Every addict has one thing in common… They are always looking for the “perfect” something. After uncovering a deep-rooted love for pencils (See Part 1) through the Dixon Ticonderoga I quickly discovered that, like many addictions, it was simply a gateway drug to something a little bit deeper, darker and more consuming.
The search for the perfect pencil began. Amusingly, not long after beginning to look for the perfect woodclinched writing utensil, I came across the somewhat facetiously named Faber-Castell “Perfect Pencil”. Naively believing that it would certainly live up to its namesake and represent the epitome of pencilship, I made the roughly $10.00 purchase almost immediately, without a second thought.
It was disappointing.
Do not get me wrong. The pencil is a fine pencil. A Faber Castell 9000 HB with an eraser. Many would swear by such a pencil. But it did not encompass the mythical characteristics of what I would have deemed to be the ambrosia of the pencil gods. The all-in-one pencil cap/extender/clip/sharpener was also a nice piece of kit, albeit a bit gimmicky. Nevertheless, I quickly became disillusioned by this “Perfect Pencil” and continued my search… Truth be told, I do not even recall what happened to it…
Throughout my search, I grabbed every pencil that I could that seemed to have the potential to be that prize. I went through packs of Mirados and their counterpart Black Warriors hoping that the gold foil stamped adornment would somehow equate a better pencil. Again. I was disappointed. I must have got a second batch when Papermate had started stamping these pencils with the rather prominently atrocious double heart logo. It was a travesty.
I have never touched another Black Warrior since.
Unhappy with my search, I ended up online to see what the internet said.
I quickly came across the rather large community who has been discussing the very same topic for years. I learned of pencils like the Mongol, but no other name was whispered, echoed, and yearned for more than the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.
The notably odd shaped ferrule and erase. The buttery smooth writing experience. The motto of “Half the pressure, twice the speed”. The stories of famous writers who could not work unless they hand a Blackwing in their hands. It was the stuff of legends. And it was the kind of stuff that always had a pull on me (and the same kind of things that drew me into Moleskines).
However, despite the mythic and elusive nature of this pencil and the fact that they were becoming increasingly difficult to come by, I could not shake this feeling of familiarity. Of acquaintanceship. I could not get over this idea that I have not only seen this pencil before, but that once upon a time I must have held one in between my elementary school fingers. There was this faded remanent in my mind, like a shadow of an image that I could not focus. The Blackwing has already been a part of my life.
Like many true addicts, I was immediately hooked.
I needed it.
Had to have it.
I fawned over it.
Consumed ever bit of history attached to it.
Yearned for this discontinued piece of art.
And just as suddenly I was snapped back to reality when I saw that these pencils were fetching anywhere from $300 – $600 for a dozen on eBay. Although roughly $30-60 was not an irrational amount of money, for a single pencil it seemed to be outside of my then broke-student budget. Even now that I have a regular day job, I could easily dish out that money for something else, but for a pencil? Though in my dreams it would be easier… It reality, still seems a little difficult to justify. Especially to my wife. I have never brought it up.
I was an addict, yes. But I had my limits. So perhaps I was not a true addict.
Disillusioned and a little heart broken, I soon found that I was not alone. There were others.
Others in search of the next best thing, for want of a Blackwing.
Throughout my search I came across several candidates, many which were still difficult to obtain, but some that were more accessible (and more affordable) Each were rumoured to be Blackwing-esque. If I remember correctly, the first pencil to have been whispered to emulate the Blackwing was a Sanford Turquoise 2B pencil. It was touted by the Sanford company (who bought Eberhard, the original manufacturers of the Blackwing) as having a similar pencil graphite formula.
So without an actual 602 to compare to, I went out and bought one. I quickly put it to the pages of my Moleskine, imagining how it would feel to be actually using a 602. Nearly closing my eyes to see if I could conjure an out of worldly knowledge of what the 602 would truly feel like. Trying to see if this pencil lived up to the hype. If this was indeed the closest thing to the perfect pencil I would ever experience.
But alas, the Sanford Turquoise seemed to let me down. It was never a fair fight because I was still coming down from my Staedtler high-horse, where I had long given Sanford huffs of disapproval from day 1. No eraser? Smudging? Something did not seem write. I mean right. And I soon realized that those who had tried the 602 before were also let down by the Turquoise.
The dream of owning a Blackwing were slowly slipping away. Others had mentioned pencils like the Staedtler Lumograph 100 2B and 4B, the Tombow Mono 4B. I went back to different grades of the Faber-Castell 9000. Never satisfied. Never fullfilled.
And then I came across a pencil that more than many were deeming the true successor: The California Republic Palomino HB. In it’s blue and orange glory, people were raving about it. And once again I desperately wanted to try it. But I could not. The reality of being a broke-student had once again been my downfall. And using a credit card for online shopping was a dangerous game to play.
So I held out.
For a good couple of years I held out.
Biding my time.
Frequently, VERY frequently, visiting the page and drooling over the colourful box set.
But (not quite) like the returning of the Son, the announcement flashed in the skies like lightning that shines across the east and west. The news hit…
The Palomino Blackwing was here.
Without much deliberation, this time, I made the purchase. I bought a dozen and very anxiously awaiting the delivery. The holy grail of pencils. The perfect companion. The day had come to finally meet destiny.
Or so I thought…
I received the package in it’s black box with gold foil band.
I gingerly opened the box and pulled one out. Carefully noticing every detail about the pencil before setting it to the sharpener. And when I did, first I was a little surprised how it was not as fragrant as I expected it to be, but I worried not as I knew it would write magnificently.
Taking my trusty MSK I wrote something to the effect of “This is a Blackwing.”
Once I had put down a few lines of initial impressions, I stopped.
After all this time… This pencil was in my hands, albeit not an original 602, but what was supposed to be the heir to the throne of Pencildom. This pencil was supposed to be perfect. And I really, really, REALLY, wanted it to be. I wanted it to be the epitome of all that I had hoped. I desperately wanted, NEEDED to love this pencil. And I tried…
I really tried.
But the lead was just a little too soft. It smudged just a little too much.
It was a bitter sweet experience, where the writing was as smooth and as pleasant as it could be, but the end result was below my expectations. Better than the Ticonderoga it was, in many ways. But I have long used up my original stock of Dixon’s and yet still have 6 of the original dozen of classic Blackwings tucked away, which should give you an idea of where this pencil sat in my mind.
Thankfully all was not lost, as Palomino (must have) heard the dismay in my heart (along with that of hundreds, maybe thousands, of others) and released a new pencil that was to be closer to the Eberhard Blackwing 602, the Palomino Blackwing 602. This did not replace the classic Palomino Blackwing, but was rather a sister product, this one touting the famous slogan “Half the pressure, twice the speed.”
I immediately bought a dozen, and am running out of these variations quicker than the classics.
Although I am not a massive fan about the grey pearlescent finish (despite this being similar to the original Eberhard Blackwing finish) the pencil seemed to fit closer to what my graphite dreams had imagined. The point lasted better, it smudged less, and it was a buttery smooth writing experience.
I had made my peace.
Much more recently, the Palomino brand release the Palomino Blackwing Pearl. I had not initially made the jump, although I had read that this pencil fell somewhere in between the Blackwing and the Blackwing 602 by the Palomino company. I had to stay my hand to keep myself from jumping into the purchase. But I did come across it in a local art store along with the regular Palomino pencils that I had never tried. I pick up singles of each and they are currently in my regular rotation.
The original Palomino Blackwing is the most buttery of the four Palomino sisters. It writes with almost no audible sound in it’s silky motion across the page. Consequently, it is the worst in point retention and requires the most sharpening. I found myself constantly rotating the barrel of the pencil as I wrote (as opposed to after every other word) to help keeps my lines somewhat consistent. I feel like a stronger cedar smell would definitely improve the writing experience as the matte finish and gold accents certainly call for more formal use. (The matte finish is also easiest to grip if you tend to have sweaty hands, which I do)
The Palomino Blackwing 602 has an almost silkier feel, although missing some of the butter. It’s something you would need to try for yourself to understand. There’s a satin like undertone in the dance of the graphite on smooth paper. The sound is more balanced than the sounds of a Ticonderoga, and the point retention is good. The cedar smell is there but is slightly understated. My only gripe would be the somewhat glossy pearlescent finish which does not help my sweaty grasp during long writing sessions. This goes for the Pearl and the Palomino HB as well.
The Palomino Blackwing Pearl seem to be a middle ground between the other two Blackwings. A thicker buttery feel with a strongest aroma of the three. I do wish that the Pearl had a solid matte white finish, though that would defeat the purpose of the naming convention. The ferrules of all three Blackwings constantly amazes me. Although at times I stare at them and for a brief moment consider them gimmicky, I quickly find myself falling in love with the simple yet bold statement they make. In moments of day-dreaming and of “hitting the mung” (Anglicized Korean expression, courtesy of my wife) I frequently find myself absentmindedly pulling the erasers apart and putting it back together again.
Finally, the Palomino HB is a pencil that I’ve longed for, for a long time. I was let down by the lack of aroma. But the other sensory characteristics are there. The strokes sound bold, rich and confident, with an almost harmonic high tone. A satisfyingly graphite sound. Although the graphite does not feel super soft, it does justifiably dull quicker than a Ticonderoga as it lays a darker line. If I had the version with the eraser, this may actually be a pencil I would use more often than any of the more obnoxious Blackwings.
And so alas, my journey for the perfect pencil had seemed to come to an end.
Not that these pencils had satisfied every carnal and visceral woodclinched graphite need in my life… But they have been the mainstay in the rotation of the true writers and artist tool. These days, however, I feel myself coming down from my high palomino steed “Blackwing” and with the help of the addictive Erasable Podcast find myself searching again. This time, not for the perfect pencil, but for a more complete experience of that which is out there. And so unbeknownst to me…
My affliction has never healed, and only pushes me farther into the world of wood cased pencils.