Bic Critérium 550 pencil

Bic Critérium 550 pencil

Here is the modern incarnation of a classic pencil. The Critérium name dates at least as far back as the 1930s, and has continued through various mergers and acquisitions to the current Bic ownership.

This is a pencil I have sought for years. I’m not sure why, but Bic seems to be engaged in very selective pencil product sales and export. The blog showed a beautiful Critérium leadholder earlier this year. The pencil collector in France who sold that leadholder to me also stated that no Bic woodcase pencils are available in his area! Is that really possible?

Bic Critérium 550 pencil

The pencil has a distinctive green body, with black cap and white cap ring. It is available in a range of twelve degrees. Imprints are in black or white. My understanding is that this is Bic’s premiere woodcase pencil.

Bic Critérium 550 pencil

The pencil writes very well, and sharpens easily. It is another pencil whose performance surpasses the appearance. I would guess that it could compete with major global brands on most quality aspects. Yet, the lacquer and imprint details unfortunately look neglected. Bic is a major design firm, and I’m sure they could do better.

Bic Critérium 550 pencil

A very close look also reveals that the pencil is stamped “China”.

Recommended, if you can find it.

My thanks to Gunther from Lexikaliker for kindly sending me these pencils.

Further reading:

From Some interesting brand history.

From Bic: Official product page.

Bic 101 pencil

Bic 101 pencil

Though Staedtler and Faber-Castell may get more attention here at pencil talk, the Bic name might be better known to global consumers.

Famous as producers of disposable ballpoint pens, Bic also make woodcase pencils.

Bic 101 pencil

The Bic 101 is made in China, and is sold in a box that lists distributors in Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and China.

It has some interesting claims:

Bic 101 pencil

A couple of notes – first, the statement about the wood species is a welcome disclosure. Second, regarding “Fumigated wood” – this isn’t generally a consumer concern, but I’ve bought enough “vintage” pencils to confirm that like old books, mould can become an issue over time in pencils.

The box also states “Exam Grade”, “Low Breakage”, and “2B Superior Quality”.

Bic 101 pencil

There seems to be some new Asian pencil trend focused on “Exam” pencils. Does anyone know more about this? The 101 is yet another entry in this category.

The pencil has a sparse finish – black with grey cap and white cap ring.

Bic 101 pencil

The lettering is in gold, and states: “Bic 101 Superior Quality – 2B”.

Okay, down to business – the pencils sharpen easily and perform very well, laying down a dark, rich line. This was a complete and welcome surprise to me, as I really expected budget performance from this budget pencil.

Conté Evolution Wood-Free Pencil

The Conté Evolution Pencil.
Photo: The Conté Evolution on another plastic object – a Rite in the Rain notebook.

This is a review of a type of pencil I hadn’t heard of until recently. Woodchuck has mentioned that there are pencil manufacturers who have rejected wood for pencil casings. Rather, they use a synthetic casing, or perhaps recycled denim.

There aren’t really that many new things in the world of pencils, and this seemed like it might be one.

Finding them wasn’t easy, and I wound up ordering a box from the U.K.

The cardboard box is quite different – a cartoon of a purple alien chewing on a pencil. There are also photos of the pencil on three sides of the box. I like this. It’s like a jam jar with a photo of a plump raspberry – there’s no doubt what’s inside.

The back of the box says:

Wood-free pencil. Stronger lead.
No splintering (synthetic lead resin).

The packaging looks like it might belong in an office supply store, targeting the same consumers as Dixon. It does look a step up from a no-name pencil. I also see the “BIC” logo – I had no idea Conté was part of this conglomerate. I had recently associated the firm with art supplies.

The pencils are a dark turquoise green, with gold stamping:

evolution 650 France HB/no2 Conté

They look – to my surprise – like pencils, and the synthetic resin looks like wood from all but the closest view. What is odd is the lead – or whatever it is. It’s shiny – sparkly shiny, and doesn’t look like any lead I’ve ever seen.

After several pages of writing, I notice that the lead seems remarkably durable, and quite smudge proof. (I had been using a Palomino earlier today, which both smudges and needs regular sharpening.) Anyhow, although it didn’t need it, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see how it would sharpen. It’s unusual – as if slicing a film of plastic. There is indeed no splintering, and one could likely sharpen away the whole pencil in one exhausting bout into a single elongated shaving.

Sharpening also revealed an important attribute – a noxious chemical aroma was released that stayed around for at least an hour. Some cedar pencils have a pleasant aroma – but these are definitely the opposite. It made writing quite unpleasant.

One plus – the pencils are quite flexible, much more than their woodcase brethren.

So is the “Evolution” an evolution? They have some merits as writing implements, particularly the lead. But so do many woodcase pencils. Their flexibility and break resistance might make them good for travel. In the end, I don’t like the idea of breathing in whatever it is they produce when sharpened, and I’m suspicious of the unidentified materials used to manufacture them.