Colleen Woods Pencils, Vol. 1

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Colleen Woods pencils

Here are some pencils that I never thought I would see in person – the first volume of the Colleen Woods series.

An amazing masterpiece of pencil making, each pencil in the series of twenty-four (two volumes of twelve) is made from a different species of wood.

Colleen Woods pencils

The set is just breathtaking.

Colleen Woods pencils

Each pencil notes the specific gravity of the wood. Pencil no. 1, made of Indian Rosewood, is the densest at 0.93.

Colleen Woods pencils

Three of my favorites:

Colleen Woods pencils

Please also see: Colleen Woods Pencils from June, 2009, which features Volume 2 of the set.

Colleen double ended pencils

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Colleen double ended pencils

Colleen, a company we’ve mentioned before, makes double ended colour pencils – in round, hexagonal, and triangular shapes!

I simply cannot think of another manufacturer offering a specialty pencil in such a variety of formats.

Here is the “Mandarin Orange and Emerald Green” pencil in all three shapes:

Colleen double ended pencils

Colleen double ended pencils

Colleen double ended pencils

Offerings like these bode well for Colleen.

See also: Double ended colour pencils

Colleen Hi pierce pencil review

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Colleen Hi pierce pencils

The Colleen Pencil Company probably isn’t well known as a major manufacturer by most readers of this blog. Ditto here. The company first came to my awareness via photos in the Pencils book from Marco Ferreri. Colleen’s Woods Pencils displayed a fantastic appreciation of the pencil, transforming a two century old manufacturing process with artistic interpretation.

That post elicited many reactions, including email from a pencil industry executive in Europe, who speculated about investigating alternate wood species for a new offering. I suggested a set of ten, based on the official trees of Canada’s ten provinces, to be offered for sale here in Canada. At least I can wish. There are no doubt many other possibilities. As one might guess, such an offering would not be easy to create or inexpensive.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

We’re already conflating two different companies. The original Colleen went bankrupt. But they left a legacy. Pencil and stationery aficionados are abundant in Japan. From the 11-story stationery store Ito-Ya to the television show that crowns a Stationery King, to the renowned super-specialty pencil store Gojuon, to innumerable websites and blogs mentioning pencils, including kero556’s Colleen-focused ?????????????, pencils have an audience. And these sources say – Colleen was a major company and innovator in the industry. I will take their word.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

Ten years ago, the brand was refounded with participation by a former manager, but relocated in Thailand. Initially focused on colour pencils, they re-established themselves in Japan in 2008, with a spectacular offering. Via an unprecented set of colour pencils made in exotic teak, Colleen announced their return.

While issuing an everyday set of woodcase pencils in the interim, Colleen has just released a major new line, the Hi pierce, which was the predecessor Colleen’s flagship line.

Packaging

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

The Hi pierce has a range of packaging options – single pencils, cellophane packages of three, standard cardboard boxes of twelve, corrugated cardboard sets of the whole grade range, and two different teak boxes. A larger box with removable lid that can hold two dozen pencils (though shipping with one dozen), and a smaller box with the Colleen logo and a sliding lid. The teak boxes come with a dozen pencils – the range of eleven grades, plus an extra HB pencil.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

Exterior

I knew some of the pencil’s lore, yet few of the details. I thought the Hi pierce might be a rival to the great Tombow Mono 100 or Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. But the finish and lacquer are not in the same league. The light paint finish and indistinct lettering suggest something more middling.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

The pencil is marked:

Super Quality Colleen Hi pierce

Side 5 is marked: Hi-D Lead

The markings are very similar to the originals, except for the absence of the JIS mark.

The pencils also have a band whose colour indicates the pencil grade:

5B: light pink
4B: pink
3B: red orange
B: orange mousse
HB: salmon
2B: brown
F: very light turquoise
H: grey blue
2H: powder blue
3H: turquoise blue
4H: green

The modern colours do not correspond to the originals as far as I can determine.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

Writing

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

The leads – I sharpened the whole range of eleven – are of good quality. The 4B and 5B are as smooth as one might hope. The opposite end – the firm 2H to 4H grades, are also smooth relative to their hardness. Comparing the HB to the Tombow Mono 100 and Mitsubishi Hi-Uni – turned out to be like an earnest recreational rink hockey team facing off against the Montreal Canadiens or Moscow Dynamo – the effort was noble, but they were simply outclassed by professionals.

Here is the range of leads on Holbein paper:

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

Erasure

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the 4B and 5B are a challenge to erase – but with a Pilot Foam, the other lines erase cleanly.

New vs. Old

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

So this is a relaunch of an old brand. How does the new Hi pierce compare with the clasic? Thanks to isu, I am able to test, in F grade, the new and old Colleens. It may be the age, but the new version appears to be nicer and more pleasant in appearance.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

On paper, the story changes. Myself and others agree – the classic version seems smoother and easier to handle.

Overall

As with this year’s possible re-introduction of the Blackwing, reviving an old favourite has risks. There will be differences, and some consumers will not be satisfied. That said, Colleen may not have duplicated the original Hi pierce, but they are to be congratulated on reviving interest in a classic brand.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

The packaging is fantastic. The teak wood pencil boxes add a strong appeal to the range, and should be reusable for years.

The pencils themselves are merely good, as opposed to the great offerings that Japan’s top manufacturers have spoiled us with. Still, we appreciate them, and look forward to more from Colleen.

Colleen Hi pierce pencils

My sincere thanks to isu of the uncomfortable chair for kindly sending me one of the teak boxes shown, as well as some original Colleen Hi-Pierce pencils used for comparison.

Double ended colour pencils

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Double ended colour pencils

While red and blue pencils are a sublime and beautiful example of the pencil maker’s art, other colour leads can be combined though the same process for an amazing result.

Double ended colour pencils

Colleen is a company we’ve mentioned many times. With leadership from a former manager of Japan’s now defunct Colleen Pencil Co., the revived company in Thailand seems to have separate lines – aimed at first, the Thai and international market, and second, the Japanese market. This particular set is for the Thai and international market. Twenty-four double ended pencils, with combinations such as “Warm Gray & Royal Purple” or “Cream Yellow & Russet Brown”.

Double ended colour pencils

The unsharpened pencils come in a modest yet pleasing carboard box. But I think it is a set of 24, not 48! Am I wrong?

They are a fantastic visual treat:

Double ended colour pencils

For the price, I think it is a very innovative product that would delight both children and adults.

Double ended colour pencils

There are others on the market. Here are double ended sets from Bruynzeel and Laurentien:

Double ended colour pencils

Bruynzeel is a Netherlands brand now owned by Sakura of Japan. Their ColorExpress 12 Twinpoints are hexagonal and factory sharpened.

Double ended colour pencils

Laurentien is a Canadian brand in the Sanford empire. Take a look at the brand website, which shows quite a bit of the brand history, including the product rename from the anglicized “Laurentian”. See also this article from the Canadian Design Resource website.

The round factory sharpened pencils have an interesting twist – a “regular” colour, and a metallic version at the other end.

They also have some specific sharpening recommendations:

Double ended colour pencils

Agreed, handheld sharpeners are not as useful as they should be! I am curious about the cosmetic sharpener recommendation – are those blades made to a higher standard? I suppose it’s possible, with cosmetic pencils costing magnitudes more than writing or drawing pencils.

Double ended colour pencils

Just as the pencils have more than one identity, so do the manufacturers. Colleen is an originally Japanese brand, now located and manufacturing in Thailand, and noting that “Japan Lead” is used. Laurentian is a Canadian brand, owned by a US company, with the product made in Indonesia. Bruynzeel is a Dutch brand with a Japanese owner, with the product made in China.

Double ended colour pencils

As befits products immensely appealing to children, all the pencils do have safety badges – the Colleen bears the CE EN71 logo, the Laurentien the ASTM logo, and Bruynzeel bears both.

Double ended colour pencils

My thanks for Gunther from Lexikaliker for kindly sending me the Bruynzeel pencils.

See also: The Lyra Super Ferby Duo (July, 2008)

Colleen 3030 pencil

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Colleen 3030 pencil

Regular readers will know the name “Colleen”. Formerly a major Japanese manufacturer, the firm folded a decade or so ago.

Yet the name lives on. A former manager is part of a new undertaking in Thailand, re-establishing the brand. We’ve seen some of their offerings for the Japanese market, especially their exquisite teak pencils.

Colleen 3030 pencil

What has remained less known are their offerings inside Thailand. The 3030 is one of them. Reviving a traditional Colleen model number, the 3030 is sold in boxes marked “Drawing Writing Computer”, with the phrase “Japan Lead” in bold.

Colleen 3030 pencil

The pencils are simply marked:

High Quality [logo] Colleen 3030 2B

Another side displays a bar code.

The pencils are blue with a black band and silver lettering. They are also slightly thicker than most modern pencils – a touch I like.

The pencils are factory sharpened, and re-sharpen easily. The wood appears to be pulai or jelutong.

Colleen 3030 pencil

The lettering and finish won’t win any awards, and are done to a much lower standard than modern Japanese pencils.

The lead is dark and rich, though somewhat crumbly. In a Mnemosyne notebook, the pencil lays down a fantastic line. From what I can tell, the 3030 is available in five grades – 2B through 6B.

Now I have a couple of other specimens of the 3030 – with a different cap. What is even more curious is that they appear to use a different species of wood – it looks like cedar – rather than pulai. I don’t have any further information on this subject.

Colleen 3030 pencil

While interesting, my sense is that the 3030 seems to be a lower end variant, and not part of the marketplace that the revitalized Colleen hopes to inhabit.

Colleen Woods Pencils

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Colleen Woods Pencils

The Colleen Woods series represents an exciting vision of woodcase pencil manufacturing. The series is also a profoundly simple and beautiful pencil set. Pencils have been made from cedar for a century or more, and more recently from jelutong, pulai, and basswood. Pine and fir have also been used.

Colleen Woods Pencils

Yet – out of thousands of global tree species and raw materials – why have so few been used?

Colleen Woods Pencils

Altering a core aspect of a pencil isn’t done lightly. There have been some experiments with shape, and many with a pencil’s finish. But what about the pencil’s core materials – specifically the type of wood?

Colleen Woods Pencils

Twelve years ago, Colleen recognized that pencil slats could be made from any wood that the machinery could cut, and created a varied set as an artistic exploration.

Colleen Woods Pencils

Though others have competently explored the pencil’s potential, Colleen seems to have mined a much deeper vein, changing the pencil’s wood.

Colleen Woods Pencils

The presentation is modest, and probably quite different from how a North American company would present a luxury product – a plain cardboard box.

Colleen Woods Pencils

Twelve pencils are presented – each marked with the number in the series, the HB grade, the bilingual (English and Japanese) wood species and country/area of origin, and a most unusual number – the specific gravity of the pencil’s wood. Some species are familiar, and some are more exotic.

Colleen Woods Pencils

Specific gravity is a measure of density relative to water at 4 degrees C.

Meaning – woods with a specific gravity greater than 1.0 will sink in water! The ebony pencil weighs a remarkable 8.7g – more than double a modern cedar pencil, which typically weighs around 3.8g. It is a memorable experience to hold. In fact each pencil is an amazing delight, and together they form an incredible set.

Colleen Woods Pencils

Here is a chart listing the pencils, place of origin, specific gravity, and links to additional sources of information about the tree species.

Ceylon ebony Thailand 1.16 Wikipedia – Ebony
Pao rosa Central Africa 0.93 cirad.fr – Pao Rosa (PDF)
Zebra wood Cameroon 0.81 Wikipedia – Zebrawood
Ternstroemia Japan 0.80 NCSU – Ternstroemia
Asamela West Africa 0.75 Wood Explorer – Asamela
Japanese zelkova Japan 0.69 NCSU – Zelkova
Madrone North America 0.69 Wikipedia – Madrone
Oak Japan 0.68 Wikipedia – Oak
European maple Denmark 0.60 kahrs.com – European Maple
Mahogany Brazil 0.55 Wikipedia – Mahogany
Japanese torreya Japan 0.53 Wikipedia – Torreya
Japanese cypress Japan 0.44 Wikipedia – Cypress

I’ve not found anyone who has seen the set in person to not be amazed.

Colleen Woods Pencils

My sincere and deep thanks to Kero556 for this amazing gift.

[UPDATE, June 9, 2009] Thanks to a flattering post at Yellowgoat (thank you!), I rediscovered Kero556’s Flickr photos, including this one, which appears to show the slats used to create these pencils.