Blackwing Volume 42.

If you say that it feels like we just got a Blackwing Volume two months ago, you’re correct. Apparently, Blackwing is moving up their release schedule, starting now. We will see the winter release in November. I can’t say I prefer this schedule or the old schedule more, but I do appreciate that Blackwing is being intentional and consistent.

Volume 42 is here! This fall’s release is, at first glance, another baseball pencil. Only, it’s not. It’s dedicated to Jackie Robinson:

In 1947, Jackie Robinson was called up to the Major Leagues by the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier and providing much needed momentum to the desegregation movement that extended well beyond baseball.
The Blackwing Volume 42 is a tribute to Jackie Robinson and those who pursue their passions, creative or otherwise, regardless of the obstacles in their way. It features our balanced graphite, a blue imprint and eraser, road gray ferrule, and the iconic red 42.

Read even more here.

Aesthetically, I find this pencil to be unexpectedly striking. One might be forgiven for thinking it is merely a differently stamped Pearl from the pictures online, but this is not the same finish as the Pearl. Instead of the iridescent Pearl, this is a glossy white — thickly and perfectly applied. It also looks simple at first glance. But the ferrule is new, and this is the first time that Blackwing has used two colors on the imprint — and the first time since spring 2018’s Volume 54 that we have seen such a brightly-colored imprint. On the white barrel, it’s stunning. Combined with the blue eraser, this pencil is anything but boring.

The new ferrule is named after the away/road uniforms that baseball teams wear while playing away from their home fields (and of course, Home White refers to the home field uniform). I would love to see this ferrule on a permanent Blackwing (can you imagine it on the Natural?).

I feel like I should mention that the ferrule connection issues experienced by quite a few Comrades over the last few Volumes seem to have been solved now — at least so far as I can tell from the dozen I have.

Those of us who wanted a point guard to match the Mars Pencil are in luck, as Blackwing has produced a Road Gray matching protector — included free with subscribers’ boxes. (Best extra yet?) In place of the usual “B” logo on the end, this protector sports Robinson’s 42. Swoon.

Blackwing has always been very good at packaging, and I love that the last few releases have had matching (recyclable) packing materials. In deep blue, this release is no exception.

Also included in this season’s subscriber box: stickers! Seen below, these are getting stuck on something quick.

My only real issue is the core. Putting the “balanced” core into a white pencil would seem to invite the charge that they just painted a Blackwing Pearl. I notice that they have been careful not to put the MMX core into the black limited editions they have put out. On the other hand, it’s technically the Balanced core’s turn at bat. So maybe I’m just saying this because it’s my least favorite Blackwing core (though your least favorite Blackwing core is still a great core, no?).

This is a great pencil — both aesthetically (it’s understated without being boring) and theme-wise (it’s no surprise that we’re happy to see Blackwing move past their monochromatic first year of releases). I’m leaving my dozen, open, around my home, daring anyone to snatch one — so I can buy another box.

Write 4th of July.

One of my favorite things about Write Notepads & Co is that they can just drop a small batch of limited editions when inspiration strikes, since everything is actually made by them, in house, in Baltimore. This is not to minimize the work that goes into bringing these editions out. The last “just because” edition was the Keats, and it was a thing of beauty. This edition is no less well-planned or well-executed. I love it.

The latest is the 4th of July edition, dedicated to that day in 1776, when we, ahem, told George that we did not wish to play with him anymore. Or, if you will, when we flipped the British the bird. Being from Baltimore, where we fought off the British at Fort McHenry, feelings run a little…strong. (I’ve become an Anglophile as I hit middle age, and not just for the tea and the good TV, but I don’t advertise this around town.)

From Write:

For this pocket notebook edition, we reprint parts of the 1823 facsimile of the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence on three notebooks. Each book was then hand sewn with red thread and trimmed and collated by us. Therefore, each book is identical yet slightly different in its unique way 鈥 a kind of perfect imperfection.An interesting fact to note: The second printer commissioned by Congress in 1777, was Mary Katherine Goddard, a publisher and postmaster in Baltimore, MD. Her reprints called the Goddard Broadside was the first to include the names of the signatories. 

What’s really different this time around is the sewn binding. These are put together by hand right here in Charm City, in red thread. The result is gorgeous notebooks, with lovely belly-bands to boot.

Jon and Chris and Co. kept this run to a small 243 packs, and they went fast. Make sure you’re on Write’s mailing list for the next surprise edition. And, remember, their summer release is yet to come. (More images below, with matching Blackwings (Volumes 73 and 16.2 and the TWA collaboration).

[Disclaimer: While I bought these books with my own money (and they were even delayed because they fell out of Chris鈥檚 car on the way to the PO), I have been writing for Write鈥檚 blog and am, in some small capacity, on their payroll. This does not influence my reviews; I鈥檓 not sure that Chris and Jon read this blog. But I thought I鈥檇 put it out there. (See my first two pieces here and here.)]

Blackwing Volume 10.

Just in at HQ: the latest limited release from Blackwing. Volume 10 refers to the essay “10 Days in a Mad-House” by Nellie Bly. The summer 2019 offering is a tribute to investigative journalism. I love this theme.

In a different and more courageous life, I would have loved to pursue a career in such brave writing, such boots on the ground journalism. Studying philosophy, we searched for Truth or the truth as a undergraduates. Then we searched for spots in PhD programs during our MA years, and after that, we searched for jobs teaching at universities. There, we would write fancy book reports and sometimes read them at conferences to 17 people, some of whom might have actually read what we wrote before asking questions that were designed to make themselves look intelligent or to make us look stupid or, best, both. The search for what is true or Truth got ignored and left to enthusiastic undergrads who would, in turn, ignore it. I finished my doctorate and jumped ship, though I’d jumped ship in my heart years earlier. To quote Nietzsche (how pretentious! get to the pencils!) from Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

For this is the truth: I have departed from the house of the scholars, and the door have I also slammed behind me.

I developed a taste for Sebastian Junger, Jon Krakauer, even the perhaps less truthful Bruce Chatwin. Thoreau became my model of the philosopher, the investigative truth-seeker whose search for meaning involves going inside and also outside into the world. If I had a time machine, I’d go back in time and hoard the 2004 version of the Ticonderoga “Black” and also study journalism. So this theme really grabs me.

I also love the oblique mental health angle. I know there are cries of bandwagon lately surrounding mental health awareness, especially when companies attempt to cash in and are guilty of the equivalent of green-washing. Nonetheless, the stigma around mental illness is not going anywhere without awareness, and every little bit helps. I appreciate that Blackwing mentioned mental health and did not harp on it too much. Miss Bly’s piece shed light on common misconceptions of people who suffer from mental illness and their relation to the rest of society. How many misconceptions still exist in 2019?

I couldn’t get these into my grubby hands quickly enough.

In the end, I feel the opposite that I felt over Volume 1. That pencil was so pretty that I didn’t care that the theme was a musician that I find, honestly, boring. This time, I don’t care that much what the pencil looks like because I like the theme so much. First libraries, and now journalism? Blackwing has me paying attention. I don’t know how I actually feel about the looks yet. Or, at least, I’m not sure how to form an opinion that is at all divorced from how much I love this theme.

The pencil sports a “matte grey newsprint finish” with a silver ferrule and [new] dark grey eraser. The imprint is dark grey, and the 10 really stands out for on this no-frills barrel, even more than the #1 did on Volume 1. The core is the extra firm that we have seem now on the 24, the 530, the rare 1917, the 54, and the Natural. I love the texture of the matte finish, and the rather cool grey is a lovely tone. The eraser is dark enough that it looks black; they probably could have saved some money by just using black erasers. What’s really interesting is how much the color of the cedar is set off by the design of this pencil after you sharpen it.

The subscriber extra is a facsimile of a newspaper that is a hard copy of Miss Bly’s essay, complete with a thoughtful surprise at the end that I won’t spoil here.

Some folks have expressed disappointment that the pencil is so…muted or boring. There are already a slew of white, black, and grey Blackwings, in the regular line-up and the Volumes series. I’m not bothered by it. I’d love to see a yellow pencil, some more blue, definitely a purple pencil. But what color would have worked for this theme? Should Blackwing have excluded this theme because no bright colors or interestingly shaped pencils would match it? It’s drab. But is that a bad thing?

Col. Jack and The Deep.

I hope that I’m not violating any non-disclosure agreement in sharing this. But the folks at Write Notepads & Co related this story to me. It is the real story of The Deep and Col. Jack. No names or places have been changed, with apologies to Col. Jack’s widow Debbie. The following was related to me late one night over seven or eight cups of espresso at the pier in Fell’s Point.

This is a piece of Charm City鈥檚 murky past. This edition is perhaps the most personal one Write has made so far, an homage to the amazing Col. Jack, who taught so many people all about the deep blue sea and also Deep herself.

Deep was an octopus living at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, not far from the Write bindery and print shop. Col. Jack used to visit her there and felt a particular affinity for her and wanted to free her somehow. If you have visited an aquarium, you can see how impossible this would be, but Col. Jack did his best.

He refused to disclose how he found out about the existence of the babies, and he just glared if you asked how he actually procured them. But Col. Jack came to own two of Deep鈥檚 babies. He planned to drive them to Ocean City straight away, rent a boat, and set them free.

No one said it was a good plan.

That night, Col. Jack left the two baby octopuses in a bucket of salt water in the bathtub while he went to the Royal Farm nearest his home in Canton and picked up some Western Fries to have with his supper. When he returned, he found his wife Debbie in the kitchen, frying up dinner. She looked at him and said quickly, 鈥淕ood, hon. Those will go good with these fresh squid you just caught.鈥 Col. Jack was too afraid to tell his wife what he had intended to do, and he ate the dinner she made him, with the mushy fried potatoes. As he swallowed the last bite and washed it down with a Natty Boh, he realized that he had no idea that his wife could cook an octopus.

That night, Col. Jack sweated in bed with dyspepsia and horrible guilt. Channel 13 reported that Deep the octopus had died, very suddenly, but she lived on in Col. Jack鈥檚 dreams, where she appeared as a silvery mist against cloudy blue water. Old Col. Jack said that she just floated there, and he could no longer stomach seafood or the Western Fries from Royal Farm.

Col. Jack took to consuming coffee by the gallon in order to avoid sleep and the dreams about the octopus he wronged by accident. Some tourists found him floating face-down near Pier 4, outside of the Aquarium. He and Deep are both said to haunt the area around Mr. Trash Wheel to this day.

Lead on, Macduff.

[Today’s post comes from guest writer Lara Connock who lives and writes in South Africa. Many thanks to Lara for this wonderful essay about the virtues of journaling in pencil!]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good notebook must be in want of a pen. Then, having secured the pen (by which I mean a fountain pen) he or she will want ink. And so begins the eternal – some might say infernal – quest for the perfect combination of paper, pen and ink. I have spent the majority of my writing life on such a quest and have left in my wake a brace of abandoned pens, innumerable bottles of ink and teetering piles of nearly-new notebooks in which the quick brown fox features over and over again.

鈥淎re you ever going to write anything real?鈥 my exasperated husband said one day. 鈥淚 hate seeing you wasting your time and talent like this.鈥滭br>
鈥淭hen don鈥檛 look!鈥 I snapped back. 鈥淭his is important!鈥滭br>
Although I hated to admit it, my husband had a point. My focus had always been on the form, so I鈥檇 never really got down to the function; you know, actually writing stuff (apart from that wretched fox/dog scenario). See, I鈥檓 a perfectionist with OCD, hence the search for the aforementioned combination that would ensure that my notebook would be uniform, consistent and, well, perfect. I tried to explain this to my husband but he wasn鈥檛 having any of it. 鈥淚f you really wanted to write, you鈥檇 write, and it wouldn鈥檛 matter what your notebook looked like. Imagine if Shakespeare had messed around the way you do!鈥 Naturally I ignored this.

A couple of days later I was testing a new pen, ink and paper (again). The nib was an extra-fine, the ink the driest I could get, and the paper easily ten times more absorbent than Kleenex. There was ink everywhere 鈥 on the paper, the desk, the wall, the cat, my fingers, my clothes. And. I. Was. Done. I could not, would not, waste another moment more on such an utterly pointless exercise. The pen went into the pen coffin with all the others, ditto the ink, and the notebook went into the bin.

They say that sometimes, when one gives up hope, one feels so much better. It鈥檚 true. Having crossed that particular Rubicon, I really did feel a sense of relief 鈥 but it was short-lived. You see, I still wanted to write. I just had to find something to write with. My husband鈥檚 groan of despair could be heard three provinces away. 鈥淛ust use a damn ballpoint!鈥 was his suggestion, which, though kindly meant, was patently ridiculous.

Honesty compels me to admit that I actually quailed at the thought of having to try out all those gel pens, liquid ink pens (isn鈥檛 all ink liquid?), rollerballs and fineliners. When did writing instruments get so complicated? One鈥檚 writing life in days of yore must have been so much simpler when all one had to write with was a bit of graphite and a raggedy old piece of vellum or whatever. Come to think of it, I鈥檓 pretty sure the Bard himself would have tossed his goose quill in the quill coffin, along with his iron gall ink and all its attendant issues, the moment he found out that he鈥檇 have far less hassle writing those plays of his with a stick of graphite wrapped in string. 鈥淥ut, damned quill! Is this a piece of graphite which I see before me, the sharp end toward me? Come, let me clutch thee.鈥滭br>
And there was the solution to all my problems. So simple. (My husband鈥檚 sigh of relief was deafening.) I bought a cheap notebook and an equally cheap pencil. Indeed, a pencil. Which, come to think of it, wasn鈥檛 actually that cheap. If I was going to be writing with a pencil, it had to be a good one. The art store offered two choices: locally produced pencils or imported German ones. It was the proverbial no-brainer, my thinking being that since this particular German company had been producing pencils since 1662, they had more than likely perfected their craft by now.

Pencils have, um, revolutionised my writing and journaling. They have taken away all the pain and left only the pleasure. I did get a bit sidetracked in the beginning by the myriad grades of hardness and darkness; my own fifty shades of grey, you might say. I settled on F-grade pencils, the baby-bear鈥檚-porridge grade: not too soft, not too light, just right. (FYI: an F pencil is a #2.5 in the US.)

Pencils are what an old friend of mine would call 鈥渨illing writers鈥? I know that when I put that beautifully sharpened point to paper (any paper!) it will write the first time. No skipping or hard starts because the ink isn鈥檛 flowing; no feathering or bleeding or ghosting either. I won鈥檛 be able to change my mind halfway through a journal entry about the colour of the ink or the feel of the nib or the tooth of the paper. And when the pencil has been worn down to the ferrule 鈥 having given up its life purely for my writing pleasure (cue violins) 鈥 there will be a quiver of its clones to choose from. They will all write in exactly the same way as their predecessor did, thereby ensuring that the pages of my notebook remain beautifully uniform and thus appealing to the twin gods of Perfectionism and OCD. (And did I mention the thrill of being able to erase mistakes?)

Consistency being a big thing for me, I like the fact that a 500-year-old piece of graphite (quaintly known as plumbago in those days) will write almost as well as a Koh-I-Noor or a Blackwing produced in 2019. (But I鈥檓 basing that assumption on the online community鈥檚 reviews of them, not yet having had the opportunity to test drive them myself.)


The world is a vastly different place now than it was when farmers in Britain’s Lake District, circa 1560, used the recently-discovered, new-fangled plumbago to mark their sheep. Fast forward five centuries and there are legions of six-year-olds clutching jumbo-sized, triangular-shaped pencils and learning to write their names for the first time.

Pencils have survived world wars, industrial and technological revolutions, feasts, famines, droughts and disasters, and are still here. Of course, in our digital world, Millennials, Generation Z鈥檚 and converts from Generation X might rather take notes on their smartphones or tablets, but that doesn鈥檛 mean that pencils have become obsolete. Far from it. People apparently love the vintage, the antique, the old fashioned things of bygone eras. (I suspect we may have Downton Abbey to thank for that.) Vinyl records have made made a comeback along with manual typewriters, fountain pens and 鈥 in certain homes 鈥 afternoon high tea.

Pencils have never really gone out, and in the last decade or so they have enjoyed 鈥 and are still enjoying 鈥 an increase in popularity. The difference now is that people are buying, collecting and using pencils because they want to, not because they have to.

No pencil article would be worth its weight in graphite if there was no mention made of those literary greats who loved pencils 鈥 Hemingway, Steinbeck and Thoreau, and, before them, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci. I鈥檓 not going to repeat everything that has already been written about John Steinbeck鈥檚 passion for Blackwings because any pencil lover who doesn鈥檛 know about it must be living on a remote, nameless island or in an underground bunker previously occupied by hobbits.

Today, more than 20 billion pencils are produced worldwide every year. Currently there are upwards of 40 blogs devoted to pencils, my host鈥檚 included. Online stores are doing roaring trades, as is the now famous pencil store in New York owned and run by Caroline Weaver. (One day, when I don鈥檛 have to pay 14 South African Rand for one US dollar, I鈥檒l make my pilgrimage. Until then, I鈥檒l just skulk around the place online.)

Don鈥檛 get me wrong. Just because I鈥檓 a new convert to pencils does not mean I鈥檝e fallen out of love with fountain pens. This isn鈥檛 a rebel song about their many vagaries or a protest march against the cost and elitism of fountain pen friendly paper. And don鈥檛 think I don鈥檛 see you glowering at me from the sidelines, you Pilots and Sailors and TWSBIs, and your besties, Clairefontaine, Rhodia and Tomoe. You all still have your place; it just isn鈥檛 in any of my notebooks. I tried so hard to love and bond with you, I really did, but I just don鈥檛 feel it. Now I鈥檝e lost my heart to the product of an old German family, the House of Faber-Castell, and I鈥檓 committed for life.

Even so, it isn鈥檛 happily-ever-after just yet. I still have to find the ultimate pencil sharper and the apogee of erasers, along with pencil caps, pencil extenders and a pencil case to carry it all. So, lead on, Macduff.

Mechanical Pleasures.


We are lucky to publish another essay by the wonderful writer Vivian Wagner (see her 2017 piece here). Many thanks to Comrade Vivian! What do other Comrades think of mechanical pencils?

Mechanical Pleasures, by Vivian Wagner

I know what David Rees says in How to Sharpen Pencils: 鈥淢echanical pencils are bullshit.鈥滭/p>

For a while, I agreed with him. I鈥檇 fallen in love with all kinds of fancy, fabulous wood-cased pencils 鈥 and that love affair continues to this day. On principle, I stayed away from mechanical pencils. I had everything I needed with my Blackwings and Tombows and Mitsubishis.

One day, though, I found myself at my college鈥檚 bookstore, hanging out, as one does, in the stationery aisle. I happened to see some packages of Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils for a few dollars each. I鈥檝e always liked Bic Atlantis ballpoint pens, and these seemed worth a try. I hesitated a moment, what with my loyalty to wood pencils and the fact that Rees鈥檚 words were seared on my conscience.

But, I thought, what the hell? No one鈥檚 going to know. So I bought a few to try out.

Reader, they were lovely. Even with the basic, French-made Bic lead in them, they were smooth and fun, and 鈥 as a bonus 鈥 I didn鈥檛 need to sharpen them. I could write and write and write 鈥 something I spend a lot of time doing 鈥 and I didn鈥檛 have to stop to refresh my point.

They weren鈥檛 wooden pencils, to be sure, but they were just fine. Better than just fine, in fact. They were a good, useful addition to my daily routine. I began carrying one with me in my journal, finding it was easier to have a mechanical pencil on hand than a wooden pencil while teaching and going through my day, when I couldn鈥檛 always stop to sharpen. In the evenings, I returned home to my wood pencils at my desk, but the Bic mechanicals quickly became a part of my everyday carry.

I discovered, as well, the world of nice, soft, dark 4B Uni and Pilot leads, and these changed the game even more. Suddenly, it was truly a pleasure to write with mechanicals.

Since that fateful day in the bookstore, I鈥檝e discovered that Bic Atlantis 0.5mm pencils are pretty hard to come by these days. Those packages I found, apparently, were old stock. I鈥檝e been experimenting with a few others, including a Ohto wooden Sharp Pencil, a TWSBI Jr. Pagoda, and a Pilot G-2, and a few others. I like all of them, but my favorite is still the Bic Atlantis 0.5mm, maybe just because it was my first.

I still love wood-cased pencils, but I鈥檓 here to say that mechanical pencils have a place, at least in my world. And they aren鈥檛 bullshit.


Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she English at Muskingum University. She鈥檚 the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at VivianWagner.net.

We Who Like Pencils.

[Stephen Watts is back, with another fantastic contribution! Thanks, Stephen, and we hope this is the first of more pieces for Pencil Revolution!]

We Who Like Pencils (or 鈥淲WLP,鈥 pronounced 鈥淲WLP鈥? routinely deal with any number of annoyances in the pursuit of our inexplicable obsession. One of my pet peeves has been the scarcity of suitable pencil display options.

There aren鈥檛 many choices available unless you鈥檙e okay with hiding one end of your pencils in a cup or stand. I prefer my pencils to proudly stand out in the open, reveling in their naked glory for all the world to see. Acrylic holders that horizontally showcase 1-13 pencils worked well for me until my collection outgrew them.

Several years ago, I succumbed to the madness and beyond all reason purchased a $500 lockable jewelry display cabinet. My son Hunter was with me the week it arrived and when, conveniently, my wife was away with Hunter鈥檚 twin brother Garrett. The exorbitant shipping charges should have been a clue that the cabinet was so heavy it had to be shipped on a pallet in a moving van. Hunter and I stared, dumbfounded, as we watched the platform on the back of the trailer slowly lower the beast to the ground. Desperate to hide all evidence of the crime, my deputized accomplice and I decided the smartest thing to do was get the cabinet upstairs in the den and mounted on the wall before my wife got back home. 200 pound painful-to-hold lockable jewelry display cabinets, we learned, don鈥檛 travel easily up twisting flights of stairs.

Fortunately, through destructive trial and error and before my wife arrived back home, Hunter and I got the Heavy Beast from Hell securely fastened to the wall and populated by a relieved flock of vintage pencils.

Dazed by a celebratory excess of potato chips and Mountain Dew, we forgot about the empty pallet which remained in the front yard awaiting bulk refuse pickup. Our ill-conceived plan to pretend as though nothing happened instantly collapsed when my wife pulled into the driveway and cried out to Garrett 鈥淗ow many pencils did he have to buy for them to be delivered on a PALLET?鈥滭/p>

My wife never found out how much I paid for the cabinet or how tiny our tax deduction was when we donated the cabinet to Goodwill a few years later as we downsized into an apartment three states away.

Once again, I needed to find a way to display these little treasures. Typical searches unearthed descriptions of how to construct my own suitable-for-framing display using thick poster board and elastic cord. This utterly ridiculous, labor-intensive solution brings with it the reprehensible requirements of patience and the ability to evenly punch holes in the poster board so one can thread the cord through perfectly-spaced holes while leaving enough slack in the elastic to hold the pencils. Sure, I found images of terrific-looking results. But with intentional deception, the instructions never revealed that such craftsmanship, in real-world scenarios outside the laboratory, is achievable only by skilled lunatics unaware they can more profitably spend their time binge-watching Netflix.

Time and again in my quests I found myself staring admiringly at the readily available but wholly unsuitable golf pencil displays. The ubiquity of these pretentiously perfect products is especially maddening because we know that golfers don鈥檛 care about their itty bitty 3.5 inch 鈥減encils,鈥 more accurately referred to by normal people as 鈥渟tubs,鈥 or we can separate ourselves from them altogether and call the teeny pencils 鈥渢eencils.鈥 Golfers aren鈥檛 displaying their teencils, they鈥檙e displaying how many golf courses they visited. The irony here is that golf itself doesn鈥檛 even matter. To quote the authoritative July 1979 Sports issue of National Lampoon Magazine, 鈥淚f you want to take long walks, take long walks. If you want to hit things with a stick, hit things with a stick. But there鈥檚 no excuse for combining the two and putting the results on TV.鈥滭/p>

After looking at these displays time and again, either I saw one model for the first time or for the first time realized what I could do with one model and it dawned on me the answer to my problem was hiding in plain sight.

If you鈥檙e like me, not just uninterested in golf but adamantly opposed to it, you鈥檒l appreciate how I鈥檝e discovered a way to cheat the golf cabal鈥檚 clever little system: Yes, available to both golfers and humans alike, there exists a beautiful display case intended to hold 64 embarrassed 3.5 inch teencils that can be repurposed to triumphantly hold one row of 32 anatomically correct pencils. It鈥檚 available in a cherry or oak finish and can be found at Great Golf Memories and Amazon. I purchased two, and a full month after putting these displays on my wall I still spend whole days standing in front of them, silently weeping with joy.

Author’s Note: I don鈥檛 work for the companies that create or sell these display cases. I just revel in this 鈥渉ack鈥 and hope that if you go this route, you won鈥檛 spoil it for the rest of the WWLP crowd by admitting your true purpose to the golf mafia.

The Goldfield: Winter Release From Write Notepads & Co.


Joe Gans was the first African-American to hold a world boxing title. When he took home $11,000 from 1906’s Match of the Century in Goldfield, Nevada, he opened the Goldfield Hotel in Baltimore, where the main USPS center now sits near the Shot Tower. Gans was a legend in Baltimore, along with The Goldfield, where Eubie Blake played regular gigs and where Jack Johnson liked to hang out. Today, Gans is largely unsung in his native Baltimore, and Chris Rothe from Write Notepads & Co. has been part of an effort to change that for years. I hope I’m not giving away privileged information, but I know that this edition has been in the works for at least over a year, and I think the care that went into this edition shows.

The details from Write Notepads’ site:

Our winter 2017 pocket notebooks take users on a journey to the turn-of-the-century jazz club at The Goldfield, the exquisite hotel in Baltimore owned by boxing legend Joe Gans. The outer box is foil-stamped in 24kt gold on a spot-UV pattern. Each notebook echoes this Victorian-era pattern in a spot-varnish and features letter-pressed gold ink on an 80# black cover. Inside of the books, you will find 70#, bi-color ruled stock. These sets are proudly made in Baltimore, hometown of Joe Gans.

The box of these books is very stiff, and they arrived in perfect shape. The gloss of the varnish is difficult to photograph (not that I know anything about photography anyway), and the image of the boxer is perfect. The flap to open the box is improved in this model, too.

Inside, you are greeted by a card featuring Gans in front of the notebooks. This is a lovely touch, reminiscent of Lenore.

The notebooks have a subtle echo of the varnish on the covers and a heavily letter-pressed image stamped in gold on the front. I really like the choice of 80# stock here. Write Notepads pocket books have an initially stiff PUR binding and have more pages than other pocket notebooks. The 80# paper provides some flexibility and avoids over-killing the beefiness of the notebook.

Inside, Comrades will find a new paper: cream-colored with two colors. The horizontal lines are blue, while the vertical margins are red. The effect is lovely here, where bright white paper might be jarring.

The pencils are bridge pencils, which are thinner and shorter than regular pencils. Made in the USA by Musgrave, they sharpen well in a crank sharpener prone to producing longer points and also in the KUM Masterpiece (shown). These came out beautifully, and the tiny ferrules are as bright as holiday lights.

The extra in the deluxe pack (which also ships to members) is something you might spot, but I won’t comment on it. I was tickled when I got it though.

There’s something very…BALTIMORE about this release. We are not a city that gets a lot of positive attention, when we get noticed at all. Crime statistics and TV shows skew what it’s really like here on the ground. We live in a place full of hidden gems (like Blackwing beer) and fascinating stories. Poe is buried here, and we have the most literary of any name for a sports team. If Comrades ever pass through, you might find someone (ahem) very happy to share a coffee/tea/beer/water with you over some pencil chat.

Hurry, while you can buy the bridge pencils, the regular pack of notebooks, and the deluxe pack. And shipping is free until the end of the year.

*I feel like it at least deserves a footnote to mention that this is the first release from the major subscription/seasonal/membership models that is dedicated to a person of color. We’ve had two Blackwing Volumes dedicated to women, which is fantastic. I hope the trend continues toward honoring folks of all identities.

(These products are part of a membership paid for from PR funds, not a sample from Write Notepads & Co.)

Metal Shop Timber Twist Review, by Harry Marks.


[I kidded Mr. Harry Marks after he sent a review to my Very Good Comrade Andy at Woodclinched, and we’re lucky enough to publish his review of a piece of Pencil Gear that I own by never talk about: the Timber Twist from Metal Shop CT. Many thanks to Harry!]

When a pencil has been worn to where its ferrule touches the thumb, it is known as the 鈥淈a href="https://blackwing602.com/steinbeck-pencil-length/">Steinbeck stage,鈥 so named for John Steinbeck, who discarded his pencils once they reached such a length. It sounds wasteful鈥攅ven odd. A pencil at half-length still has plenty of words left in it, plenty of sketching left to do.

However, there comes a time when a pencil becomes too cumbersome to hold. When fingers scrunch and contort like commuters on a packed subway car just to eke out a few more strokes before the tool is tossed away and the finish is being sheared away on a fresh stick. What happens to those stubs? Like good little soldiers they do their tours of duty and get retired, but we can鈥檛 bear to part with them. They鈥檝e served us well. We drop them into desk drawers and mason jars in the hopes a child might come along and use one to scratch out a wobbly, hesitant letter A. That child never comes. Those remnants are relegated to 鈥渄esk duty.鈥 Forgotten.

I had tried to assuage my guilt about discarding stubby pencils by purchasing an extender from CW Pencil Enterprise. More akin to a Roaring 鈥?0s cigarette holder, the little wooden stick had a metal opening to slip the stub into with a ring that would slide down and clamp the pencil in place. It performed as expected, but I didn鈥檛 love it. The unprotected tip of the pencil often snapped off in my bag and the dyed wood made marks on the page. It was too long and the uneven metal hurt my fingers after extensive writing sessions. I needed something better, more compact, and easier to carry.

I鈥檇 been familiar with Metal Shop鈥檚 original bullet pencils for a while, but the aesthetic hadn鈥檛 appealed to my tastes. Made out of copper, aluminum, brass, and other materials, their original lineup seemed too cold despite the presence of a piece of wood sticking out of one side. Perhaps it had been the shape. Vintage bullet pencils had been made of plastic and metal and covered in advertisements for vacuum cleaner repair shops and insurance companies. They resembled their namesake, but without the deadly connotations. Metal Shop鈥檚 offerings, however, seemed to take the 鈥渂ullet鈥 part of the name more seriously. They were intimidating, meant for 鈥渞ugged鈥 types who photographed the contents of their rucksacks for tactical 鈥淈a href="http://everydaycarry.com">EDC鈥 websites. I stayed away.

Then Metal Shop鈥檚 owner, Jon Fontane, mentioned he was looking for the perfect name for a new bullet pencil鈥攐ne made out of wood. The Timber Twist, as it had come to be called, carried the same form factor as its metal forefather in a less threatening wooden body. This was it, I thought. This would replace the pencil holder chomping on a 1-inch Blackwing stub in my bag, but that $46 price tag gave me pause. Twenty-five dollars on a box of Blackwings had been my limit. Twelve pencils would last me a long time before I鈥檇 need to replenish my stock, but $46 for a tiny cylinder of wood and aluminum? I waited.

Months went by before the urge grew too strong to ignore. One night while perusing Metal Shop鈥檚 website, I realized I鈥檇 been thinking about this all wrong. I wasn鈥檛 paying $46 for one pencil. I was paying $46 for a lifetime of pencils. It wasn鈥檛 that there was anything wrong with the cheap pencil holder, but I wanted more. I wanted an accessory that would last a long time, maybe forever, a piece of me for my son to carry long after I鈥檇 gone.

The day it arrived, I pulled the flat cardboard box from the envelope and cursed at its weightlessness. I was prepared to write an angry letter to Metal Shop inquiring about the expensive accessory they鈥檇 forgotten to include inside. Then I pried the lid off and saw it sitting there, pinned like a butterfly to be examined with two extra Blackwing 602 stubs and a few erasers rattling around it. Save for the polished aluminum end piece and the bright Pepto-Bismol eraser at the top, this looked like an antique. Metal Shop had done something truly unique: they鈥檇 paid homage to a vintage object by making something new that looked like a vintage object.

As I slipped it from its box, I marveled at how light it felt. It had been constructed of mahogany and aluminum. I expected something more substantial. I wanted my pocket to sag under its heft. I wanted the paper to gasp with each stroke, as though I was tattooing my words on its skin. This would not do. This didn鈥檛 feel worth the luxury price.

I unscrewed the cap and flipped it over, exposing the 602 stub that had been fastened to the other side, and screwed it in. I now held an almost full-length pencil in my hand and began writing. The weight鈥攐r absence of it鈥攕uddenly made sense. My hand wouldn鈥檛 cramp. I wouldn鈥檛 tire as easily as if the Timber Twist had been made of a solid block of wood. I鈥檇 exhaust the stub, pull out what was left, attach a new one, and keep going. This bullet pencil seemed to have been made with writers in mind.

The eraser didn鈥檛 get much more out of me than a shrug. Its hardness left behind a lot of residue. Traces of the pencil remained on the page. For future buyers, I suggest either not worrying about erasing or carrying a better eraser in your bag. Of course, one doesn鈥檛 buy a Timber Twist for the eraser. They buy it for its looks鈥攁nd what a looker it is.

I purchased the mahogany version with the aluminum trim. The silver of the 鈥渂ullet鈥 part of the pencil amplifies wood鈥檚 cherry tones. Carrying it in my pocket and my bag daily for the past few weeks has put a nice patina on the metal. The wood still looks new, though it won鈥檛 be long before it, too, comes down with a case of wabi-sabi. The Timber Twist already had an heirloom feel out of the box. I can鈥檛 imagine how good it will look with a couple of handwritten novels behind it.

That鈥檚 why we gravitate toward analog tools like these, right? The beauty of such objects is not in how pristine we can keep them, but how much of ourselves we鈥檙e able to pour into them. We refer to paperbacks with worn spines and dog-eared pages as 鈥渨ell-loved.鈥 In a few months, the glisten on the finish of my Timber Twist will dull. Fingerprints will cloud the aluminum and the other objects in my bag will scar the grain. It will go through hell and come out changed, not unlike the remains at the bottoms of those desk drawers.

Except this little soldier will enlist the others. No more desk duty for those forgotten stubs. They will slog through short stories and to-do lists, novels and notes, marching along until they鈥檝e taken their last strokes and can truly rest. And the Timber Twist will keep marching, marching along鈥?/p>

 

A Box of REAL Blackwing MMX Pencils.


I’d been having a stressful few weeks, with school being back in session, a death in the family, my son starting his first day of pre-school, sickness descending on the family early this year. I came home to a box from CW Pencil Enterprise. I’d ordered something, but my package had already come. This was a surprise.

So I hurried to open the box and found a wrapped package with a gift tag. Inside I found a box of Blackwings, the ones I am a crusade to get renamed the MMX. Someone had written “MMX” in gold on the box, but I still wasn’t ready for what I found inside.

My friend Lenore had ordered a box of Blackwings with “MMX” stamped on them with the Kingsly machine at the pencil shop by Alyx. I sat in my dining room chuckling for a long time before dropping Lenore a message to thank her, whereupon I sharpened one immediately.

We talk a lot on Erasable about how great the community that’s sprung up around Pencil Life is. So I feel silly repeating it maybe. But because of these activities, I have made a lot of wonderful friends, one of whom would order some Blackwings made just for me with “MMX” on them — the only REAL MMX BLACKWINGS in existence. Thanks again, Lenore!

Thoreau Pencil by Analog Supply Co.


Two weeks ago, I was looking at what do get for my next tattoo, and my search turned to Thoreau and pencils. Somehow, the existence of these has escaped me for what appears to be two years. Analog Supply Co. sells Thoreau pencils!

I jumped right to order them, but since this company has been so under the radar, I wondered if they were fulfillling orders currently and kept quiet about it. I ordered on Saturday morning and had these in my hands early the next week. They run $7.50 for 9 pencils, but shipping was only $1 (less than it cost them to send it). This is a fair deal. Here is what Analog says about their pencils:

Raw, unfinished natural wood pencils聽that feel great in hand.聽The core is #2/HB for writing and drawing. 聽Writes with a dark line.聽Made in the U.S.A.

Named for American author Henry David Thoreau who worked in his family’s pencil factory prior to writing Walden among other famous works.

The pencil, the tool of doodlers, stands for thinking and creativity…Yet the pencil’s graphite is also the ephemeral medium of thinkers, planners, drafters, architects, and engineers, the medium to be erased, revised, smudged, obliterated, lost…

The packaging of this pencil echoes the way that Write Notepads sold their pencils until they started making their own custom boxes — though Write included a little KUM Wedge to fill in the space.

These are raw and made in the USA. That and the sharp hex point right to Musgrave’s custom pencil finishing, which we all know is a mixed bag. The design itself is lovely. We love a raw pencil, and the black ferrule and eraser look sharp. The white text is a nice touch on this light wood and is crisp. I wish that the Thoreau part were larger and further from the business end of the pencil. Before hitting the聽Steinbeck Stage, all mentions of Thoreau are gone. The branding overshadows the Thoreau part, unless you are really looking for it. It’s lovely, but the focus is clearly more on the brand than on Mr. Henry.

The wood is not cedar, and the smell points me away from basswood even — though I can’t verify that right away. It’s rough for gripping and sharpens well. Whatever it is, the wood smell is very strong, and I enjoyed that. After all, historical Thoreau pencils were never made of the incense cedar of a modern pencil anyway. I like the woodsy and raw vibe of this pencil.

About half of mine had cores that were at least a little off-center, but they averaged better than most Musgrave pencils these days, since 5 of 9 were at least pretty well-centered, and the other four are still perfectly usable.

The core is reasonably dark and almost Semi-Smooth ™, with average Point Durability for an HB. Line Stability (post forthcoming) is quite good, with this pencil making marks that resist smearing and ghosting surprisingly well for the level of darkness achieved, even on smooth paper (such as Write or Field Notes). The rawness of the pencil itself might fool Comrades at first, but this is no Rough Writer.

Still, this pencil wants to be outside. For outdoor writing (read: wet and dirty hands), I enjoy a pencil like this. And, of course, they look amazing with the Write Notepads & Co. Walden notebook.

The eraser, being (I assume) a Musgrave job, is terrible. However, I’m not one to avoid a pencil for having a bad eraser. I don’t use them much anyway. For what it’s worth, it’s attractive and well-attached. But since it brings to mind the General’s Cedar Pointe (which has a great eraser) and then proceeds to disappoint, it really is a blemish on this otherwise nice pencil.

Honestly, any pencil that says Thoreau on it and works reasonably well would win me over anyway. But these stand up on their own as Musgrave pencils with well-designed specs. If you like natural pencils, sharp-hex pencils, or are a Thoreau aficionado, get yourself a pack of these pencils. Get me another pack too.