Personally, I have always been a sucker for pencils, but I really got interested in them last summer after reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Walter Harding’s biography of Henry David Thoreau, The Days of Henry Thoreau. I immediately got the urge to write with some graphite. There were some junky yellow pencils around the apartment, but I wanted something nicer and not yellow. So I popped out to the shop and picked up a dozen Papermate American Naturals pencils, because I liked the lack of a finish on the wood and the blue foil lettering. So it is only natural that this review comes next.
The technical stuff:
Material: Some non-cedar, white wood that smells like grade school.
Ferrule: Plain metal.
Eraser: Pink vinyl.
Core: HB (#2) graphite. Ceramic, non-waxed.
Markings: Blue Foil. 芒鈧揚APERMATE AMERICAN NATURALS.芒鈧滭br /> Packaging: Varies. Usually a cardboard box of ten or a dozen. Also avaiable in twelve dozen (one gross) boxes.
Origin: Jelutong (or Pulai, similar species; both grow in Indonesia), manufactured in Lewisburg, Tennessee, USA.
Availability: Widely available in office supply stores and online. Office Max is your best bet.
Considering that the target market for this pencil is “children and schools” and that some companies seem to (for some reason) market junk to kids for pencils, these pencils are a pretty nice find. The core is dark, and as my friend Dan in Baltimore puts it, “They feel right in your hand.” The plain wood, blue letters and plain ferrule combine to make one attractive pencil. The sanding is not as smooth as some unfinished pencils, but it is made up for by the fact that you can get a serious grip on this pencil. Whether you are sweating or whether you just ate half of a pizza, the raw wood will stay put in your paw. I’ve done some long writing with these, and they work just fine. Sharpening is smooth and clean, almost as much as cedar.
The two major drawbacks of this pencil are the smeariness of the core and the terrible eraser. While considerably dark, the core tends to smear onto your hands, the opposite page, and anything else that comes near it. While pencil marks will last until you actually erase them, this is not always so with this graphite. It is also considerably brittle and dry and almost feels like charcoal at times. The eraser is probably the worst pencil eraser I have ever tried to use. It is billed as being smear-proof, but all it really does is smear the graphite around the page and make a mess of itself. Of course, one could object that this is because the core smears. But I tested erasing the markings of this pencil with a nice Pink Pearl, and it did just fine. Similary, I erased some Forest Choice with the eraser, and it made the same mess, which we know is not from the Forest Choice core.
However, for the price ($1-2) a dozen and the ease of availability, American Naturals are still pretty good pencils, largely because of the finish. I tend to like them for putting behind my ear while reading a novel or running around the library, and I almost never read Hemingway’s more adventuresome novels without an American Naturals pencil behind my ear or between my teeth.
April 2006 appendix:
Comrade Ashley has this advice to offer:
[Comrades] have mentioned several times the deplorable, inexcusable excuse for an eraser that is found on PaperMate American #2 pencils.
Recently in a pencil pinch (on vacation), I bought some of these pencils. As
pleasantly surprised as I was by the lead (dark and soft), and the matte,
easily gripped lacquer, I was nevertheless devastated by those erasers! I came
up with the following two solutions:
1) Remove the bad erasers and replace with good erasers from other pencils that I do not like or use.
2) Place the ferrule of the PaperMate pencil beneath my heel, I snap it off
and replace with an eraser cap. I remove the ferrule to compensate for the
imbalance and weight of the eraser caps.
[Photos copyright John 2005.]