Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Staedtler Noris HB

It's about time I posted about pencils again so this latest post is about the Ford Mondeo of the pencil world: the Staedtler Noris HB school pencil.  Looking around, I see the Noris being used frequently; it's probably the most common pencil in England.  It helps that this pencil is cheap and widely available, often in supermarkets. 

It is used a lot instead of carpenters' pencils.  Back in September 2010 I went to a green woodworking demonstration near my home.  One of the bodgers was using a Noris to mark the wood for turning into a bowl.  In addition to marking materials of all kinds, the Noris is also commonly used for jotting shopping lists or making random notes; it is commonly seen in musicians' instrument cases, for writing on their printed music parts.

I suppose I should continue here with a series of sub-Proustian reminiscences about using this pencil, which has armed generations of schoolchildren here in England.  The trouble is, I don't have any.  I think I used Noris pencils when I was a boy growing up in west London in the 1970s and 1980s, but I have no clear memories of this.  I do remember using the more up-market tradition pencils at school, but when it comes to the humble Noris there's a big blank at the centre of my schoolday memories.  This could be a sign of the sheer ubiquity of this design of pencil that I have no memories of it at all: an object so common it literally faded into the woodwork.

In an effort to make up for temps perdu lost time I have been using a Noris HB at work.  For a child's school pencil, this is remarkably over-engineered; to be honest it's just too good to waste on children.  I have a variety of made-in-Germany and made-in-GB versions here before me, many of them chewed at the end by my eldest daughter (see photo).  There are some variations - on some this is described as the "Noris school pencil", on others, simply, "Noris".  This is a pencil aimed squarely at the lucrative educational market and is a tough, no-nonsense product.  Sculpted from light, porous European wood (no cedar here) and with one of Staedtler's durable graphite lead cores, this is equipped for the rigours of the school day (namely being dropped from a desk, having the tip snapped off when drawing a circle in maths, writing a graffito in the back of an exercise book, illustrating the water cycle in the Ice Age, poking a classmate and being dropped from a desk etc).

The overall appearance is as would be expected: a yellow-and-black striped pencil, topped off with a painted endcap in a variety of colours in its non-eraser tipped variant, Art. Nr. 120. The eraser-tipped version, the 122, can be found in stationers' such as Rymans, but is much less common.

The Noris is manufactured in five grades: 2B, B, HB, H and 2H.  In the wild, the most common sub-species sports a red endcap, this being the HB variety.  I have two blister-packs of these common birds, in a multipack option offered by Staedtler in supermarkets, probably with the start of the school year in mind.  Here, a pack of ten Noris HBs, bundled with a Mars eraser and a functional Staedtler sharpener, is sold in my local Tesco for the bargain price of GBP2.50.  In my local stationers', the eraser alone is a quid. Tesco also offer a pack of five assorted Noris grades for GBP1.40, and a three-pack of 2Bs for a pound.  All offer astoundingly good value for money.

The lead is fairly dark, though not as dark as the tradition's HB.  It is slightly harder than the tradition as well, probably to enable less frequent sharpening.  On the paper, it leaves a slate-grey line which allows the user to vary its width.  I found that I could write for a long time between sharpenings.  At one point I managed to sharpen a Noris successfully with my KUM Long Point sharpener.  This was good news, but turned out to be a one-off only; when I tried to use the Long Point again, I found my old problem of broken leads had returned.  After three or four attempts to sharpen with the Long Point, I abandoned the idea and went back to using my standard KUM sharpener, which left me with a three-inch long stub and a pile of yellow-and-black sharpenings.

The lead smears a bit on the paper, though less so than the tradition HB lead.  I have not tried using any grade of Noris other than the HB, so I can't report how those perform, but the HB certainly does a fine job of writing, drawing or marking as you require.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Swimming in it

Like most fountain pen enthusiasts, I own far too much ink.

I keep my ink collection in an old, wooden first aid box, the kind that would have been stationed on the wall of a warehouse or factory back in the 1980s. It's large enough to accommodate my bottles, some 20-odd strong. Looking through them, I see that I own three different brands of black ink. Why? After all, black is black, right? Well, not exactly. I bought one bottle of black ink (Diamine Onyx Black), then I bought a bottle of Noodler's Bulletproof Black, and some Pilot IC50 black cartridges for my black Capless. I am settled on the Noodler's now because of its water- etc resistance, and because it works quite well in the Capless. It is my ink of choice for those situations where I have to complete an official form. But then I bought a bottle of Sailor Jentle Grey ink. This fluid does not seem to like any of my pens, so there it sits, unused, and I haven't the gall to pour it down the sink.

Mostly the inks remain unused because I initially liked the colour, but then lost enthusiasm. Diamine Imperial Purple is a case in point, here. Purple is the colour of my old university and I had the bright idea that it would be nice to write in purple ink. Imperial Purple was suggested to me by my colleagues on the Fountain Pen Network so I bought a bottle. It is a nice ink, though I have since found that it fades to a dusty purple colour. This was not what I was looking for. I have since replaced it with another purple, well actually it's called violet on the bottle: Pelikan Violett. This is also the reason why I own several bottles of blue ink (Quink, Waterman, Pelikan, Diamine, Pilot).

Sometimes the inks remain unused because I love the colour but they take too long to dry because they are highly saturated. Private Reserve Plum is a good example. It is beautiful, but takes forever (seemingly) to dry on the page. As I detest smearing this is a big disadvantage.

Sometimes they are unused because they don't work in my pens or I simply haven't tried them in the right pen. Pelikan Turquoise springs to mind; it's a cool colour, behaves well, and yet it's yet to find a happy home in my pens. As a colour, it's a blue which reminds me of glaciers; it's the colour of icebergs. At the moment it lives in one of my Lamy Safaris.

Sometimes there are colours which I enjoy and then don't use for no particular reason. Diamine Orange is the one here. It is a genuine eye-popping orange colour, reminiscent of 1970s orange squash. I really ought to put this back into one of my pens, and soon.

Some inks I buy simply because I like the bottle. I bought Caran d'Ache's Sunset for this reason, but also because it filled a gap in my colour wheel and it is one of my favourite colours.

And then there are inks which I buy, try out, then forget about for a while before trying them again and wonder why I had forgotten about them. Here the winner is Diamine Woodland Green. After all the experimentation with colours I have found that green ink has the most calming effect on me of any of them. Here in England, people who write with green ink are seen as either eccentric or just barking mad, though there is also a century-old tradition of senior military and intelligence officers using it to sign documents and memos. Or are they just the same thing? When I first became enthused with fountain pens, in 2007, I bought a small bottle of Woodland Green. It was lovely, but it was probably too soon in my journey into inks to settle on it as a core colour. I soon put it away to try others.

I suppose I ought to be pleased to join the green-ink brigade because writing in green ink brings me back to one of the reasons for writing with a fountain pen in the first place - to enjoy the sensation of seeing a page fill up with a beautiful colour, even if the text is as quotidian as it gets (and believe me, at work, it is).

Looking again in the box I note that I own only two shades of green ink. How could this state of affairs have come to pass? My favourite colour and only two shades? Right, time to check out some J.Herbin shades. Vert Empire looks very nice though Lierre Sauvage and Vert Reseda are on the want-list too. Argh.

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Today was the day of my town's annual Lions Christmas Fair. This is held in the local Corn Exchange, and is used by the townsfolk to recycle stuff. The quality of much of it is surprisingly good and the fair is a chance to pick up some bargains and Christmas presents. Sure enough I managed to bag a few goodies myself including:

The most expensive items were the lamp and the typewriter, which both set me back a princely 3GBP. The pencils were a giveaway - ie, completely gratis and free. I am delighted with this haul, particularly the typewriter, which I have already played with. The Olympia is in full working order and the ribbon looks fine. I had gone with the intention of getting the desk lamp but as I'm always on the lookout for interesting stationery, I had hoped to find a few other bits and pieces for the collection.

The Olympia looks well-used; it has a Swindon dealer's decal (complete with five-digit phone number), not to mention a correcting fluid stain, which has subsquently been lined with blue ball-point, presumably by a bored typist, or perhaps a novelist. This brings my typewriter "collection" to two: the other being a 1970s Olympiette, a present from my mother-in-law. My wife thinks I am mad to entertain such beasts when I already possess a PC, but sometimes it is nice to get the manual typewriter out and bash out a few lines of meaningless prose. I have an idea of typing notes onto 3"x5" cards - have another look at the picture which adorns this blog. This would be useful if and when I ever get around to persuing academic research again, perhaps for a master's degree. After all, if it's good enough for the historian David Starkey, it's probably good enough for me. I use index cards a lot to write down to-do lists or just notes in general, because I don't like Post-it notes much. (The paper is crap and it doesn't take fountain pen ink at all well.) The 3"x5" card is an ideal size, I think; big enough to write quick notes on, but small enough to fit inside a diary, Filofax or book. I keep a bunch of them held together with a large clip.

Obviously, a good day; and I'll be back again next year.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Stationery Archeology 4

A bottle of Parker Quink Permanent Blue ink, manufactured in England in the 1970s. One of three I bought this year as a job-lot, after seeing this online. It seems to be the ink used by my favourite author JG B*ll@rd. I've used this recently in the Pilot M90 and it's still good, it dries out to a very respectable darkish blue with no purplue tinge.

I've since departed from the blue-ink policy in the M90 by filling it with Diamine Woodland Green. (See last post.)

Saturday, 13 November 2010

In Praise of the Pilot M90

Don’t expect any impartiality though, because it is about what is probably my favourite pen, the Pilot M90.

I bought this pen in the summer of 2009, from a Japanese seller on a well-known internet auction site. I am fascinated by Japanese stationery, paper, pens and pencils; it all seems to be exquisitely designed. In particular I am fascinated by the products of the Pilot Corporation, whose pens are innovative, beautifully designed and well made, even where they are mass-produced such as the V series rollerball pens. I don’t think I have used a Pilot pen which has been anything less than good, and the M90 is more than that: it’s excellent.

My route to this pen was circuitous. I started off with a green Pilot 78G which I bought from His Nibs .com.

I was impressed enough with that to move on to a black Capless (called the Vanishing Point in the US) which I bought from Cult Pens. I used the Capless as my main pen for over a year and filled it with all sorts of ink, from Pilot’s own black and blue ink in cartridges, to various Diamine and Noodler’s inks. Now it is filled with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black ink and I use it for making notes, particularly astronomical observations as I mentioned before here.

I first learned of the M90 whilst looking around the Fountain Pen Network. 2008 was the 90th anniversary of the founding of Pilot, and in keeping with previous significant anniversaries (not to mention custom and practice throughout the pen industry) they issued a limited-edition pen. What I found fascinating about this pen, was that it was not covered in gold or fancy decorations, but instead was a re-interpretation of a Pilot classic, the Myu 701, which is mentioned here.

The M90, like the Myu before it, is a pocket pen – a pen which by design has a shortened body and a long cap, and which only achieves operating length when the cap is posted. Before reading about the M90 I had never seen or heard of a pocket pen, but it seemed to me to be a unique solution to the problem of how to carry around a pen without a pen case, which most European pens appear to demand. By habit I carry pens around in my shirt pockets, but I have found that a standard European fountain pen – a Lamy Safari, for example - can sit proud in the pocket and be a bit cumbersome. The M90 sits discreetly in my shirt pocket, ready for deployment to take notes at any time.

When capped, this pen resembles a small, stainless steel pod. When posted, it transforms into a stainless steel quill. The sleek lines of the pen are spoiled somewhat by the ring which separates the nib unit from the barrel of the pen, but this has not irritated me, unlike some others who have lamented this where the original was more streamlined.

Some have complained that this pen is “only” a cartridge pen. The cartridges are Pilot’s own proprietary design; standard “international” cartridges will not fit. Pilot sells a press-bar converter separately, the CON-20, which fits snugly in the space available in the barrel. For over a year I used a Pilot cartridge, filled first with Pilot’s own ink and then refilled using a syringe and other manufacturers’ inks. Having used both the cartridge and the converter, I have to say that I prefer the converter partly because it is less of a hassle to do, and partly because I have less explaining to do if I use the syringe at work, where I do most of my writing. However the downside to using the converter is that the CON-20 does not tell you how much ink remains in the bladder, which in any case holds much less than the 1.1ml capacity of the cartridge. I have had the pen run dry unexpectedly on me on a couple of occasions, usually in meetings where I have forgotten to bring a back-up. I may well switch back to the cart, so I can see how much ink I have left.

On the subject of filling systems, I have to say that I cannot bring myself to be very excited by them. It would make no difference to me if the M90 was a piston-filler. To me the essence of a fountain pen is its nib; this is the point of contact with the paper, and the one part which is in use all of the time, unlike the filling system which is used only every few days or weeks. And the nib on the M90 is superb: one of the most striking things I found about the M90, and one of the reasons for buying one, was the integrated nib. Reading around the internet it seemed that this stainless steel nib was very stiff: definitely in the nail class of nibs. I was not bothered by this, and still I do not find it to be a problem, though I have yet to buy a pen with genuine flex, which I know have their fans.

I had been a bit wary of the stainless steel, however. I had childhood memories of my father’s stainless steel Parker pens. I’ve never liked the Parker “Flighter” pens much, probably because of the feel of them. They felt rough to me. But I need not have worried. The M90 is finished with great finesse, and brushed with more care and finer buffing than those old 1970s-era Parkers. The clip and the central ring are not brushed, and add a bit of contrast to the rest of the pen. With use, and constant uncapping and posting of the cap, the steel gathers fine scratches. The moral is clear: do not use this pen if you wish to have it looking perfect! But this pen was made to be used. I tolerated the microscratches at first, but now I celebrate them. This is MY pen and these are the scratches I have left on it. More disconcerting for me though was the dent I found on the barrel. How it got there, I still do not know. Even though I take care with my pens, and wrap them in a suede leather pen-wrap I made myself, this dent was still inflicted on my precious. To begin with, I wondered how to have it removed; I posted a question on FPN about it. One of the replies, which said that I should leave the dent and treat it as a battle-scar, made me feel better about the situation. The dent will stay, a reminder that once I was careless with this pen and to take better care in future (which I do).

My M90 has a M nib. M90s are available in either F (fine) or M (medium) nibs, though it should be remembered that these are Japanese standard thicknesses, which are finer than European widths. I have found though, that it leaves a line closer to a European M I think, and not as fine as I had been expecting. In a way I regret not buying one with an F nib, because as I use fountain pens, I find that now I favour finer lines to thicker ones.

The design has been tweaked a little bit to differentiate it from the Myu, most notably the small blue gemstone mounted in the top of the cap, the engraved M90 logo on the clip, and the design of the ring. In keeping with the blue gemstone, I decided I would only fill my M90 with blue ink, a resolution I have so far mostly kept, although I did once try it with purple ink. I reserve the right to change my mind; at the moment I’ve been using a lot of green ink. I have tried a variety of blue inks in this pen, which caused me a bit of a problem at first because one of the reasons I took up a fountain pen again was the fact that I could change colours easily. I tried to avoid blue ink, in fact. However blue seemed to be the only appropriate colour for this particular pen. The ink I use now is some old Quink Permanent Blue; before that, modern Quink Blue and before that, I used Waterman South Seas Blue. Quink gets short shrift from most fountain pen users but I think that is unfair; to be honest I was a bit sniffy about it myself, because I was more interested in using fine inks from the likes of Noodler’s and Diamine. But having tried some of those inks, I have returned to using Quink. It’s probably something to do with childhood memories of my father using it in his Parker fountain pens, and then using it myself at school. I have always liked that squat bottle. Quink behaves well in the M90, with a slight tendency to run on the dry side.

Even though the design is basically a 1970s design, the M90 looks thoroughly modern. This is a pen for people who enjoy modern design and fine writing. Every time I use this pen, even for the most mundane of purposes, my heart is lifted. I really wish that Pilot would produce a version of this pen not as a limited-edition but as a regular model.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Looking for The Perfect Shorthand Notebook

Years ago, in an earlier job in the civil service, I had a shorthand notebook which was just about perfect. It was made by HMSO (Her Majesty's Stationery Office - now called The Stationery Office after privatisation in 1996). In all senses this was a conventional shorthand notebook: it was wire-bound, and had feint lined paper. But the reason I liked it, was this: it had thick cardboard covers, with a hole cut into each, near the bottom. When the covers were turned inside out, and a 8cm treasury tag attached to brace them, it could be stood up to enable the typist to read what they had written whilst typing the text on a PC. I particularly liked this function, but also the light-blue cardboard front cover. The cardboard used was robust so it could be used anywhere dry and could withstand a battering in the briefcase.

Recently, I have been looking around for a similar shorthand notebook but to no avail. Most have the thick cardboard back cover, but the front cover is usually a thin sheet of glossy paper which simply is not robust enough to be used as a stand for anything at all. Even Clairefontaine's version is not up to spec (though the paper is as nice as ever).

If anyone could point me in the direction of a shorthand notebook which is similar to that old HMSO notebook, I'd be grateful for the information. I only wish now I'd ordered a few more and created a stash of them.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Stabilo GREENlighter 6007

I was intrigued enough by this review at Pencil Talk to search out the Stabilo GREENlighter highlighting pencil at a stationer's some distance from my home. I've used Stabilo Boss highlighter pens for years, but the idea of using a pencil for hightlighting text made more sense. I've found all highlighter pens dry out unless you replace the cap, and of course the process of highlighting demands the reader to use it intermittently, which means having to take the cap off and replace it numerous times during a spell of reading and highlighting. Another reason for using a pencil is that I have found highlighter pens to smear fountain pen ink, and as I use a fountain pen I wanted to avoid that if at all possible.

Based on the Pencil Talk review, I purchased only the yellow version of this pencil; the green and pink variants aren't as good, apparently. It takes a little getting used to, because more effort is needed to leave a useable layer of highlighter than a pen. The hightlighting is more subtle than a pen's. The highlighting core has a smooth, deep waxy feel and glides over the paper, though as I say, it needs more pressure and multiple passes to leave a healthy line.

The barrel of the pencil is triangular in section and painted in dayglo yellow with thin white lines. All information is printed in black, as is the FSC logo.

I've really enjoyed using this pencil and it has found a place in my pencil case. This one is a winner, in my view.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Stabilo GREENgraph 6003

Another quick review of a Stabilo product, this time their "green" pencil, the GREENgraph 6003. This HB pencil, which comes in eraser-tipped and non eraser-tipped versions, is Stabilo's effort at developing, manufacturing and marketing a pencil which is produced from wood managed in a sustainable way. This pencil, along with others in the Stabilo stable, is designed to conform with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) rules on woodland management; Stabilo as a company has been registered with FSC since 1998. It claims to be "first FSC-certified writing instruments manufacturer and hence a pioneer in the industry". All well and good, though I have just tried (unsuccessfully) to confirm this. Penciltalk tried to check the Chain of Custody for a review of the GREENlighter highlighting pencil, but found the online documentation to be less-than-helpful.

In any case, this pencil is a conventional hexagonal HB pencil, finished very nicely indeed in a cheerful spring-green colour with white stripes. There's a bit of user info, including the FSC logo to remind the user this is an eco-pencil, but no country of origin information. The reverse has a stock number and barcode. Mine does not have the eraser.

This pencil writes in similar fashion to the Stabilo Swano 4907 I reviewed a while back. It's OK, not unpleasant, though it has that grittiness I mentioned before. It's fairly dark and leaves a dense line on paper; it's slightly lighter and firmer than a Staedtler tradition HB, but without the smoothness of the latter. In the hand, it's actually quite comfortable, though I did not use it for extended writing. I've put mine in my bag as an everyday pencil, which I feel this is. It's really a competitor to the Staedtler Noris, and is a good quality, workaday pencil. Stabilo has produced a nice one here, and I'd be happy to own and use more in the future. This one cost me 50p in a stationer's here in England (no, not the one I complained about recently). I reckon this could be difficult to find as it struggles to find shelf-space in the shops; most stationers here sell either Staedtler or Derwent.

In summary, then: a good everyday pencil, though still more expensive than a Noris.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Stationery Archeology 3

Third in this series, I'm really excited by this find. It is a Staedtler Shorthand pencil, HB and made in Great Britain. I found this on 22 October 2010 in a stationer's in Southampton. It is salmon-pink with a white band and a red painted end-cap, and the lettering (stamped in red) says:


I love the stylised typography of the words "Staedtler" and "Jet Bonded". The model number is obscured by the price label - but I think this was model number 114. This pencil is a bit scuffed from years languishing unloved and unwanted in the stationer's pencil rack, but I'd like to think that has now ended and it has found a welcome in my modest collection. I've not tried writing with this pencil, so don't ask yet how well it writes.

I did not even know that Staedtler made stenographers' pencils here in the UK, so this was a delightful surprise for me. This clearly is one of the predecessors of the rare-as-hens'-teeth Stenofix. As it happened, I found this just around the corner from where I used to work, and shared an office with a shorthand typist called Joan. That office is now a hairdresser's.

This pencil was a bargain, as it cost me only 50p! I feel like I've just unearthed Sutton Hoo. What a shame they only had one in the rack, as I'd have had the lot. Never mind, I also found a somewhat beaten-up made-in-GB Staedtler tradition 2H too.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Stabilo EASYgraph Right-Handed Pencil

Another quick review, this time of Stabilo's EASYgraph learner's pencil. I bought a twin-pack of these from my local stationer's for £2.00 in September 2010.

This pencil is an over-sized "ergonomic" pencil aimed at the early learner's market and is clearly in competition with Staedtler's Noris Ergosoft range. The idea here is that small children have difficulty holding a conventional pencil when learning to write, but can grip an oversize pencil more easily. Ergonomic pencils usually also feature some form of textured grip surface in addition to the larger diameter. Both pencils have the fashionable triangular cross-section pioneered by Faber-Castell. The Ergosoft pencil has a non-slip finish; the EASYgraph is painted in a cool, dark blue with a greenish tinge, and has a series of gouges in the wood, set at around 45°, to guide fingers to holding the pencil at the right angle when writing on paper. These depressions are set so that the pencil may only be held comfortably in the hand it was designed for, so that a right-hand pencil may only be held for a period in the right hand, and the left-hand model held in the left. The right-hand model has the end dipped in red paint; the left-hand model has a yellow dip. The EASYgraph also has a small panel in which the owner can write their name (presumably in ball-point pen).

The HB lead on this right-hand model has a bit of resistance to it, but leaves a dark, thick line: perfect for small children. It's not too shabby for adults who should by now know how to write, either. Some people have criticised the lead for being scratchy but I've not found this to be the case in the short time I've used this pencil.

I would probably not send my children to school armed with one though, because the EASYgraph stands out a mile compared to a conventional school pencil such as the good old Staedtler Noris HB. It would either attract ridicule from classmates for being a "learner's" pencil or would be stolen or hidden; either would be distressing. Children can also be a bit fussy about their pencils as well, and the ergonomic grip may not suit everyone.

This is one of Stabilo's more interesting pencil designs, and shows that there's still new things to be done with the wood-cased pencil. I doubt that I would use this pencil regularly, but I am glad that Stabilo have taken the risk with this design and I wish them well with it. Oh, and it works well for adults, too.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Local Shops for Local People?

The town in the South West of England where I live is a small but lively market town with a good range of shops. One of these is a stationery store which appears to do good business; they're usually busy when I visit, at any rate. I suppose I ought to be grateful that my small town can support such a place when other towns in the district cannot. This shop sells a wide range of products with brands such as Caran d'Ache, Parker, Pilot, Staedtler, Tombow, Woerther, Letts and Clairefontaine available in stock. The shop is crammed with goods.

However, I'm ambivalent about the place. A visit to a stationers' should be a moment of joy, but there are always reasons not to celebrate. Here is a summary of the reasons why:

They never seem to have quite what I want in stock. There have been many occasions when I have asked the store manager about goods which simply are not in stock. For example:

Staedtler Mars Lumographs?. “I’ll have to order them specially. That’ll be £13 for a dozen. If you want a mixed tin, I can only order them in tens and I can’t sell them because customers think they’re too expensive.”

Highlighter pencils? We used to have those, but I’ve not seen them for years.”

Pelikan Violett ink? Oh, they’ve stopped making that.”

And so on.

The prices. I realise that a retail premises is likely to incur higher overheads than an online business and will therefore charge manufacturers' recommended retail prices for goods. Fair enough. The mark-ups are consistently high, and there’s no discounting that I can see. I’ve never seen this shop offer bulk discounts for anything. (I've never asked though, for fear of causing offence.) A boxed dozen pencils, for example, costs the same as twelve individual pencils. Inflation here is higher than elsewhere – understandable when most of the goods are imported and the value of Sterling is weak compared with the Euro, and most of the goods are brought in from Eurozone countries. But prices are never revised downwards. When Value Added Tax was lowered to 15% here during 2009, none of the prices dropped. However I have no doubt they will increase once it is raised to 20% at the beginning of 2011.

They’re never open when I can get there. This is one of the few shops in my town (indeed, perhaps the only shop) which, in 21st Century England, still closes for lunch. Every day this shop closes between 1pm and 2pm, even on a Saturday, which generally is the only day of the week I can get to it. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions I’ve been unable to buy something or have had to change my plans, in order to be around when the shop is open. On one occasion I waited until after 2pm on a Saturday, only then to discover the place was closed for the afternoon for staff training. I’m only glad I do not have to make a long journey specially to visit the shop because I would be angry if I found the shop was closed if I’d come from out-of-town.

Fortunately I do not have to rely on this store for my stationery fix. It’s nice to go in and browse, when I can get in, and perhaps pick up a Tombow Brush Pen or a box of ink cartridges, but I probably buy more stationery from supermarkets than from this shop. I can get basic supplies such as pencils, index cards and notepads from my local Sainsbury’s or Tesco. For exotica I can go online to internet-based suppliers. Shops such as the one I have been describing I feel will have a hard time surviving in a retail environment experiencing a pincer movement from supermarkets on one flank, and niche internet sellers on the other. This shop seems to survive on its photocopying and printing business, which is just as well because if it had to live on its retail sales alone, I suspect it would have closed years ago.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Pencils and Music no more?

Regular visitors may have noticed Pencils and Music on the blogroll. It was one of the first pencil blogs I found on the internet, and very entertaining, too. It has been taken down; not for long I hope.

Stabilo Swano 4907

Quick review time, again: this one is for a pack of four Stabil Swano 4907 pencils. I bought this pack in a branch of Ryman's (a chain of stationers' here in England) for £1.69, which is about 43 pence per pencil.

They come in bright - almost livid - fluorescent colours. The four colours used - yellow, green, pink and orange - match the four basic colours used by Stabilo for their famous Boss highlighter pens. Each pencil is armed with an eraser tip in the same colour as the paint on the pencil, attached by an aluminium ferrule.

In the hand, the Swano handles like any other hexagonal pencil. The wood is good quality and sharpens well, and the eraser does its job adequately enough. The edges are slightly rounded, so it does not dig into fingers. The painting is nicely done and markings are understated; no foil blocking here, just the name, barcode and some serial numbering, but there is no country of origin information printed. I guess these pencils are made in Stabilo's factory in the Czech Republic, but if anyone knows better, please let me know in the comments.

I used one of these pencils for a day or so to write notes at work. The lead is a dark and soft HB. On paper it does not feel scratchy, nor very smooth, but gritty; I can liken the feel of it to writing on sandpaper. It's not unpleasant, but it does not glide on the paper, if that is what you want. This utilitarian pencil is clearly designed for school in mind, and a four-pack should last a whole school year.

In short, the Swano 4907 is a decent-quality pencil that is fun to use but which you would not lose sleep over if it was stolen from your desk in class.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Sainsbury's Moleskine Reporter Notebook Knock-Off

I have picked up several of these Moleskine knock-offs on sale now at Sainsbury's. They have 96 sheets (192 pages total) made from 70% recycled material which is finished in an off-white colour. All sheets are detachable, by the look of it. The paper is ruled and looks reasonable quality; a quick test with my Pilot M90 and Parker Blue Quink showed no sign of feathering or bleedthrough, and it takes pencil well enough, too. There's even a little pocket at the back for ticket stubs, receipts, postage stamps, and other kipple. This notebook is covered in black polyurethane, which has a satin finish that picks up fingerprints and grease marks.

The best thing is that they are on sale at 75 pence each, making them less than one-tenth of the price of a Moleskine equivalent, which costs £8.99 and is certainly not ten times better than this. I suspect the low price is a close-out, so if you can get hold of one of these, give it a go.

New design...again

This blog is still in a "development" phase so I've changed the design again. I found the bookshelf background to be too busy and distracting, and I've changed it to the plainest possible. I've also changed the title picture. Let me know what you think!

Stationery Archaeology 2

Second in this series, a set of WH Smith dry transfer lettering, c. mid-1980s.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Uni-Ball Kuru Toga

I've not got much time to blog just now but I wanted to post quickly about my new mechanical pencil, a Uni-Ball Kuru Toga which I got recently from Cult Pens. (More technical info about this pencil at that site, but also here and here.) This one is finished in a smart azure blue (one of seven colours Cult Pens sell). I haven't used a mechanical pencil for some time - my Pentel P205 is gathering dust - but this may make me change my mind. The lead is good and dark, even for a 0.5mm width, and the proprietary mechanism inside prevents it from becoming chisel-shaped because it rotates the lead 9° with every contact with the paper. I used this to take notes during a conference with our auditors last week and it worked reliably and of course, never needed sharpening, just an occasional press of the button to advance the lead. I've also been using it in the office to take the copious notes I often have to write.

The Kuru Toga's rotating lead mechanism is, of course, this pencil's main selling point and they display it for all to see under a transparent window section so you can watch it turn as you write. I'm not so convinced by this, and would rather have a sleek, all-blue barrel, but that is a minor point. Eventually other lead widths should become available, but I understand that there are engineering issues to overcome before a 0.7mm model comes out, but if one does I will certainly get one. It would be wonderful to see a 0.9mm and a 0.3mm to complement the 0.5mm.

I don't think this will replace any of my wood-cased pencils as I like them too much, but for pencil writing on the move, this seems to be a fine candidate, and at the price Uni-Ball wants for it in the UK, it is a bargain. The price at Cult Pens is £5.60 and even my local stationers' has this for £5.99. Buy the whole collection - I may well do myself.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Tombow Mono 100 HB and Faber-Castell 9008 Steno 2B

I was asked in the comments to the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 to write a review of these two in tandem, because, although they are made for different jobs, they both leave a similar mark on paper. Before I start, though, I must express my thanks to Matthias Meckel who sent me the pencils in this review.

These two need little introduction to those who enjoy fine pencils, but just in case you don’t know about them, here’s a bit of background information. The Tombow Mono 100 is a top-quality drafting pencil (it even says so, on the side). It is reputed to be a favourite of animators and manga artists. The Faber-Castell 9008, in contrast, has a much more quotidian purpose: it is a stenographer’s pencil, designed for writing shorthand. It is one of the few high-quality round-section pencils made today, but for how much longer is anyone’s guess as shorthand writing has fewer practitioners now. I lamented the lack of round-section pencils recently in this post but I’ll repeat myself here. There must be many users who find the conventional hexagonal or triangular section pencil uncomfortable to use for long spells, so why the major manufacturers do not market round pencils more, is a mystery to me.

Before discussing the performance of these pencils I want to mention their physical characteristics. The Mono is supplied unsharpened, and is painted in a gorgeous, glossy black lacquer. It is topped off with a black endcap with a white line in the centre. All the lettering is gold-blocked, and is a riot of typography with various fonts shouting Engrish statements in addition to the essential information. It also has an outline picture of a dragonfly, after which the company is named. The dreaded barcode is printed on this one though I have another Mono 100 on which the barcode was applied as a sticker. The 9008 is painted in Faber-Castell’s trademark dark green lacquer with a silver band at the end. Gold block lettering with the country of origin, model number, manufacturer, the word “STENO” and the name “CASTELL” are printed. 180° away is printed the grade of the lead and, presumably to reinforce Faber-Castell’s environmentally-friendly credentials, the German word “Wasserlack” (water-based paint). I should note that I was so impressed with the 9008s Matthias sent me that I bought some more , in B grade. Clearly, the two versions of the 9008 I have were made in different batches as the 2Bs have all gold lettering, whilst the Bs have the reverse lettering printed in primrose yellow. There is also a slight difference in the green paint: the 2B is darker than the B.

In use, the pencils are remarkably similar. Both leave lovely, dark lines on the page. The 9008 is perhaps slightly darker: not surprising, considering this pencil is two grades softer than the Mono. The Mono 100 is slightly smoother on paper, but really not by much; it glides along as though lubricated by a coat of oil, and though the 9008 has a bit more tooth, it could never be described as scratchy. When writing, I found that neither pencil required much pressure to write darkly.

Given that the lines left are dark enough for anyone’s purposes, any differences really come down to how the pencils feel in the hand. For me, there is no contest: the 9008 is the hands-down winner. Why? The circular section is simply far more comfortable in my hand than the hexagonal Mono 100. Indeed, I found the edges of the Mono to be sharper than other hexagonal pencils I own, such as the Staedtler Mars Lumograph. I suppose this is due to the lacquer Tombow use; on the Mars, the edges are softer, probably a product of the number of layers of paint used. A close examination of the Mono 100 does not show any sign of woodgrain, so the lacquer must be fairly thick. I can only surmise that it is the way in which Tombow applies the lacquer on the pencil: fewer layers, but denser paint (and most definitely not “Wasserlack”). Whatever the paint used, I found that the Mono 100 dug into my fingers after a short period of time. The 9008, by contrast, was a joy to use because, with no corners or edges, my fingers would mould themselves around the pencil’s barrel.

Both pencils are excellent, either for writing or for drawing. I have found my favourite pencil so far in the 9008, but the Mono 100 is not far behind, and I’ll use the Mono for astronomical sketches.

Monday, 20 September 2010

New design

I have changed the design of the blog, becuase I wasn't entirely happy with the dark grey background it had. It's only one of the Blogger templates; I hope the bookshelf wallpaper is not too obtrusive.

The design is likely to change again if and when I become bored with this template.

KUM Long Point Sharpener

I recently bought a KUM long-point sharpener from Cult Pens, but I've had very mixed results using it. Some pencils sharpen well - such as the Staedtler tradition HB - but others break leads almost as soon as I turn the pencil. For example, the Faber-Castell 9008 Steno kept breaking.

I'm still new to this game so it may well be my own fault for being too rough or turning the pencils with too much force. On this design there seems to be a lot of pressure at the narrow end, more so than a conventional sharpener.

If any readers have tips on using this stenographer's sharpener, please let me know.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Faber-Castell Grip 2001

For my next review, I thought I would try a competitor to the Staedtler tradition: the Faber-Castell Grip 2001. This pencil is widely available here in England, and is marketed as a high-quality pencil which is produced in two variants: one with an eraser, and one without. This blurb from Cult Pens gives an idea of the market for this design:

The Faber-Castell Grip 2001 series is a traditional wood-case pencil redesig

ned for the 21st century. Winner of numerous design awards, the patented soft-grip zone provides a secure, non-slip grip, while the ergonomic triangular shape aids tireless writing and drawing.

The eraser-tipped version costs 99 pence in my local WHSmith’s, an

d the non-eraser version (the more common of the two) costs 89 pence, which is about half as much again as the Staedtler tradition. My local WHSmith sells this pencil only in HB, though a quick check on Cult Pens shows it to be available in up to five grades: 2B, B, HB, H and 2H. This suggests to me that the Grip is really optimised for writing, rather than drawing.

The Grip is a striking-looking pencil. For one thing it has a triangular section, not hexagonal, is finished in a smart silver-grey matte lacquer, and sports 26 rows of raised dots painted on in black along each side of the barrel. Their purpose is to provide a non-slip surface for the user. On the non-eraser version I used, the end-cap is painted in a gloss gull-grey. The shade of the end-cap varies from black for the 2B to a light grey for the 2H. The lettering (which occupies only two sides of the pencil) is crisp and the barcode is tastefully printed and unobtrusive. The eraser variant sports a ferrule and eraser in black, to match the lettering.

The wood used is not cedar, but I am not sure what it could be. It has a pronounced grain with easily visible pores, and there is no odour from it. In my KUM sharpener it sliced the wood very easily.

I used this pencil exclusively for a few days, and my overall impression is that this is indeed a quality pencil for writing. The HB lead is lighter in colour than Staedtler’s, and requires sharpening less frequently. For example, during a two-hour meeting at work I wrote some five sides of notes and needed to sharpen the Grip only once. The point stays sharp longer, and even when it has worn down it still lays down a good, legible line. It is not so prone to smearing as the Staedtler HB, nor to breaking; using my KUM sharpener I could get a very sharp point which would not yield under moderate writing pressure. Even when the point has worn down, and provided I did not press too much into the paper, it would leave a thicker, though still silvery, line. F-C’s HB standard is harder than Staedtler’s, for example. I would estimate that F-C’s HB is at least one if not two grades harder than Staedtler’s so the HB on a Grip 2001 would equate to a Staedtler H.

The triangular grip is reasonably comfortable, but I am not sure it is any more so than a traditional hexagonal pencil. However the main problem I experienced using the Grip was that the raised dots would dig into my fingers, so that after a fairly short period of time I would feel some discomfort in my writing hand where the pencil rests on my middle finger. This is not a problem for writing notes but for extended periods I think it would be. To be honest the Grip idea seems to me to be a gimmick, a way of differentiating this design of pencil from its competitors. I do not have a problem with slippery pencils, but I find the Grip to be uncomfortable after a while.

Furthermore I wonder if Faber-Castell has practical difficulties manufacturing this model. Close inspection of the few Grip pencils I have, shows the dots to be unevenly applied. Some are rounder and more pronounced than others, whilst some are not even full circles, but have a slice taken out of one side.

But any gripes I may have are very minor. Overall this is a high quality pencil – and a very modern one, too. It is not a favourite of mine because of the comfort issue which I mentioned above, which is odd considering that this pencil is marketed as one which can be used for long periods. Its price puts it almost in the premium pencil class – nearly as much as the Mars Lumograph, for example, or F-C’s own 9000 series. I don’t think it’s quite as good as that and I would rather use a 9000, but this is still a very nice pencil for the money and well worth trying.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Stationery Archaeology 1

This is the first in an occasional series on old bits of stationery I find on my travels: number one, a Faber-Castell eraser which I found whilst clearing stuff out of the loft.

Friday, 10 September 2010


Thanks to Matthias from Bleistift for linking here.

And welcome to new readers to this new(ish) blog.


One of my hobbies is astronomy. It's been an interest of mine since I was eleven years old, on and off. For some time I've been making observations of variable stars for the British Astronomical Association's Variable Star Section. If you don't know what a variable star is, here's a link to Wikipedia which gives the basics.

For a few years now I've used a Moleskine Cahier notebook to record my observations and now, finally, I've run out of space. I have already started the replacement, this time a Clairefontaine notebook with much nicer paper and a slightly bigger size. I've also changed pens: after using a Uni-Ball rollerball pen I bought a green Pilot 78G to use with the Cahier. Then I found the Pilot V-Pen (known as the Varsity in the US) which I emptied out of the original mint-green ink and replaced with black ink. Now, with a new notebook I have redeployed my Pilot Capless and filled it with the same black ink.

Although I have changed pens, I've not changed ink. I use Noodler's Bulletproof Black to record my observations, and at the rate I use this ink, my 3oz. bottle should last me years. I use bulletproof ink for its permanence; these observations probably are the only things I write which are worthy of preserving for the future, even though I have to write them subsequently on an Excel spreadsheet before they go into the BAA's database which starts in 1890. I also use it because of its waterproof quality as the nights can get quite damp here in England. But this is the only use I have for bulletproof ink; most of the time I use blue Quink or a pencil, even though, like many fountain pen users, I own a glut of ink in various colours from a wide variety of manufacturers.

Looking through the log, I see I started this notebook back in 2007. It doesn't have my earliest variable star observations, those are in another Moleskine I bought when I worked in London in 2005 (pictured, with the natty Duck Tape binding).

I own a few Moleskines, but I don't buy them now. I admit, I was taken in by the hype and the marketing ("the notebook of Picasso, Hemingway and Chatwin") but this was before I rediscovered fountain pens, and the fact that fountain pen ink bleeds like mad on the trademark yellowish Mole paper. The quality of the paper used is a constant source of angst on the Fountain Pen Network; I eventually found a nice replacement in the Clairefontaine, which I can buy locally too. Sometimes I wonder what Picasso or Hemingway would make of today's Moleskine notebooks. Would they complain about the quality of the paper or the fragile binding? Were they really that fussy about their paper or notebooks?

I've still got a few pages in the Duck Tape Moleskine but soon that will be history too. I also own a large plain Mole which has only a few pages filled in. I bought that to make sketches in but found the paper too thin, even for pencil sketches. Finally I have a small ruled Moleskine which serves as my general-purpose notebook and in which I write all kinds of things. When both notebooks are finished it's highly unlikely I'll buy Moleskines to replace them, however.

On the subject of Clairefontaine, I have several of their cahiers and an A5 pad of their drawing paper. Here's a picture of my new variable star logbook, this orange one being a handy size, with a cheerful colour (not that I can see it in the dark). The paper inside is superb: smooth and white, nicely-printed feint lines, no feathering, no bleedthrough. Couple that with a top-quality pen and ink, and the mundane business of recording a scientifc observation becomes a pleasure in itself.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


Reading around the pencil blogosphere it seems that some consider a printed barcode on the pencil's barrel to be alien to the character of the pencil. Here's an example of a pencil review where the reviewer has welcomed one manufactuer's efforts to avoid printing a barcode on the side. In that case, the manufactuer, Caran d'Ache, has resorted to a removeable plastic sleeve with the barcode printed on it. This seems to me to be an elegant solution, though probably a relatively expensive one. Others have tried to use a sticker - Tombow comes to mind here - but too often that leaves a sticky residue on the pencil once the sticker has been peeled off, which is unpleasant to use.

Whilst it is nice to see a clean, clutter-free design on a pencil, I do like to see the various pieces of information the manufacturer has put on it. Whether the manufacturer's name and trademarks, country of origin, a model number, the grade of the lead, those mysterious little codes embossed in the side but not painted, and indeed the barcode, they all add to the character of the pencil.

The problem of fixing a barcode to a pencil so that it can be scanned at a shop's till really has only one foolproof solution - print it on the side of the pencil itself so it cannot be peeled or picked off. This is what Staedtler and Faber-Castell do. I don't think they detract at all from the character of the pencil, and those manufacturers make them as discreet as possible anyway. I am sure that in future, if the pencils produced now are collected or used by pencil lovers, they will appreciate these symbols of our industrial society. Here's to the barcode.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Staedtler tradition HB

I thought that I would begin the reviews with an unsung hero of the pencil world, a pencil which, if not quite ubiquitous here in the UK, is probably the most widely-available: the Staedtler tradition HB.

This pencil - at least in its 110 form without an eraser on the end - is pretty much the benchmark in the UK today. (The 112 model which has the eraser at the back, is less commonly seen though recently I bought one in Ryman's.)

Many other pencils are deemed to be higher quality but those aren't often found in your local newsagent's, or stationer's. These cost around 60 pence each (about $1). The closest competitor is the Faber Castell Grip 2001 I suppose, though the tradition is more common. I will get around to reviewing the Grip some time soon.

The tradition is available in 14 grades - from 6B to 6H - though the HB grade is by far the most common, and is used for both drawing and writing. I use it only for writing.

The HB lead is fairly soft and leaves a nice, dark line when pressed hard into the paper. Even when less pressure is used, the line is dark enough to read easily, even when it is sharpened to a fine point. The price paid for this is of course fairly frequent sharpening, and I found I needed to resharpen the tradition once every page or so in my A4 notebook. The lead sharpens up easily, though it will break very easily if you use a lot of pressure. Sharpening is also helped by the quality wood used, which appears to be Californian cedar (though I am no expert on this) which has a tight grain and a pleasant aroma.

After three days in the office using this pencil exclusively to take notes and write messages, I learned to use less pressure and to rotate the barrel of the pencil as I wrote, to keep a smooth even line. It erases very easily with a Stabilo white eraser. Being on the soft side, the lead is prone to smearing, which I found when I leant on my notepad.

Appearance-wise, the tradition is finished in the familiar Staedtler red and black stripes, with gold foil-blocked letters which read:


The other side has a barcode and some inventory data on it - sorry, I forgot to take a picture. These are printed on and the barcode is already showing signs of wearing off. Many bemoan the presence of barcodes on contemporary pencils, but I quite like them; if the barcode had been invented fifty or 100 years ago I am sure they would be present on the pencils of yore and today collectors would be proud of them. In the future, the barcodes on today's pencils will be treasured as a feature.The finish is smartly done, with clean demarcations between the stripes. One thing I noticed on the rear end of the pencil however, is that the red and black lacquer show through the white lacquer on this current pencil. Perhaps Staedtler have changed the formulation of the paint? I have some old traditions and a couple of Noris which were made in Great Britain, where the white paint is opaque, not translucent. The lacquer used now is probably less toxic, but I would not know. Anyway, here's a close-up, with the white paint showing a distinct pink tinge:

Production of the tradition has since ceased in Great Britain and Australia, and now it appears to be made only in Germany. Here is an excellent review done by memm on the Bleistift blog which compares traditions made in Germany, GB and Australia. Certainly on the older, made-in-GB pencils I have, the lacquer and overall finish seem to be superior to the pencils of today. I suppose this is due to there being a bit less gold lettering, thinner coats and environmentally-friendly paints used in the finishing. The lead seems to be the same high quality, and the wood on this pencil is as good as the older models.

So, do not overlook the Staedtler tradition HB pencil. It is a fine pencil for the money and should be in everyone's pencil case.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Back to School

1 September is traditionally the start of the new academic year here in England, and indeed today was the first day of school for my children - or it would have been, had the schools concerned not been closed to enable the teachers to receive some professional development. 2 September is the de facto start of term. The shops are full of "Back to School" promotions; Stabilo seem to be doing well with getting their new products in the stores.

I've had a minor splurge on pencils, mostly for my children but also for myself, which I intend to turn into reviews soon. I'm conscious that after a week online, I have yet to produce any reviews, or pictures, only my ramblings on stationery matters. I promise that will change shortly. I return to work tomorrow and intend to post some review-type articles as I do most of my writing at work.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

More on the Blackwing 602

Thanks to Andy Welfle.

A Realist's View of the Legendary Blackwing 602

Where have all the round pencils gone?

I mean good quality pencils, not the cheap ones you buy as souvenirs. I recently found out about stenographers' pencils such as the Staedtler 101 and the Faber-Castell 9008, which of course do not appear to be available here in the UK. I've seen them advertised on and but my German isn't good enough to make enquiries about postage costs to the UK, a pity really because the Staedtler Stenofix looks like a very smart pencil indeed, and I don't mind the fact it's available only in HB.

It seems obvious to me that a circular, rather than hexagonal shape, is more comfortable for long spells of writing, whether it's another chapter of a novel or just some notes taken in a meeting. Yet, none of the top brands appears to offer them any more, or if they do, they sell them only to select places. One has to go cheap to find round pencils, a situation set to continue as the Stenofix and 9008 appear destined for the dustbin of history if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, even when Staedtler still advertises the model on its global website.

Obviously, in an office environment where most people write their own correspondence on PCs, stenographers are an endangered species and the steno pencil also looks set for extinction. Another possible reason for the near-disappearance of steno pencils is the wastage of wood used in production. It seems that for a given slat, nine hexagonal pencils can be cut against eight round pencils. Clearly manufacturers have to pass on this cost to the customer, making a quality round pencil more expensive than its hexagonal competitor. I have some trouble believing this as it would then follow that all cheap, no-name pencils, or souvenir pencils, would be hexagonal too when clearly they are not.

For the "name" manufactuers, operating in a market where the humble pencil is considered a disposable commodity, it would be difficult to charge a premium to recover the extra material costs. For most users, there is no apparent advantage to using a round pencil over other shapes and the manufacturers have no stake in changing that attitude. It is possible now that most pencils are hexagonal because people expect them to be.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Jeffrey Archer's Pen

A while back I posted a question on the Fountain Pen Network regarding J G B*ll@rd's pen (I wish to mask the spelling of this author's name because some of his fans scan the internet for anything related to him and that particular post attracted some scorn from certain people). I had heard on the radio that B@ll*rd used a Parker fountain pen. Nobody seems to know what model of pen, or much less, care. Of course, it doesn't matter what type of pen he used, nor does it matter what type of paintbrush Picasso used or the make of John Coltrane's saxophone. I was curious; and I'll probably never know.

For the sake of informing readers of this blog, B*ll*rd wrote all his first drafts longhand, probably with a Parker fountain pen of uncertain provenance, in blue ink. Second and subsquent drafts were written on an typewriter, and could be heavily edited with handwritten notes in blue or red ink, and pencil. Interestingly, the typewritten drafts were single-spaced, judging by this example, the first page of his novel Crash. This page is, to me, a work of art, a precious artefact which I am delighted now resides in the British Library.

All of this points to the meticulous care with which he assembled his novels, whose stature will rise long after his death, aged 78, in April 2009. It is interesting to note that, deep into the computer age, this master of speculative fiction never deviated from this pattern of working. He was proof that it was still possible to take the most basic of tools - a pen and paper - and create entire worlds.

Which leads me on to Jeffrey Archer. I've read only one of his books, many years ago, and I'll never get that time back now. However I recall a newspaper advert for Parker pens from the early 1980s where he is quoted as saying he buys a new Parker fountain pen to write each novel. Now I would love this to be the case; Nobel laureate John Steinbeck famously used pencils but it would be apposite that Jeffrey Archer uses a Parker fountain pen, and not just any old pen but a super-deluxe model with 24-karat everything.

Imagine my disappointment when, on Googling this, I discovered that Archer now claims to write with Paper Mate felt-tip pens, not a pen resembling a fragment snapped off a floating gin-palace. This is a bitter blow because it breaks my pet theory that there is an inverse relationship between a writer's pen and the quality of their work. In fact I find my theory completely refuted, unless I resort to the line that Archer is the exception which proves the rule.



Blackwing 602

Until last week I'd never even heard of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 and to be frank, I don't know what the fuss is about as I've never used one - obviously. Anyway a lot of people are getting excited over the California Republic re-issue of this "legendary" (sic) pencil.

It certainly looks smart, though the flattened ferrule and eraser take a bit of getting used-to. All of the California Republic pencils I've seen online look the business though and if I could get my hands on some I'd be interested to try them out.

Linkage here:

Blackwing Pages

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Staedtler Pencil Manufacturing

This is Staedtler's promotional video, which gives more detail about the composition of the lead than the How It's Made film.

How It's Made (Season 11 / Episode 3 / Part 1)

This one concentrates more on the preparation of the slats and the finishing process than Staedtler's.