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New Blackwing Pre-Review.

[Note: These were samples sent, gratis, from Cal Cedar.聽 These are pre-production models, subject to change — and also massive excitement.]

We’ve mentioned the new Palomino Blackwing twice (here and here) on Pencil Revolution so far but have not offered a review yet.聽 This is in keeping with our unwritten pencil review policy, which is that, in short, we do not generally review pencils which cannot be gotten by Comrades, at least somewhere in the world.聽 We held off on reviewing the Palomino until you could buy it, and we’ll hold off on a complete review of the new Blackwing until you can buy it — or, at least, until there’s a date for its official and much anticipated release.

However, it’s just plain mean to keep Comrades completely in the dark about this exciting development in the Pencil World!聽 So, bearing in mind that many things about this pencil might change before Comrades can purchase them, this is a summary of the New Blackwing Experience.

Like any California Republic product, the Blackwing Palomino presents itself as a high-quality pencil the second you pick it up. The cedar smell wafts nicely from your hand. The ferrule is shiny and tight. There are a few issues I found with the finish, but I’ll mention those small qualms later. The balance of the pencil is, of course, different than a regular pencil because of the large ferrule/eraser assembly. But that certainly does not mean that it is necessarily top-heavy. It is just, for lack of a better word, different.聽 You get used to it, being distracted by how smoothly it writes.

One of the most striking characteristics of the orange/blue Palomino pencil is its excellent finish. The paint on the new Blackwing is a matte black, with a color and texture akin to the Dixon Ticonderoga Black (when it was made in the USA — not the Microban version out today). Both of our review pencils had gold dust/paint on the black in areas it should not have been, and there were wrinkles in the paint of one unit. The gold stamping is a little feathery, unlike the very precise stamp on a Palomino. But, these things aside, it is still a beautiful pencil. And, at the risk of sounding sycophantic, I am sure that California Republic will take care of those issues when the production model hits shelves, mailboxes and the page.

Blackwing fans will notice that the eraser, though nearly identical to the previous eraser/ferrule, is white, rather than pink. This does not really bother me, especially since it appears to be made of the same material as the eraser on the regular Palomino. Erasing was clean, easy and quick.

One of the reasons that the Blackwing was so popular — perhaps the reason — was its smooth and dark core. I could gush for paragraphs about how smooth and dark this core is. It is, in short, as smooth and dark as writing with a gel pen — without all the pesky mess involved in that slow-drying ink.聽 As you can see from my terrible photographs, it is darker than a 4B Faber-Castell 9000, and smoother to boot.

As with any dark-writing pencil, this comes at the price of more frequent sharpenings and greater “ghosting” onto the next page. Personally, I found myself writing until I almost hit the wood more than I necessarily found myself sharpening more. The pencil writes so smoothly that I didn’t stop to do anything, let alone carve out a chunk of it with a sharpener. I wore down the point much further than I generally do.聽 Perhaps it would, then, be more accurate to say that it dulls more quickly.聽 One annoying thing about dark pencils is that they ghost onto the previous page when you write on the back of the sheet.聽 This is especially annoying on thin Moleskine paper, but I’ve found that to be an issue with most pencils and even the cheapest of ballpoint pens on that paper.聽 With thicker paper, I think this issue can be solved and might be something we will look at on the official review when the production model comes out.

In Summa
The key to appreciating the Palomino Blackwing is to consider its nature. In my feedback to the company, I suggested changes that would make it look like the original Blackwing because I was, in some ways, looking at it as the rebirth of the Blackwing, a re-make or reproduction. In that respect, the finish of the pencil would fail. Aside from the ferrule, it doesn’t look like the original Blackwing more than any other black, hexagonal pencil.聽 The logo is missing; the color is different; the eraser is white.

But, if I understand correctly from some of Woodchuck‘s comments, the Palomino Blackwing was coming out with or without the famous name. I think I read that it was going to be called the Pegasus (which would have been fitting) until the Blackwing name became available. In this light, what the new Blackwing amounts to is a fantastic modern pencil under the Palomino line, with a nod to the legend that was the Blackwing 602. In some ways, it could never be the original. Any new Blackwing would not be made by the same company, not be made in the USA (I assume, since pencil factories are few around these parts), would probably have a better eraser and more environmentally friendly paint than the old pink-topped 602 model.聽 I think asking how much this new pencil resembles the old is fruitless and might cause retro grouches among us (and I count myself in this camp on occasion) to ignore an otherwise fine instrument.

So, the questions I will be asking when the new production Palomino Blackwing comes out are: Is this a great pencil? Does it do justice to the Palomino name and the Blackwing name? Could this pencil indeed be the stuff of its own legend, aside from the lineage of its moniker?

I have to tell you: from the preview we have been lucky enough to experience, I think it can stand on its own, apart from either name stamped onto the side in gold letters.

18 replies on “New Blackwing Pre-Review.”

Thanks for this review. I am surprised to read that the pencil would have been released anyway, maybe under another name. This opens up the question whether it was modelled after the old Balckwing after all, or whether it just shares some characteristics and was therefore named Blackwing when the name became available..

I assume it was modelled after the Blackwing at least a little from the start, because of the ferrule, if nothing else. Sanford’s machine was broken, and I imagine it must have been costly to design this ferrule from scratch. I can’t remember where I read the Pegasus mention from Woodchuck — maybe he can confirm? : )

Interesting background, though the Pegasus name seems a little strange — I’d think of “Pegasus” as the name of an imaginary pencil.

You note that “Any new Blackwing would not be made by the same company”: true in a way, but the Blackwing itself came out under different names — Eberhard Faber and Faber-Castell (I hope that hyphen is right). At any rate, fidelity to an original — in some way or ways — is important when we talk about this kind of object, as with, say, a modern recreation of an old guitar. The key question is whether one prizes the Blackwing as an object of use, as an object of design, or as both.

Good points, Michael. The Eberhard Faber to Faber-Castell move was an acquisition pre-Sanford (?).

I think you’re especially write (ha ha) about whether one views it as a tool or a thing to be looked at and admired. As a tool, I love it to pieces — even as a design object. As a reproduction, not so much — but I’m not especially interested in that part myself, not for its own sake.

As CalCedar has already shown with its Palomino line, a pencil can be both an amazing tool and an object of desire. I truly hope that after this initial run is sold (I bought a box), CalCedar will make its Palomino Blackwing as attractive as its Palomino HB. Gloss paint would be most appreciated, too ;)

Seems that they wanted to avoid a gloss paint to differentiate from the Tombow Mono, which is rather ridiculous. It would take an idiot to confuse the two based on glossy black alone, and the decision to go with a thoroughly inferior finish to “distinguish” their product is laughable.

I too hope that a better version is made in the future. I’m actually quite shocked that they could be known for their standard of finishing on the Palomino, and then completely screw the pooch with the Blackwing.

Unfortunately, some of the gratitude consumers are giving to California Cedar for choosing to undertake the Blackwing project has been overextended and has become a sort of sycophancy and a reluctance toward offering criticism.

Haha, well hopefully Chuck will retire this finish and make these ugly ducklings all the more rare and sought after by collectors.

It seems like a lot of people are reacting very strongly to the release of the Blackwings — and especially to the test-phase in which some of us were lucky enough to participate. It’s run from excessive criticism over the differences in aesthetic design (the departure from the look of the original) to messianic paroxysms about the new Blackwing being the best pencil ever just because it shares the name. While this might change now that they are available for purchase, a good deal of the strongly positive and strongly negative reactions have come from individuals who never wrote with the new Blackwing at all. I’m not ready to dismiss the new Blackwing because it looks little like the old one, and I’m not prepared to sell all of my pencils in its favor just because of the name, either.

Personally, I’m interested in the Blackwing as a pencil with which I can write, not as a reconstitution of a museum piece or even an exciting new consumer product. For myself: a) Dang, that’s a smooth writer!; b) The finish is sub-par (Palomino-wise), but the price is surprisingly low, especially in bulk — so I’m less bothered by it than I’d be if it was really a $5 pencil; c) I’m just happy to see excitement about a new pencil these days!

It was different with the Palomino back in 2005 because no one had heard of California Republic or the now-kinda-famous orange pencil. The feedback was probably more honest because no one had anything classic/legendary against which to compare it — though certainly there were a lot of comparisons to the old Blackwing 602. This time, comparisons are inevitable, and inevitably unfair (for and against the new Blackwing). I hope that its merits and faults (the lead and the finish, respectively) get highlighted as much as the name. I’d hate for a nice-writing pencil to be dismissed because it looks differently than its inspiration, but neither does a pencil deserve admiration simply by virtue of the name on the side. I am a little disappointed in the finish (which I mentioned in our pre-review), but the writing is so smooth and dark that I don’t mind it so much.

Many of us who criticize the finish and aesthetics are not doing so based on the original Blackwing (though those people apparently exist, such as those wanting the old slogan and what-not), but simply because they have higher standards for the aesthetic element of the pencil in general. My comments, for instance, have pretty much nothing to do with the original Blackwing, and I couldn’t care less if they scrapped the ferrule and eraser as well, as long as what they produced was thoroughly high-quality.

I do not see how the price is “surprisingly low”, and I do not know where a $5 projection would come from. If we want to throw out random numbers, would you pay $0.05 more for a Blackwing finished at a level comparable to a Palomino?

I wonder if their later Palomino 4B offering will be at all related to the Blackwing in terms of lead, or if it’ll be a different formula altogether. If willing to put up with the Palomino colors, it might be a way for some to get their Blackwing graphite fix without having to put up with the rest of the Blackwing.

I didn’t mean to imply that you were among those unsatisfied with the “new” Blackwing because it’s not the old, Robert. :)

I think the price is [somewhat] low considering what Cal Rep’s other offerings cost that don’t have the expensive ferrule on them (Woodchuck wrote about this somewhere). I like the writing enough that the finish would only bother me if I paid more for the pencil. At $2 per pencil, for instance, I’d be more unhappy with the mottled finish. I wouldn’t pay $5 for any pencil I’ve ever tried (though there might be one out there?). I was, as you point out, merely picking a figure.
Matte vs gloss, I actually like the matte myself because I have sweaty hands. I was glad that the Black Warrior switched. This finish is like the old (USA made) Dixon “Black,” which was (and almost is) a really nice pencil. I’m with you, however, in that the ferrule’s not the ticket for me. I like the lead first and foremost. A nice end like the Palomino would suit me just fine if the lead stayed the same.

I received my Blackwings. They write well and great for art also. They don’t cost anymore than my high quality art pencils. The finish quality isn’t microscopic perfect but I believe they will get better.
They also work well in my Moleskine Notebook. No complaints.
I also hand sharpen them with a pen knife. I’m not concerned about keeping a sharp point for writing.
As I’ve posted elsewhere, when the pencil becomes too short to hold the ferrule will be cut off; split the wood and cut it away. The extra lead will be used in my art lead holder.

I have been looking for this pencil or rather the original blue 602 for years. My father used them. I loved them. We always had a gross. I never checked the internet before. I just asked in stores like Office Supply and I didn’t know the named I could just describe it. Nobody ever knew what I was talking about. Now they don’t exist so I will try the new one. I am very excited.

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