lead, and a tube with three ultramarine water soluble leads. One of the leads in my tube arrived broken in half. The blue leads are just a few mm shorter than the graphite lead.

On some very special mulberry bark paper from Hanaduri, I tried the pencils and the blue lead, wet and dry:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

I also tried them on writing paper that I regularly use, Rhodia R:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

It isn’t really the colour depth or reaction I expected.

I am not happy that there appears to be no refill available. The blue lead seems like a very special accessory, and though the leadholder will continue to function with graphite, this ultramarine lead enhances the association with Klein.

The 849 is another classic. I don’t have a lot to say about it. I think ballpoint cartridges may be receiving small incremental improvements over the years – they may have been pretty awful some years ago, but this one does not skip or dispense lumps of ink. The Caran d’Ache Goliath refill generally has a excellent reputation.

A smear of the blue on HP photocopy paper:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

Two pencils have been released. First, the MAXI is a jumbo sized hexagonal pencil with a very thich 4.5mm graphite lead. The pencil is matte and a deep ultramarire – truly striking. The cap is a very slight dome, unfinished.

Second, a set of four pencils simply called “Set of 4 Graphite Pencils”. These are a notch larger than most standard pencils, and possess a 2.5mm HB core. They are about one third coated in ultramarine, and the remainder in clear lacquer. The four pencil box packaging appears to reprise the Exotic Woods packaging.

Both pencils are made of “FSC Mix” cedar. The regular pencil is said to be of 8 plys, and the maxi of 6 plys. Official pencil standards tell us that this refers to the number of pencils produced by the pencil sandwich. Probably not interesting to most consumers, but it piqued my interest.

The MAXI lead seems a little smoother and richer than the regular lead. I wish the MAXI’s lead was also in the regular pencil.

Some Final Impressions

This is a thoughtful and properly licensed commercial product created in association with the estate of a major twentieth century artist. The work involved in acquiring the rights to use Klein’s signature likely rivalled the amount of work involved in production. I salute Caran d’Ache for doing this, and hope there will be more. May I humbly suggest Le Corbusier as someone who might be worthy of similar treatment?

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

My critiques are minor. The pencils, at their price and given Caran d’Ache’s environmental and social commitments, should be 100% certified, not just “FSC Mix”. FSC certification includes human rights criteria, not just tree ecology, and I think that’s important. The MAXI pencil is probably the standout product to me. If the end was dipped in the same colour, it would be slightly nicer. The regular pencil could have a smoother and darker lead. And the Fixpencil should ship with more than three blue leads, or have refills for sale.

Overall, I feel a delight at seeing this rich deep blue in a time of grey.

Mirado pencil discontinued after one century

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pencil talk has learned that the famed Mirado pencil has been discontinued.

From correspondence with Newell Brands Office Products:

[T]he manufacturing of our Mirado Classic Pencils are already discontinued and we do not have a direct replacement at this time.

The Mirado is a global classic. It and the predecessor Mikado have over a dozen mentions in the definitive pencil book, The Pencil by Henry Petroski.

The Mirado line has been the subject of several pencil talk posts:

Goodbye, Papermate Mirado Classic pencil (2009)

Mirado Black Warrior pencil (2008)

Last large American pencil factory to close in 2009 (2008)

Eagle Mirado pencil (2009)

Papermate Mirado Classic pencil (2010)

A blog reader, “B. Johnson”, sent some information about this several days ago, but I wanted to confirm the information with Newell / PaperMate before sharing.

The business logic is elusive. These pencils probably aren’t a revenue leader for Newell, but with such brand recognition, they must still sell. They have been regularly seen at big box stores for years.

[Update]

Please see these excellent posts at Orange Crate Art:

Farewell, Mirado

“Catch” of a Lifetime