Apsara Elephant Jumbo Pencil.

I saw these recently on CW Pencil Enterprise’s website and had to have them. They are even prettier in person, and I love to use them even more than I thought I would. The Apsara Elephant Jumbo writing pencils are just delightful.

The pencils come in five colors, and you can purchase the box of five that includes the standard Apsara eraser and even a jumbo sharpener. From what I can tell, the sharpener puts a point that is similar to the factory point for these fat pencils. The point achieved with a similar blade sharpener for jumbo pencils is generally much shorter.

The lacquer is well-applied, and the colors really pop. These have an even thicker and brighter paint job than I usually find from Apsara. It was the colors, in part that drew me to these pencils in the first place.

The other thing that attracted me to these pencils was the promise of dark marks, and the Elephants deliver. Below, please find marks from a few pencils I found lying around that my kids were coloring with this morning — and the Blackwing I had in my hand for reference. The Apsara Elephant Jumbo matches the darkest jumbo pencil I found, the Chinese version of the My First Ticonderoga. However, the Apsara was less smeary and crumbly.

Paper is from Write Notepads & Co.

It’s really wonderful to write with, and the hex makes the marks feel more controlled than the slippery round barrels we usually find on jumbo pencils.

I can’t describe why I like these bright pencils so much, but I plan to stock up a bit. They are both beautiful and useful: well-constructed, colorful, with excellent writing cores to boot. I need to get some more for my kids so that they don’t steal all of mine.

Ticonderoga Checking Pencil: Chinese Version.

I’ve long been a sucker for checking pencils. I always keep at least a small supply of the particular pencil that is easiest version to find in the US, the Dixon Ticonderoga Carmine Red checking pencil.

Mexican on top; Chinese on the bottom.

As recently as last year, these were advertised as being made of cedar. I was chiding myself for not picking up more of these, when I came across the newest version while out shopping for my kids’ back-to-school supplies yesterday.

On the left, the new version that is made in China has a wonderful finish.

The latest version is made in China, and the finish has a matte feeling to it. The lacquer is thick and evenly applied, and the pencils themselves are a little wider. They feel like the newest version of the Ticonderoga neons, which are really wonderful pencils. These are easily the best-finished checking pencils with erasers I’ve ever seen for sale in the United States. I have to admit that I’m bothered by Ticonderoga’s move away from cedar, but their recent pencils are really remarkable.

The marks that the new version leaves on paper are not quite as saturated, but the core feels much smoother and less tacky and waxy. While I wish it was darker, I definitely prefer the writing experience with the newer one.

Definitely pick up a small pack of these if you have a use for red pencils. My son, who is obsessed with red, is a huge fan and recommends them.

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.

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?

Reviewing the Dixon Ticonderoga.

A 2004/5 American-made Ticonderoga and a 2010 Chinese-made Ticonderoga, both well-loved.

This is a daunting task. The one and only time we ever published a review of the classic yellow Ticonderoga, it was 2005. The review was written by a professional reporter and photographer. It is still one of the most read posts according to the Magical Stats Machine. But the Ticonderoga is no longer made in the USA, and it’s more expensive now. It’s a completely different pencil.

Over a decade ago, Dixon moved their production out of the United States, and everything changed. Some of this was bad. Some was good. But nothing was consistent. To be honest, by the time my oldest child started school in 2014, the teacher’s insistence on Ticonderoga pencils was basically meaningless. The pencils sporting this brand were made in Mexico and China, and even the color of the barrels was inconsistent. The Mexican-made pencils seemed to have harder cores and sloppier paint jobs. The Chinese-made offerings were darker and softer (and, around 2010, more…yellow). There was Microban on some of the yellow pencils, and there was even a blue model made in Mexico who’s branding profile was that it was coated in that questionable substance.

Matte black Ticonderogas. The current version is glossy and disappointing next to this fragrant beauty.

Before that, the pencils were made in the USA, and there were two other variants. The “Black” has survived, though the Woodgrain is long gone. I owned exactly one pack of the former that I bought at a grocery store in Carbondale, Illinois. I’m fairly certain that this is the only one I have left. The Millennium (pictured) was a gift from Caroline Weaver, and the USA-made “Black” that superseded it might be my all-time favorite Ticonderoga for its matte finish and pleasant memories of fall 2004 and discovering the writing of Bruce Chatwin.

A version of these showed up around a decade ago as an extra in packs of yellow pencils. I’d love to track some down.

Like other manufacturers, Dixon used to make custom pencils with their own quality and branding, rather than the usually junk promotional pencils we see today. Behold, this lovely Baltimore City Government pencil from decades past, and its lovely green foil customization. Imagine having pencils you know will work well with your company’s name on them!

It’s just a Ticonderoga.
Wait, no. It’s a Charm City Dixon!

In recent years, we have found different colors of Ticonderoga. There have been Target-exclusive colors twice, neon models available at Staples (recently replaced by greatly improved versions), stripes, metallic paint, natural barrels, even muted hued Ticonderogas. The quality on these has never been consistent. They have been made in different countries. And the wood even varies. It’s frustrating that, for a number of years, you never knew what you were going to get when you bought a box of Ticonderogas. One would hope that such a veritably iconic brand would venture to be somewhat consistent, to maintain a level of quality control that could live up to the reputation of the pencil. But this has not been so.

Breast cancer awareness pencil. My wife’s OB used to keep these around her office.

For instance, while someone in the company has denied this in a Facebook group, another pencil industry insider has confirmed this for me: the back to school Ticonderogas and the large packs available at places like Costco are not the same quality as regular Ticonderogas and are not intended to be (This could certainly no longer be true, and I’d be happy to have this information corrected!). In the past, such pencils have been made of non-cedar wood, and a quick glance spots shoddy paint and badly glued ferrules. These are clearly targeted at teachers and office managers who insist on yellow Dixon Ticonderoga pencils merely through brand recognition. Plus, over the last year, Ticondergas have been showing up with “premium wood,” not cedar. The packaging had been bragging about “American Cedar” for a few years, and I have bought at least one pack of pencils with that package that were very clearly not made of cedar inside over the last few months. With the current shortage of cedar, Dixon has opted for less fragrant wood species.

Three versions of the F grade pencil. Check out the episode we recorded about this special grade on Erasable. http://www.erasable.us/episode/57

However, in recent years, the quality had been on a considerate and almost consistent up-tick. While from 2009-2017, I would have to hunt around through the Ticonderoga offerings at the store to get a good box, by 2018, I was able to purchase them online and trust that I would get a quality set of pencils. I sent some to my children’s school and was happy that a brand I used to love seemed to be getting their act together. I am particularly talking about the pencils made in China. Production quality is at least as good as the last US-made runs of this pencil, and the cores are unquestionably superior. They are darker, smoother, and even stronger. The paint job is excellent for this price range. The new neon version (with blue, not purple, and matching erasers) is so lovely that I would stock up a gross or two if they were made of cedar.

A “hackwing” Ticonderoga I made from a pencil whose ferrule busted off when someone sat in it.

I still miss the Woodgrain and the matte-finished “Black” (formerly the Millennium), and I hope that Dixon returns to making their pencils from cedar in the near future. But the Ticonderoga pencil is definitely not the same pencil that it was ten years ago. Of course, that’s part of the problem. The well-recognized brand’s pencils only shared that famous ferrule in the last few years. If the quality and consistency stay where they have been for the last year or two, I would be a very happy penciler. We’ll be keeping an eye out and stocking up on the cedar versions that we can find.

A very short and fat My FIrst TIconderoga with a custom clip. This is from around 2010.

Check out Leadfast’s great post on checking out Ticonderoga.

Blackwing Volume 811.

The Library Pencil is here! A tribute to libraries, the number of this edition references where in the Dewey decimal system one might find works by Dr. Maya Angelou. From Blackwing:

In a speech delivered at the New York Public Library in 2010, the late Dr. Maya Angelou poetically described the humble library as a 鈥渞ainbow in the clouds鈥 so that 鈥渋n the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times鈥 at all times the viewer can see a possibility of hope.鈥滭/span>

The color of the pencil is a reference to the iconic green lamps found atop the tables in a lot of old library buildings. I doubt that it is accident that this pencil looks so beautifully when placed atop an old volume of lore (forgotten or otherwise).

We were lucky enough to have Blackwing’s brand manager, Alex, on the Erasable Podcast last night. Andy and I had a great time talking with Alex about this pencil and about all things Blackwing. But this is really a pencil you have to see with your eyes.

I find it difficult to really capture the color of this pencil. The gradient runs from an emerald green near the ferrule to a pale green near the business end. Alex tells us this was accomplished with a roll-on printing process. However, only with bright light, close examination, and knowing that it’s already there can I find any seam at all. I thought it was just a few coats of lacquer.

The the gold stamping looks specially crisp on top of this green, and it perfectly matches the ferrule. The pink eraser looks great, but I wonder if yellow wouldn’t bring to mind the lamp after which this pencil is designed a little more. As it is, the pink looks fantastic. The core is the same “Firm” that Comrades can find in the Blackwing 602.

While the color is beautiful and perfectly spring-like, I think the green might be a little too cold/blue to perfectly match a little/banker’s lamp. But I could be totally wrong, and it’s danged close enough at any rate.

The the other way in which this pencil references lamps is that it actually lights up; glows in the dark! Alex told us that this pencil is slathered in phosphorescent paint, and it shows. This glows in the dark much more brightly than any other toy that I remember having as a kid. I had very little trouble getting a picture of the glow with a smartphone in a dark room after “charging” it for a few minutes in sunlight. The gradient of this finish, mixed with extra coats of clear lacquer on top, results in a nice matte finish to the eyes but a somewhat slippery finish to the fingers. It is a little bit of a paradox, but I got used to the light slipperiness as quickly as I got used to the slight grit of Volume 4.

This edition is a clear winner in my book. (See what I did there?) over the last few years, some of the editions in the Volumes series sold out really quickly, while some stuck around for a bit. We’re not sure how many of any individual edition Blackwing ever made. So if you like nice pencils, the color green, the library, and things that glow in the dark, I’d hurry and grab a set of these — before they burn out.

In a dimly-lit room, this pencil glows it bit.

PaperMate Handwriting Pencil.

Over the weekend, I came across some interesting pencils at Staples: the PaperMate Handwriting Pencil. My toddler is completely in love with all shades of purple and pink and otherwise brightly colored pencils, and I picked up a pack.

These are relatively short and fat pencils. They’re designed to comfortably accommodate tiny hands. My daughter immediately stole the fuchsia pencil, and she’s having a grand time drawing with it. My kindergartener will claim one later, and I’m curious to see what effect, if any, it has on the quality of his handwriting.

The erasers match the triangular barrels, and the ferrule and eraser assemblies are very securely clinched on top. The imprint is simple and pretty cute, albeit perhaps a little too far away from the eraser end.

The pencils’ finishes are okay. The paint is laid on a little unevenly but on the thick side. The wood is definitely not cedar, but that’s no surprise these days.

What really surprises me about these pencils is that the core makes a reasonably dark line, but it stays put. Perhaps the most ubiquitous learners’ pencil in the United States, the My First Ticonderoga is another fat pencil with a large eraser designed for small hands. These pencils have a wide and soft graphite core, but they smear all over the place. The writing sample above was made in a Field Notes notebook with the most recent iteration of the Ticonderoga in question. As Comrades can clearly see, the PaperMate Handwriting Pencil has a lead more similar to that found in an adult pencil. I wrote a bit with one of these pencils, and it was a perfectly comfortable and enjoyable experience.

The pack comes with a bright orange sharpener designed for the pencils’ diameter. The blade is made in Germany by Eisen, a name we find on some quality sharpeners.

I used as pencil enough to dull the point so that I could tryout this little sharpener. While the transition from the pre-sharpened triangular cone of wood to the round cone produced with his blade sharpener is a little strange at first, the sharpener did a more than serviceable job. The resulting point strongly resembles the angle of the original factory point.


At $3 for five pencils and a sharpener, I think the set is a reasonable deal. It’s too early to tell whether or not these are going to help my kids improve their handwriting, but any bright new pencils that come into our home are always welcomed by my kiddos. If you have children or otherwise enjoy a fat pencil yourself, you can’t go too wrong for less than the cost of a fancy coffee drink.

Blackwing Natural: Extra Firm and Kinda Naked.

A few weeks ago, a new pencil from Blackwing was leaked on social media. Shortly thereafter, Blackwing released their first permanent collection pencil in nearly six years: The Blackwing Natural.

Listeners of the Erasable Podcast might recognize some requests that we made repeatedly. The core is extra firm. The barrel is natural cedar. While I wished for a silver ferrule and pink eraser, this gold ferrule and gray eraser look fantastic next to the wood grain and the gold stamping. I’m not disappointed at all.

The barrel of the pencil is covered in some sort of thin varnish or lacquer. It’s matte, grippy, and lovely. The core is fantastic. It’s plenty dark for me, reminding me of the original Palomino that seems to be no more.

There was considerable delay in getting these shipped, but with them being a permanent part of the collection, that’s totally fine with me. A few of mine had quality control issues. Four or five of them have ferrules not attached very well, and one had a big chip in the wood. But I am not under any illusion that this dozen of pencils is going to be mine for long anyway. Once my kids and spouse see these, I’m going to have to order myself another box.

Thanks to Blackwing, for listening to your customers who have been wanting a pencil more or less exactly like this! Personally, I’m glad they have added the extra firm core to the lineup and that they have added a natural option. Natural pencils got me into these graphite beauties in the first place.

I’m holding myself back from buying many gross of these pencils. For now.

Blackwing Volume 4.

Blackwing Volume 4 is here, and it is the Mars pencil. While the soft core will leave some folks wanting, I’m delighted by the latest offering from Palomino.

Clad in a matte rust orange, Volume 4 sports the usual hexagonal cross-section. Embedded in the finish are little pieces of sand. On first using these, right before we recorded the latest episode of Erasable, I was not a fan of the sand. However, after using this pencil more, I’ve come to appreciate the subtle texture. The grit is more of an extra feature of the design than it is something Comrades will actually notice very much in use.

The imprint is cream-colored, as is the eraser. The hue is very close to a standard Blackwing white eraser, but it is definitely different. I was surprised that subscribers did not get an extra pack of such a non-standard eraser color, which is usually the case. (Gray might be a suitable replacement.)

But what did come extra in subscribers packs is a lovely art print!

The ferrule is marketed as having a bronze finish, but I would call it more of a gray or gunmetal. It’s still lovely, and it blends with the color and design of this pencil to great effect.

Altogether, I find this pencil tops. I don’t usually buy a box in addition to my subscriber pack, but I have another pack of these beauties on order. I am a sucker for the soft core from the MMX.

Speaking of which, this is only the third time that Blackwing has put their softest core into a pencil from the Volumes series. I’m glad that they are revisiting what seems to be their least popular core, at least among folks who use their pencils for writing. The grip provided by this finish and the smoothness of the graphite core make this pencil a singular pleasure with which to scrawl.

I was not a super fan at first, but this pencil has just shot into my top 5 favorite Blackwing releases so far.

Blackwing Volume 33 1/3.


Monday is the official launch date of Blackwing Volume 33 1/3, the fall release from Palomino. As usual, subscribers get a first taste, and I got to take mine for聽a spin聽all weekend. Two of my three favorite Volumes have been autumnal releases, and I’d consider each of the three previous fall efforts to be a success. So how does the latest stack up?

I like that Blackwing has started to match the packing material to the Volumes releases. It’s a nice touch that I appreciate as a subscriber.聽 As usual, we get the extra pencil in a tube, an item that’s become attractive to collectors since the first Volumes came out in summer 2015, number 725.

What’s more, the last few subscriber extras were basically print-outs on card stock. This time around, subscribers get a bottle of vinyl pellets out of which a record could be made. My record-loving pal asked me, after my package came, if the set comes with a record. Yes! I don’t know what to do with this item, but I think one of my friends who is into vinyl would enjoy it. At any rate, I’m happy to see a unique extra this go-round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honestly, I have very little interest in vinyl records. I understand the advantages some folks experience with them, but I’ve grown too accustomed to streaming music wherever I go to go back to physically stored music now. I haven’t always gotten particularly excited about the themes/tributes around the Volumes releases, but I appreciate these as interesting pencils in their own right. The design is big thumbs up.

These pencils are black. The finish is matte and smells like an MMX, and the stamping is black and calls to mind Volume 24. The ferrule and eraser are even black, making this pencil perhaps a perfect mate for the matte black Field Notes Raven’s Wing of the Write Notepads Lenore. How much more black could this pencil get, without dying the wood (and cedar is apparently really difficult to dye)? None more black.聽

Near the business end, we find foil-stamped rings that echo the grooves on a record. They could function as a sort of grip-area, though I’m not sure if I’d like them better if they went all of the way up the pencil or if they were just not there. The core is the “balanced” core from the Pearl, Volume 725, and Volume 1. It’s honestly my least favorite of the four cores found in Blackwings, but I enjoy all four. Aside from the MMX (the darkest, my favorite), it’s a very close call between the other three.

The ferrules look a little worse for the wear. All of mine are pretty scratched up, and the “seam” where they are attached shows through in this monochromatic color scheme. Some Comrades might find this bothersome with such expensive pencils.

I have to admit that I was initially a little disappointed by the lack of autumnal hues and getting yet聽another聽black pencil from Blackwing. Once I opened my package, I found that the uniform matte black aesthetic is a winner here.聽聽Matte black has served well for over eight years as of this dispatch, and it’s among my very favorite finishes on any pencil (assuming there’s a finish, with unfinished pencils being聽 my usual favorite). These pencils will definitely get a workout during NaNoWriMo this year, if my kids don’t run off with them all for Halloween first.

Blackwing Volume 10001.


Blackwing begins the fourth year of the Volumes series with Volume 10001, a solute to Tetsuya Miyamoto and the KenKen puzzle. The copy from Blackwing explains it well:

Blackwing 10001 (澹变竾澹? pays tribute to Miyamoto Sensei鈥檚 puzzles and other creative ways of teaching and learning. 10001 is a numeral palindrome in Kanji as well as in Arabic numerals. It is also tied to one of Miyamoto Sensei鈥檚 favorite equations. The pencil features a red stained barrel, gold imprint and unique five-sided 鈥淕艒kaku pencil鈥 shape. Translated literally from Japanese, G艒kaku means 鈥減assed,鈥 as in a problem or exam. It is also a near-homophone for the Japanese word 鈥淕okakukei,鈥 meaning pentagon. G艒kaku pencils are given to every student who graduates from the Miyamoto Mathematics class.

While I enjoy the releases that speak to an interest I already have, these pencils honor a teacher and a puzzle of whom and of which I have never heard. But just as Moleskines introduced me to Bruce Chatwin, the Volumes series has encouraged me to explore a little as a result of the tributes in a few instances. This edition is definitely a case in point. I have always wanted to explore puzzles more, but where does one begin? The KenKen puzzle looks like a good launching point for me. The extra for subscribers is a set of puzzles printed on heavy stock, and the shredded paper is yellow (to echo the printing? Volume 54 had teal packing materials).

The pencils themselves, separate from the them/tribute? Beautiful. A few of the Volumes editions have been鈥?unattractive in my view (Volumes 56 and 205, I鈥檓 looking at you). Many are lovely. Some are fantastic, gorgeous, exceptional. This is the latter. I love the combination of the red stain and the high-gloss clear lacquer. My first instinct was to want these to have pink erasers, but I like the black. Pink would have dulled some of the effect of the red stain. The printing is gold and, as usual, crisp. These feature the “firm” core, the same as the Blackwing 602.*

More remarkable is the shape of these pencils. Rather than the usual hexagon from Blackwing, the rare round cross-section, or the not-yet-seen triangular barrel, Blackwing went for a pentagonal pencil. These do not feel especially differently than a hex pencil, but my hand tells me…something is up when I hold one. The other difference with this shape is that the ferrules are aligned with the imprint. So they do not rest with the stamping at the top, making them difficult to photograph.

This is a lovely start to another year of Blackwing Volumes releases. I’m already thinking about picking up another box once my kids find these and dig in.

* And Volumes 211, 56, 344, 205, and 16.2.

Blackwing Volume 54.

Blackwing Volume 54, the Exquisite Corpse pencil, is here.聽The spring 2018 release from Blackwing screams SPRING, BLOSSOMS, and YES YES YES. This “Rose Pink” pencil is topped with a silver ferrule and blue eraser and is stamped in teal. Perhaps best of all, it contains Blackwing’s Extra Firm (EF) core that we saw in the 24, the 530, and the 1917.

I’ve seen it referred to as an 80s pencil, but anything with teal screams 90s to me (though it could very well just be that I prefer the 90s, with the angst, the coffee, the auburn hair.

The packing material is even teal, to echo the pencil.

[I should probably begin this post by apologizing if the color of this pencil is way off in my photos. To tell the truth, it’s not entirely on point (!) in Blackwing’s photo, either. The exact shade of pink is elusive.]

It feels weird to “review” a Blackwing that’s really just a pencil I already like with a different paint job, but I think we can say a bit about the theme. This is gutsy. Usually the Blackwing tributes lean toward the masculine (go troll these comments if you’re bored), and the aesthetics usually run on the safe/muted side. This pencil is loud, possibly the brightest premium pencil I own. At a distance, it almost looks like a cheap novelty pencil, but the thickness and quality (of all but one) of the lacquer quickly reveal this to be a lovely Japanese pencil.

This pencil is supposed to have been designed by playing the Exquisite Corpse game, and the subscribers’ kit has cardstock guides for this.

Blackwing certainly has no reason to be making this up, and we can just be happy that the results of the parts work so well together and that this is the second year of three that all four releases have represented all four cores.

The pink and teal look fantastic together. A black or gold ferrule would have been….too much; silver is perfect. I want the eraser to be a different color (the royal blue and teal clash for me), but I can’t say which currently available colors I’d rather have. Custom teal or purple would have been incredible, but, I expect, expensive.

The EF core echoes the original Palomino HB enough that, as my Erasable Podcast co-host Tim put it: “If it’s different from the Palomino, it doesn’t need to be.” It’s a great core. I don’t find that it smears less than the Firm core, but one does not use something as soft as Blackwings expecting no smearing or ghosting. I’m Okay with this.

This pencil looks amazing with the silver Blackwing point protector.

I love Volume 54, and my daughter has a box waiting for her 8th birthday later this month. I told her, truthfully, that they sold out. (And Blackwing reports that this is the Volume that has sold out from their own stock the fastest.) I didn’t tell Charlotte that I ordered a set from The Pencil Shop and that it’s waiting for her.

While pink is not my favorite color for pencils, this Volumes release is a winner for me. The looks are seasonal, and the theme is original and also something in which I’ve long been interested. The EF core and thick finish land this pencil in premium territory.

(These were not samples from the manufacturer. I’ve been a paying subscriber since literally day one.)