Blackwings of victory

by Scribble Monboddo

There's no denying that Blackwing is one heck of a brand. It even came back from the dead, after all. But is there more to it all than just branding and pzazz? Let's find out.

Blackwing was originally a pencil sub-brand of Eberhard Faber, one of the many stationery legends of Nuremberg (where there is so much of this sort of thing that it's positively embarrassing). Nuremberg itself has almost too much history to know where to begin, but there's a rather fitting twist when it comes to where they established US operations; the site of the factory is now home to the headquarters of the United Nations, of all things.

Whether it was that international pedigree or the adoption by various artists that did it, the Blackwing pencil evidently won itself a loyal following. Apparently, during the decade or so that no Blackwing was produced, online auction prices for 'new old stock' rose a hundred-fold. That's crazy, of course, but it showed there was a market waiting for someone else to tap.

California Cedar products rode to the rescue. Well, the barrel has to be made of something, and FSC-approved cedar is at the very least as good a material as many others (plus it smells great when it's sharpened - honestly, it does). The lead, or rather the graphite, apparently comes from Japan, and it all gets put together in a rather smart package.

Blackwings have some rather distinctive elements which help them stand out. They're quite a bit longer than most pencils, for a start, which also suggests good value for money. The shiny brass ferule with its the generously-proportioned eraser is also a nice touch.

For similar reasons pertaining to branding, it seems, a bit of research is required before choosing your Blackwing. As far as I can gather, the original Blackwing is aimed at artists, with a hardness I would estimate at 2B or 3B. The 602 is essentially a surprisingly-smooth HB, while the Pearl is a half-way option - roughly a B, I think. If you find this a touch confusing, then rest assured you are not alone, but the internet offers many buying guides and reviews which should help in working out what variety is most likely to meet your needs (and hopefully, this is one of them).

So, is this the world's best pencil? That's a high bar to reach, and with the admirable alternatives from Tombow, Uniball, Koh-i-Noor, Faber-Castell and Britain's own Derwent it's a tough call to decide which is really the most enjoyable to write or draw with. But it's certainly one of the best-presented of pencils, and whether or not it's Number One on the page, it's at the very least in the top ten. The smoothness of the graphite has a feel somewhat reminiscent of Pentel's Ain-Stein leads (*hmm, wonders...*) and writing with one of these does rather grow on you.

Palomino have done a good job with companion products, too. There is, not unreasonably, an official sharpener made for them by Kum, with a two-stage process which I expect is rather good but haven't had an opportunity to try just yet. But the other thing one needs with a pencil is something to write on, and as Nero kindly furnished my scriptorium with a Pearl Slate notebook I drafted this article in it - so a word or two about that to conclude.

A little slimmer than A5, the notebook has a sling for a Blackwing pencil on the spine, copious ideas for note-taking at the back (aha - BuJo!) and a handy pocket inside the rear cover. Naturally, it is also very happy handling some pencil graphite on its surface.

Hurrah for the Blackwing, then. It looks good, but it's not just style over substance; it really works, too.