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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
3B: red orange
B: orange mousse
F: very light turquoise
H: grey blue
2H: powder blue
3H: turquoise blue
The modern colours do not correspond to the originals as far as I can determine.
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:
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
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.
On paper, the story changes. Myself and others agree – the classic version seems smoother and easier to handle.
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.
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.
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.