Red and Blue pencils

Red and Blue pencils

An interesting traditional specialty pencil is the red and blue pencil. Still manufactured today, this pencil is one half red, one half blue. (Both lead and varnish.)

While accounting, school, and editorial uses for this pencil may be traditional, I can imagine many other functions, including U.S. political consultants using these to plot on electoral maps.

Red and Blue pencils

Though I saw an interesting Koh-I-Noor at Lexikaliker, the three pencils I was able to quickly acquire from the excellent were:

Musgrave Hermitage Thin 525 Red and Blue Combination
Musgrave Harvest Thick 725 Red and Blue Combination
Prismacolor Verithin 748 Red and Blue

The “Thin” and “Thick” labels of the Musgrave refer to the pencil cores – not the pencil diameter. The shape is the externally distinguishing feature – the Hermitage is hexagonal, while the Harvest is round. The Prismacolor pencil is also round.

Red and Blue pencils

While attempting sharpening, I found the leads of both Musgrave pencils to repeatedly break in a variety of sharpeners – especially the red ends. The Hermitage in particular seemed extremely averse to sharpeners. The Prismacolor pencil had no such problems.

As pencils, each had merits – the Prismacolor had the richest and most vibrant colours – so it would be the best on a blank sheet – yet the lighter and more muted tones of the Musgraves might be better for correction on a printed page.

Oddly enough, while preparing this post on the weekend, I saw a red and blue pencil used in the film “The Ninth Gate”. Johnny Depp’s character (a rare book dealer) uses this type of pencil to take notes:

Red and Blue pencils

In appearance, these pencils are a great blast from the past, and both Musgraves having great styled details. The Prismacolor has a serious presentation issue – the blue end appears to be a type of foil on top of the red varnish. Since the pencil shipped with a bar code sticker on the blue end, the foil now looks extremely dated and tattered. Almost like the fallen disco ball on that bad remake of the Poseiden Adventure.

Red and Blue pencils

Despite some issues, I think the Prismacolor Verithin is the best of the lot – reliable sharpening, and rich vibrant colour.

International Arrivals colour carpenter pencils

International Arrivals colour carpenter pencil

Let’s start 2008 with some colour. International Arrivals of Boulder, Colorado has released an attention grabbing set of carpenter pencils in green, yellow, purple, blue, orange and red. And this isn’t just the pencil’s paint to which we’re referring – these pencils contain the corresponding coloured leads!

International Arrivals colour carpenter pencil

Made in Taiwan, the pencils are simply labeled “carpenter pencils”, and the package states: “Sharpen pencils with carpenter pencil sharpener or with utility knife.”

International Arrivals colour carpenter pencil

Though unusual, they are not the first in this category – Rexel Cumberland / Derwent in the U.K. have released artist oriented colour pencils in carpenter pencil format.

With a Gerber pocket knife, I set about sharpening this pencil. This proved to be quite challenging – which isn’t expected. It has some sort of tough, rough wood. An included photo shows the results. Two other artist-oriented carpenter pencils – a Derwent, and a General – were easily sharpened, while the International Arrival (blue) was pure trouble.

International Arrivals colour carpenter pencil

The final verdict: Nice as wide colour leads might be, they don’t make up for this being a pencil that can’t be sharpened with standard tools. Not recommended.

International Arrivals Carpenter Pencils

Very Best Carpenter Pencils.

This is the second mention of products from International Arrivals on this site. These Taiwanese made carpenter pencils are striking in their retail environs – are there carpenters who shop at designer knick-knack shops? Probably – but not while looking for carpentry supplies. They are a bright varnished (and impractical) white.

They’re great if you love pencils. How do they work? I didn’t bother sharpening them. I assumed that wasn’t their purpose.
Very Best Carpenter Pencils.

International Arrivals Fluorescent Pencils

International Arrivals fluorescent pencils
I just saw these pencils at a new local stationer. The incredibly bright assortment of oversized hexagonal colour pencils was very eye catching.

The package identified them as “fluorescent pencils” from International Arrivals, and made in Taiwan. The pencils are marked “VERY BEST SUPPLY CO.” and the pencils are printed in the left-handed style. (The text readable when held in the left hand, unlike most pencils.)

I was told in the store that the pencils are for highlighting. This really pleased me, as I’ve wanted highlighting pencils for some time, but have never seen them for sale in a brick and mortar store.

They are oversized hexagonal pencils, with an immense core. The pencils are varnished in very bright flourescent colours. The assortment seems uneven – yellow, dark blue, green, and three in the red-orange spectrum.
International Arrivals fluorescent pencils
As highlighters, I tested them on both bound books and laser printer output. The yellow, the traditional highlighter colour, was faint, and took a lot of pressure to leave any noticeable mark. The blue and green were slightly better, and the reds (which on paper turned out to be light pink, dark pink, and orange), were the most noticeable.

Needing a lot of pressure, and not leaving especially useful highlights, I’m not sure these really are “highlighting” pencils, like those from quality pencil companies. I think they’re just brightly painted, nicely packaged cheap pencil crayons. Which is is too bad, since they look so nice.

L. & C. Hardmuth Koh-I-Noor Kopierstift 1561

L. & C. Hardmuth Koh-I-Noor Kopierstifte
A recent (excellent) post at Timberlines made me think of these pencils. I had bought a box of “vintage” pencils via an online auction site whose name begins with “E”. The slightly padded envelope in which they arrived hadn’t stopped the cardboard pencil box from arriving with all corners broken. Also, the box was precisely seven twelfths full. Anyhow, sometimes you have to look on the bright side – they are still interesting (and historic) pencils, and less expensive than seven new pencils from any quality manufacturer. In fact they were less than seven new Koh-I-Noor pencils would cost me.

The box is cardboard, with the Koh-I-Noor emblem on the cover, and marked “1561 mittel” and “L & C. Hardmuth” on the sides. The pencils are yellow, with gold stamping:


Unlike the text on the box, there is a period after the “L”. The box is additionally marked inside “Koh-I-Noor Bleistiftfabrik”. I believe that “Kopierstift” roughly translates to what would be known as a copying or indelible pencil, and “mittel” to middle. “Bleistiftfabrik” is pencil factory. Cool!

Picking one up, the first thing I noticed was that these pencils are larger than modern round pencils, such as the Faber-Castell 9008. The core also seems much wider.

The next step required some debate. Although I could see arguments for preserving them, there was also another side. These pencils were made by craftsmen across an ocean and across a generation. I would assume they wanted their product used. So – I got out the sharpener.

My first thought was – “wow, I just sharpened a really old pencil.” The larger pencil width seemed to produce a longer point than other pencils in my sharpener (a Faber-Castell UFO). The two halves of the casing also seemed quite visible.

Writing on a Rhodia pad, I wrote a few lines. I also tried a modern Koh-I-Noor for comparison. The pencil writes smoothly and reliably, similar to many other quality pencils. The lead seems quite strong. I also tried erasing my writing. It is definitely a copying pencil, and resists vinyl erasers! Only my black Factis (meant for charcoal) erased the lines of the 1561.

I thought I was done, and was going to post what I had written – but I hadn’t yet discovered the most interesting part of this pencil. After sharpening the pencil, trying it out, and writing the above notes (with the pencil), I noticed some graphite dust on my hands. When I went to wash up, the dust turned a brilliant purple. I had never seen this before from a pencil. A little searching on the web turned up this excellent article on copying pencils from an American Institute for Conservation publication. The purple had come from a dye – an “aniline dye” that was created from coal tar by-products.

An original use of these pencils was placing a damp tissue above the pencil writing to take a copy. For anyone old enough to remember a ditto machine from high school (remember the smell of a fresh ditto?), these pencils seem like a manual predecessor. They’re also associated with copy presses and were used with carbon paper. The “indelible” function took over at some point as the main use and selling point.

I tried to moisten some paper and press it against my notes to take a copy. It transferred very roughly, and I can see that with some practice and a careful choice of paper and moistenening methods, it would be a useable method.

It struck me as quite amazing that this ordinary looking yellow pencil was capable of so much.