Papermate Mirado Classic pencil (2010)

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The Papermate Mirado Classic pencil.

The closure of Sanford’s US pencil factory last year was perhaps the final chapter in the story of US pencil manufacturing’s demise.

Starting with the move of incense cedar pencil slat maker CalCedar’s manufacturing to China, and followed by Dixon’s departure to Mexico and China, Sanford’s exit was perhaps expected. Of course, the names and brands carry on.

The Papermate Mirado Classic pencil.

Papermate’s current website gives no indication of woodcase pencils being part of the product line. A weekend visit to a large office supply store revealed a hint of the future. The most expensive pencils in the large store, the box of 12 No. 2 Mirado pencils appears as they have for years, except for the statement “Made in Mexico”.

Appearance

The packaging still claims “The World’s Smoothest Writing Pencil – Guaranteed!” The cardbord box of twelve seems basically unaltered.

The back of the box states:

  • 100% Premium Cedar Pencils
  • Shapens to a Fine, Exact Point
  • Soft, Non-Smudge Eraser
  • Made in Mexico
  • The pencils themselves are yellow, just like their predecessors, except missing the “USA” lettering.

    The Papermate Mirado Classic pencil.

    The manufacturing details appear slightly improved – they’ve reverted to an unsharpened format. Some paint spills over the end, but the problem of imprecise clamping of the ferrule appears much better. The varnish seems okay, not the best, yet certainly better than the “no name” pencils that supermarkets sell.

    The Papermate Mirado Classic pencil.

    The Papermate Mirado Classic pencil.

    Sharpening

    I had no trouble sharpening the pencil in a manual sharpener, a desktop Carl, or a battery-operated Panasonic sharpener.

    Writing

    A real surprise. I’ve never been a huge fan of this pencil, possibly because of the bland, generic appearance. But it writes quite well. Perhaps not as smoothly as pencils costing five times more, but still quite nicely. It certainly seems as good as the US made predecessor, and I’m wondering if it may even be better?

    The Papermate Mirado Classic pencil.

    Erasure

    The erasers seem exactly like those of the predecessor, pink with powdery (latex?) coating. At least while new, they work reasonably well, especially compared with other “pink” erasers.

    The Papermate Mirado Classic pencil.

    Overall

    I am leaning towards a conclusion opposite to the one I thought I was going to make. Whether it is new equipment or some other factor, the new Mirados seem to be manufactured to a standard at least as high as their immediate predecessors.

    Have you tried them yet?

    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)

    Goodbye, Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

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    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    Back to school season is here, and students are stocking up on school supplies for the year ahead. For most, it is probably the last year they will have a chance to buy an American made pencil.

    Sanford, a division of Newell Rubbermaid, and the last major US based pencil manufacturer, will be closing their Tennessee plant later this year.

    With this in mind, let’s take a look at Sanford’s mainstay pencil, the Papermate Mirado Classic.

    The pencil is indeed a classic, with over a century of manufacture. The Mirado was originally named the Mikado, with the name amended during WWII. It was made by Eagle, and was one of the quintessential yellow school and office pencils for decades. The red band on the ferrule was an identifying trademark.

    A range of Mikados can be seen at Brand Name Pencils.

    Today’s pencils seem to come in many package types, and are readily found at large office supply stores. If memory serves, I’ve seen packages of three, six, eight, ten, and twelve.

    Here is a package of six purchased this past weekend. For contrast, I also have a box purchased perhaps in 2006, and another from about 2004.

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    The pencil is marked:

    USA Papermate Mirado Classic HB 2

    The 2006 pencil is the same, while the slighty earlier pencil had a different branding – it is a Sanford Mirado.

    Sanford is a global company, and there are at least two other Mirados out there, though I haven’t personally seen either:

  • The Columbian Mirado
  • The British Mirado
  • One other difference – the new pencil has a factory sharpening, while the older pencils are unsharpened:

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    As a writing pencil, I find it average. Strangely (or maybe not), the five year old pencil labeled Sanford seems to use graphite that seems much richer and smoother.

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    In appearance – it is what it is – the very epitome of bland and dull. But sometimes bland and dull work.

    The haphazard application of the ferrule and painting of the red band don’t speak well of the manufacturer’s standards.

    The graphite has that crumbling propensity of some lead cores.

    Papermate Mirado Classic pencil

    While I wouldn’t classify the current version as a great pencil, it is still sad to see it go. And of course, it probably will reappear, manufactured in Mexico or China.

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

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    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    If you’re going to have exam pencils, you might as well have exam erasers, right?

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    The Papermate Exam Standard Speederase appears to match the corresponding Papermate pencil, except that it was purchased at retail in Canada.

    It comes in a very unusual black, and is labeled as being latex free, smudge resistant, and dust-free.

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    The eraser detritus forms a very interesting pattern.

    Trying it out on Staedtler 168 exam pencil markings on a Handbook Journal Co. Quattro notepad, it does the job, though not perfectly.


    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    Papermate Exam Standard Speederase eraser

    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

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    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

    While I once thought that the IBM Electrographic represented a legacy pencil category, I keep finding new exam pencils entering the market.

    The Papermate Exam pencil is probably unfamiliar to North American and European readers. The box says the pencil is “distributed by Sanford Brands, a Newell Rubbermaid company,” and lists the Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Thailand Sanford offices.

    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

    The Papermate pencil website states: “Made in Lewisburg, Tennessee, USA; our pencils are created from fine woods and polymers.” But we’ve also learned that the Lewisburg pencil works will be closing this year.

    This pencil makes no statement about origin, but I think we can be fairly certain it wasn’t made in Tennessee.

    Papermate Premium Exam Standard 1118 pencil

    The pencil box has an optical scan sheet background, and makes some atypical claims. Quoting the back of the box:

    Examination
    Ideal for exam use.

    Darker shade
    100% accuracy using OPSCAN 6 examination checking machine.

    Larger Lead
    2.6mm lead for ease of shading.

    Break resistant
    Stronger lead for long lasting performance.

    So it has a very specialized purpose. I was surprised to see a specific scanner model mentioned. The Opscan 6 seems to be desktop optical scanner that attaches to a PC via a USB cable. Used ones sell on eBay for as little as $200. I had no idea that this technology had become a commodity. I’ll presume that it’s a popular model at schools.

    The 2.6mm lead diameter is in contrast to the standard pencil lead core of about 2.0mm. This seems to be a typical aspect of the exam pencil.

    The pencil itself looks sharp, in an alternating black and silver pattern, with contrasting lettering, and black cap and white cap ring.

    It does not sharpen easily, even in my Carl Bungu Ryodo. The wood is very tough and white in shade – very likely basswood with little or no treatment.

    The lead is rough and scratchy. Though it is sold as a 2B pencil, it seems more like an F grade to me. I also found the lead to easily break.

    While the larger lead claim can’t be disputed, I completely disagree that this pencil would be ideal for an exam – lead breakage, difficulty in sharpening, and the relatively faint mark all make it quite inferior.

    Last large American pencil factory to close in 2009

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    And Then There Were Three??, a new post at Timberlines, a blog by pencil industry leader WoodChuck, reveals that the last large American based pencil manufacturer – Sanford – will be closing their US manufacturing facilities in 2009, moving production to Mexico.

    The closures were announced in early November.

    Two newspaper reports:

    Sanford closing; 355 jobs to be lost Marshall County Tribune, November 12, 2008

    Sanford regrouping to cost Shelbyville jobs Shelbyville Times-Gazette, November 11, 2008

    In other relocation news, Woodchuck also noted here this morning that Lyra (Germany) will be moving production to China. (Lyra joined Dixon as a FILA acquisition earlier this year.)

    Pencilpages.com has some nice photos of the Sanford plant in Lewisberg.

    When I read about pencils being packaged by hand, I suspect that the factory wasn’t “modern” by any means. The mainstream Sanford pencils – the Mirado and Mirado Black warrior – have their fans, yet there seem to be many who feel the product lines have been allowed to deteriorate in quality over the years.

    I also wonder where this leaves the remaining small independent manufacturers – General and Musgrave. Will the departure of their large competitor impact their own supply chain?

    Though the story still has time to unfold, and could surprise us, it seems like an era is coming to an end. What are your thoughts?