Saturday, 12 February 2011
Dixon Ticonderoga HB Pencil
I begin this review with an old British television clip: the opening credits and introduction of an episode of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. Although best known around the world for his children's stories, Dahl also wrote wicked short stories for adults. He did this using the original predecessor of the pencil I review now: the Dixon Ticonderoga. The introduction on this episode of Tales of the Unexpected was typical: Dahl talking to camera from what purported to be his study, fiddling with a pencil as he spoke.
He was particular about the pencils and paper with which he wrote. The Ticonderoga was not, as far as I know, available in Great Missenden, England at the time, and I guess he stocked up during his frequent visits to the USA. Writing sessions would begin with sharpening six pencils, and he would change pencils rather than stop in mid-flow to sharpen a dull point. When I bought the review pencils from Cult Pens, I was tempted to purchase a box of twelve, so that I could put them into a cup and admire them by the dozen. Ticonderogas appear best in bulk: there's a scene in one episode from the last season of Mad Men where Joan Harris is seen extracting a number of them from the false ceiling. I've not had a chance to watch much that season again yet, but the Ticonderoga plays a small, but important role in Season Four. (And I recall another similar scene where Mulder has done the same in The X-Files basement.)
The Ticonderoga, long established as an American-made pencil, is now produced in Mexico and China. The Dixon name is part of the Fila stable of companies (it acquired Lyra a few years ago). It has very little currency here in Europe and until last year I had never even heard of it. When I saw that Cult Pens had begun to stock it however, I was keen to try one for review.
The pencil itself is finished in what might be called US Standard Office Pencil Yellow. This isn't the golden yellow of the Staedtler Noris; it's closer to the colour of honey, Bath stone or even mustard. It has a slight reddish cast to it. Unlike most contemporary pencils, this one bears no barcodes, country of origin stamps or any extraneous marking except the simple "Dixon Ticonderoga 2 HB" in green foil blocking. The ferrule, stamped from green-painted metal, bears two yellow stripes. New in the box, it comes unsharpened. This pencil certainly looks as though it means business. But how does it write?
Surprisingly well, I found. If this lead is anything like the old American leads used by Roald Dahl, I can see why they were his favourite pencil for long spells of writing. The wood is cedar, and the lead is a medium slate-grey shade. The point lasts a long time and during a week where I used the Ticonderoga exclusively, I found that quite long spells passed between sharpenings. It sharpened very nicely as well. The eraser, being a bog-standard pink pearl type, will do at a pinch if nothing else is to hand, but I prefer to use my modern white plastic erasers.
However it was noticeable that some shortcuts have been taken in production. This is, after all, an everyday office pencil. Quality control is questionable. One of my pencils was bent; not quite a banana, and not as bad as some examples out there, but certainly deviating from straight and true as can be seen in this photo (taken indoors):
It was this pencil that I used as my sample for this review.
Overall this is a good pencil for everyday use, though the Staedtler Noris 122 is a better overall pencil in my view, largely because of the QC issues.