Portuguese Pencils!

by Scribble Monboddo

Ever since I landed in Portugal for the first time on the first Good Friday of this century, barely speaking the language but catapulted straight into the Braga paschal parade, I've been a fan. That sort of a start was always going to be kill or cure, but I survived the vinho verde tinto and I've kept going back ever since then.

I could wax lyrical about Portugal's many cultural treasures, but this is a stationery blog so I probably shouldn't. I will mention a little bit of history, though. For reasons which are a touch sensitive but, well, undeniable, the country was effectively isolated from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Fascist dictatorships can rather do that. One of the side effects was that some technologies busily being concentrated in the hands of German and Japanese experts elsewhere nevertheless survived in Portugal - and one of them was the old art of pencil-making.

Viarco is a serendipitous survival of that sometimes sad history, using the same factory, the same machinery, and if not actually the same personnel at least some of the same surnames, as when it started in the early twentieth century. They are now, quite rightly, milking that retro credibility for all it's worth, and here are the delectable results.

Most of these pencils come in packaging appropriate to the mid twentieth-century too, so they really do look the part. The 'No.2' pencils are a decent HB, perhaps not as silky smooth as modern graphites can achieve (these are no Blackwings, let's be honest), but pleasant enough to use - and just gorgeous to look at. How could you not be proud to display a Super Desenho or two on your desk?

Don't allow this to fool you into thinking that Viarco is a tech-free zone, though. Their Violeta copying pencils are the height of military intelligence know-how - well they were in the First World War, at least. They're still making them in much the same way, they still work if you fancy a bit of old-school espionage (or a shopping list which reads backwards - whatever floats your boat), they fit the extender of the cheapest Faber-Castell 'Perfect Pencil' when they get short, and they're purple!

There's another reason I want you try these though, which is that I found them. Well, OK, I just bought some, but they used to be so hard to obtain in the UK that I ended up sending some to Stu myself - and now here they are available even in convenient singles, if you prefer. Beat that!