The Tombow Pencil Company’s 100th Anniversary (and Pencil)

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

Congratulations to Tombow, who are celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2013. The company has a special site with many photos to commemorate the anniversary.

As part of the celebration, Tombow has issued a recreation of a vintage pencil, complete with packaging. The pencil is internally a Mono 100, possibly the world’s finest pencil, so there was no skimping on quality. In Japan, the product sells for about $15. Alas, the price in other countries reflects several additional costs. (As an aside – the top Japanese pencils are reasonably priced inside Japan. If only they had better global distribution channels!)

I initially balked at the price I first saw for this anniversary pencil, but read that only 100 boxes were made, so it really is a limited edition. Fueled by a love for Tombow’s pencils, I decided to indulge. (I’ve since seen that Tombow USA sells the set for $15 – I wish I had known.)

There is an outer sleeve with a graphite rendering (in progress) of the pencil box’s design. I think this is one of the best parts of the recreation:

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

The metal box:

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

Inserts, etc. all reproduced:

Tombow Pencil Company's 100th Anniversary Pencil - Mono 100 Limited Edition

The product is great – a tribute to the past while using modern production techniques. I am grateful that Tombow took the effort to create something for themselves and us – the citizens of pencil nation. (I cannot imagine that there is any financial return for such a small run of a specialty product like this.)

I am also pondering the number – 100 sets for 100 years? Or is 100 the realistic number of people who will purchase something like this? Or is a distributor who acquired 100 sets making an exaggerated claim? This blog has advocated for historical pencil recreations for years, and it was a disappointment that a major pencil company anniversary a couple of years ago didn’t give a nod to the past. But maybe they knew something?

And a note – despite what I’ve read from Tombow, this thing called the web informs me that a set in grade 4B has been issued in some Asian countries.

Tombow Mono block erasers

Tombow Mono block erasers

As a new pocket calculator tribute demonstrates, the Tombow Mono eraser is a design icon. It is also a mighty fine eraser. And similar to other successful products, the Mono has several brand “extensions”.

Looking just at the traditional block format erasers, here are five variants:

PE-04A, the basic Tombow Mono.

EN-MN, the “Non Dust” version.

PE-LT, the “Light” version.

EL-KA and EN-MA, which don’t have English names.

The EL-KA is distinguished by a slight blue tone – the other four erasers are bright white.

Readers of this blog are probably aware that top modern erasers are all first rate. The Pilot Foam, the Mitsubishi Boxy, and many others are great erasers. Differentiating between their performance is often a matter of discerning slight variations.

So I’ll admit to some curiosity about what might make these five PVC erasers from Tombow different from one another.

First observation: all five are excellent, and share much in common.

The name of the Non-Dust confuses me, as it seems to produce the same residue as other erasers. Perhaps there is some specific type of particle that it isn’t emitting? It is denser than the Mono, but the results seem very similar to me.

The EN-MA is spongier and lighter, but it also produced a very similar result. I like the feel.

The Light is the first one that truly feels different. It feels exceptionally smooth on paper – it does feel “light”. You also experience something the photo partially reflects – it excels at attracting and absorbing graphite. I don’t love the design of the sleeve (versus the original), but it is definitely an eraser worth trying.

Finally, the bluish EL-KA seemed to produce a different residue type – finer particles. Yet, the performance was similar to the others.

Are all these variations worthwhile? I imagine that for certain specialty pencil/paper combinations, one of these erasers might just be perfect. But for most general pencil users, I’m not so sure.

Does anyone like one or more of the Tombow Mono variants? If so, what do you like about it?

Tombow 8900 pencil and Victorinox pen knife

Tombow 8900 pencil and Victorinox pen knife

A delightful accessory, this pen knife by Victorinox sports the colours of the Tombow 8900 pencil.

Tombow 8900 pencil and Victorinox pen knife

The 8900 is a general purpose pencil whose packaging continues to use traditional graphics.

Tombow 8900 pencil and Victorinox pen knife

What a great idea! Tombow was founded in 1913, so they have a big anniversary approaching – I’m sure we’ll see more special products from them.

Mark Sheet pencils from Japan

Mark Sheet pencils from Japan

These pencils aren’t aimed at writing, yet they are all superb at the task.

Sold to students facing multiple choice exams, they are specialty test pencils. These specific ones are made in Japan, and called “Mark Sheet” pencils.

Of course, test taking isn’t the only possible use, and today we’ll take a look at them from a writing perspective.

Mark Sheet pencils from Japan

The pencils are:

Mitsubishi Uni 100 Mark Sheet pencil, HB
Pentel CBM10 Mark Sheet pencil, HB and B
Tombow LM-KMS Mono Mark Sheet pencil, HB

All are hexagonal with finished caps, and sold unsharpened.

Mark Sheet pencils from Japan

The Mitsubishi is grey, with a black dipped end and blue ring. The lettering is white, and the pencil states, “Hi-Density Lead for Mark Sheet.” The cap is stamped “HB”.

The Pentel is navy blue, and has the slogan, “the best quality for OCR sheet marking.” The blue is offset by two silver rings and silver lettering. The HB has a marigold cap, while the B grade sports red.

The Pentel has a vivid bright blue finish, with a matte silver dipped end and silver ring. The lettering is in white.

Mark Sheet pencils from Japan

All three pencils have nice finishes, and sharpen easily.

Certain pencil/paper combinations really shine (a subject for a future post), and on a Maruman Mnemosyne notebook, all three pencil brands are exceptional in their non-crumbling adherence, smooth application, and dark rich black lines. The best? For me, the Pentel, and especially the B grade version, stood out as a super-smooth writer.

Mark Sheet pencils from Japan

Specialty pencils of course have specialty erasers, and the Uni Mark Sheet eraser does a great job. The formula seems somewhat different than other familiar erasers from Pilot or Tombow – more crumbly, but possibly even more effective.

Mark Sheet pencils from Japan

(Pentel also make a “mark sheet eraser”, but I haven’t seen it in person.)

All are first rate, but writing with the Pentel CBM10 Mark Sheet pencil in B is an experience I especially recommend to all pencil users!

See also:

Pentel Mark Sheet Pencil – pencil talk, August 2008
LM-KMS – Lexikaliker, June 2009
MONO Mark Sheet Pencil Set – On the desk, at any time, March 2010

Red and blue pencils VII – Tombow and Mitsubishi

Red and blue pencils

So far, we’ve seen two examples of red and blue pencils from Japan – the first rate Kita Boshi 9667, and the very unusual finger-jointed Mitsubishi 2667.

Let’s continue our exploration of this interesting pencil format by looking at the mainstream offerings from Japan’s largest pencil manufacturers, Tombow and Mitsubishi.

Tombow makes the round 8900 VP. (VP for Vermilion/Prussian Blue.) There is also a very interesting variant – the 8900 VP 7/3 – a 70% red, 30% blue pencil!

Mitsubishi counter with their own round red and blue pencils, the Colour Pencil 2667, and an accompanying 70% red, 30% blue, Colour Pencil 2637.

Mitsubishi also produce a hexagonal pencil, the 772.

The Tombow CV-REA VP, an offering corresponding to the 2667EW, is the only product missing (to the best of my knowledge) from this review.

All the pencils have their principal makings in gold, and some have additional markings in white:

8900 VP
Obverse: High Quality Tombow 8900 *V.P* Made in Indonesia
Reverse: [bar code] Vermilion Prussian Blue

8900 VP 7/3
Obverse: High Quality Tombow 8900 *V.P* 7/3 Japan
Reverse: Vermilion Prussian Blue

Obverse: Mistsubishi Pencil Co. Ltd. Colour Pencil 2667
Reverse: [bar code] Vermilion/Prussian Blue

Obverse: Mistsubishi Pencil Co. Ltd. Colour Pencil 2637
Reverse: Vermilion/Prussian Blue

Obverse: “Mitsu-Bishi” Vermilion/Prussian Blue 772
Reverse: ????

A few observations about these pencils, starting with the more subtle distinctions. Two pencils have bar codes, and three do not. I don’t know if there is any greater meaning. The various pencils may or may not be meant for individual sale, and some might be part of packaging that contains a bar code. The pencils without bar codes certainly have a cleaner appearance.

Proportion – the unequal proportion of the two colours and implied specialization of the 2637 and 8900 7/3 pencils is fascinating and charming! It is a rare and appreciated touch!

Red and blue pencils

Lettering – the “C” in “Colour” on the Mitsubishi pencils is remarkable! A curl in a curl! It is a first rate traditional font.

Varnish. All five pencils seem to have nearly identical blue ends. Yet the red sides vary. The two 8900s seem the same, but the 26x7s are not. The 772 seems to be the same as the 26×7.

The 772 is nicely done in another way. The Latin vs. Kanji characters on opposite sides make a nice juxtaposition.

Red and blue pencils

Made in Indonesia. Okay, I am slightly shocked. I have not previously seen a woodcase pencil from a Japanese pencil manufacturer marked “Made in Indonesia”. And adding to the curiosity is that the sibling 7/3 is marked “Japan”. Has anyone seen any pencils like this?

How do they write?

Red and blue pencils

Before answering that question, let me mention that these pencils all arrived unsharpened – and some were not co-operating with the Irish and German made KUM Correc-Tri sharpener!

The blue ends were the worst – I gave up on the 772 and took out a pen knife. Guess what? The 772 was very hard to sharpen, even with a Leatherman Squirt pen knife.

On the red side, the 2667 red and 8900 blue ends needed two tries after breakage.

Red and blue pencils

The wood quality and breakage issues of the 772 seem to mark it as a lower quality pencil than the other four.

I retried the sharpening in my battery operated Panasonic sharpener, and it did much better.

Red and blue pencils

So as to how they write – all five wrote very well, with rich, higly pigmented lines. I didn’t distinguish much difference between them.

My favourite is probably the 2667, based on ease of sharpening and the distinctive makings.

Red and blue pencils

Further on red and blue pencils:

Red and Blue pencils
Red and Blue pencils II
Television! (The Conté Television 649 red and blue pencil)
Red and Blue pencils IV – Viarco
Red and Blue pencils V – a mechanical twist
Red and Blue pencils VI – the Kita-Boshi Vermilion and Prussian Blue 9667 pencil
FILA 795 BE Red and Blue Pencil
Chung Hwa 120 red and blue pencil
Mitsubishi 2667 EW red and blue pencil



From the uncomfortable chair: