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.


  1. thank you for this review!
    The barcod also seems to be the first thing to disappear on a Staedtler Mars Lumgraph, but this does not seem to be the case on a Faber-Castell 9000.

  2. As well as not having the pink tinge to the white band, the older ones printed the grade in a sort of negative. A gold rectangle with the grade number shown as the black background.

  3. My old made-in-GB traditions have the grade in a gold block, along with a stylised "S" at the other end. I've taken some pictures of them; eventually they'll be posted here as part of another review.

  4. I have a few different Made in GB traditions here. As far as I know my earliest one is from the late 1960s. Before the "S" model there was also a BONDED, a RS BONDED and a JET BONDED version. I should really write up my findings so far about the history of the factory in Wales..

  5. I'm still finding GB-made traditions in the shops. I bought two today in my local WHSmith's (OK they were 4Hs, but still...) Interestingly I spotted them because of the gloss of the lacquer

  6. Matthias, please do write up the history of the factory in Wales - I'll look forward to that.

  7. I’ve spent the last week or so exclusively using an eraser-tipped tradition HB as my only pencil, and I’m thoroughly impressed with it (and the eraser, which I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it is). I’ve definitely encountered the same issue with it losing its point relatively quickly, but it’s not extreme. It’s not quite as nice as a Lumograph, and definitely not as nice as a Mono 100, but its ubiquity and the ease with which it can be bought is compensates for that.

    The eraser-tipped version is currently being stocked at Paperchase in the UK, which is actually the first place I’ve seen them for sale. If memory serves, 75p each, which I think is a pretty good deal. I’ve stocked up on a fair few of them, but not too many — not sure whether the eraser will dry out with time, so don’t want to have too many lying around long-term.

  8. P.S. I’d also love to read the history of the Welsh factory!

  9. Koralatov, the more I use the tradition the more I appreciate it. It's a very nice pencil for the money, and represents a sort of gold standard for other mass-market pencils to follow. I can't get the eraser-tipped Art. No. 112 models locally, so I make do with the good old 110. I still have my "review" tradition in my pencil case, and intend to use it often in future.

  10. I like the scalloped black tip against the white - reminds me of a reverse Mont Blanc with the snow capping... and if you think about it, this is an accurate representation of a wooden pencil compared to a Mont Blanc creation. I also like the proper case "Tradition" as opposed to my Australian ones with "caps". Kevin.