Monthly Archives: September 2012


350 years pencil making craft 1

Right hand side: Dr. Konstantin Czeschka (Image © Bayerischer Rundfunk)

To celebrate 350 years of Bleiweißsteftmacherhandwerk1 the Franconian and Bavarian regional news reported live from Staedtler’s factory on 25 September 2012. The reports were only a few minutes long.

Leads (Image © Bayerischer Rundfunk)

Dr. Konstantin Czeschka, Chief Technology & Production Officer, and Axel Marx, Managing Director, talked about the history of the pencil and included these interesting details:

 

  • The graphite used for pencil leads is ground to particles whose size is in the range of a micrometer, one millionth of a metre.
  • In 1900 there where 23 companies manufacturing pencils in Nuremberg. They employed 10,000 employees.
  • One machine, shown on TV, can produce 1000 leads per minute.
  • The pencil leads are heated to 1000°C
  • The leads seem to be made in Nuremberg, but the pencils seem to be assembled in their factory in Neumarkt.
    I thought Staedtler’s mechanical pencils are made there, but didn’t expect their pencils to be made there, too. I mentioned Neumarkt in a previous blog post when I wrote about the ONLINE All Wood Marone. ONLINE is based in Neumarkt, too, as is e+m Holzprodukte.
  • Producing a pencil is a fairly automated process. You only need about 1-2 seconds of human labour time. 100 years ago about one minute was needed, 200 years ago it was about an hour.
  • The price of graphite is expected to rise. One of the reasons is that it is needed for manufacturing batteries for electric cars.

The Noris being painted (Image © Bayerischer Rundfunk)


You can find reviews of products from e+m Holzprodukte at Lexikaliker and Lung Sketching Scrolls.

The images in this blog post have been taken from Frankenschau and Abendschau. I believe that the use of the images shown in this blog post falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.

 

  1. the craft of making pencils – Bleiweißsteft is what the Bleistift (German for pencil) was called during the 17th century []

Pencil Gangnam Style? 3

With PSY’s hit topping the charts in the UK and the USA, I am wondering which pencil is the ultimate Gangnam Style pencil – luxurious, but also a bit crazy.

A hot contender is the Monami MP-4003.

Luxurious, but also a but crazy? Yes, but maybe a bit too kitsch.

Decadent? Yes. Even hedonistic? Probably not.

Steam punk? Dunno, maybe more like Art Noveau punk…

If the Empire State Building was in Korea, some might call the MP-4003 the Empire State pencil.

Quality

The Monami MP-4003 comes in a nice-ish plastic box and is accompanied by a nice lead container. Quality-wise you can see that the accessories that come with the pencil are not top class: the plastic box had a broken off corner and the lid of the lead container had a crack, probably not because they weren’t handled probably, but because of the materials used.

The quality of the pencil itself is better than that of the accessories, but if you look closely, you also notice very minor problems – like scratches on the surface of the plastic body, marks that might be sprue marks or problems with the friction fit of the cap, which is too tight …at least in the case of my pencil.

Design

The look of the pencil is fantastic, even though they have overdone it, at least for my Western taste. The knurled grip works well, but could maybe have a bit more grip. It feels like knurled for effect, not knurled for purpose and the knurled section also starts rather far away from the tip.

The cap gets wider towards the end. Something I like very much, probably the main reason why I like the Yard-O-Led Edwardian pencil or Graf von Faber-Castell and Faber-Castell Perfect Pencils with this design.

There is a lead hardness indicator, but oddly enough the only grade printed on the body is “HB”, which makes it nearly useless. One possible use might be to set it to “HB” for HB leads and to the black colour of the body for anything other than HB. Speaking of HB leads: the leads that come with the pencil are very soft and dark for HB leads.

Monami

Monami, the manufacturer, seems to be Korea’s biggest stationery company, but according to Kent almost all of their wood-cased pencils are cheap pencils for children with cartoon characters  printed on them. I couldn’t find this pencil on their web site, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is not being made any more. As far as I can tell my pencil was manufactured in 2011.

Conclusion

Value for money is good, with the price of this mechanical pencil being similar to most other mechanical pencils. I paid $6.50 (£4; €5) plus shipping on an auction web site. Keeping in mind that this pencil has more ‘metal’ on its body than most pencils in this price range makes it a very good price.

It is a nice pencil, but maybe a bit too much over the top. It reminds me of the kind of male fashion and accessories I have seen more and more often on recent trips to Asia: something that would look odd in Europe because it would look too delicate and playful, maybe even slightly unmanly. This pencil isn’t really at that level yet, but it is rather eccentric and likes to show off it’s golden coloured elements…

Alternatives

You can admire the MP-3003, IMHO a nicer, because silver coloured, version in Gunther’s virtual pencil case.

If the MP-4003 isn’t over the top enough for you, have a look at the Micro HEXA 10000 (again in Gunther’s virtual pencil case). It looks like a Pharao’s mechanical pencil with the grip of the Faber-Castell TK_Fine Vario.

 


Price and exchange rates: September 2012

 


E wie edelweiss 7

Today: a Swiss pencil, the Caran d’Ache edelweiss.

Caran d’Ache’s cheaper pens

The edelweiss is, as far as I know, Caran d’Ache’s cheapest full-length pen1. By the way, Edelweiss is not only the English but also the Swiss spelling of Edelweiß because unlike in Germany and Austria the ß is not used in Switzerland. Outside Switzerland, Caran d’Ache is mainly known for their luxury writing instruments, but they also sell what I would call “office supply priced” stationery. I paid € 0.60 (~ $0.78; £0.48) each for the edelweiss pencils. Their other “office supply priced” stationery includes ballpoint pens which start at just under CHF 2 (~ $2.15; €1.65; £1.30).

 

Then and now

Caran d’Ache’s history goes back to 1915 when a pencil company was established that, nine years later, was bought by Arnold Schweitzer and became Caran d’Ache. The company name is linked to the Russian word for pencil – but I won’t go into more details: since you are reading pencil blogs you have probably heard this story before.

I tried to find out more about the history of the edelweiss pencil but was unsuccessful as Caran d’Ache did not reply to my request for information. I do hope that it will be possible to find out more about the edelweiss and their other products in the future, as the company’s new boss Carole Hübscher is said to want to “communicate actively”, unlike her father who run the company before her and who only gave one interview in 30 years.

I hope Caran d’Ache will continue to make cheap stationery but am not too optimistic about this in the long-term as their cheap products are, with a few exceptions, only available in Switzerland and even there it’s easy to find stationery shops that don’t stock Caran d’Ache pencils but those from other manufacturers. The future of Caran d’Ache and its 300 employees seems to be with high end writing instruments and boutiques like the one opened recently in Geneva.

 

The pencils

The edelweiss pencils are nice writers, but definitely less smooth than Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils of the same grade (F, HB, 3B). Ghosting/graphite transfer between pages is good, comparable to other European pencils, with the edelweiss HB maybe performing a little bit better than Mars Lumograph of the same grade, but the F and 3B edelweiss performing a bit worse than the Mars Lumographs of the same grade. Personally, I’m partial to F pencils as they tend to keep their point for a long time without their marks being too light on paper, so I like to use them for writing in situations when sharpening a pencil too often would be odd, or when I write in a book or diary2.

The paintwork and print are well done with only minor issues of chipped off paint near the unfinished cap. The current version has a black barcode printed on the pencil. The wood seems to be cedar and the pencils are easy to sharpen.

I couldn’t resist and had to put something stereotypical Swiss in the photo

 

Conclusion

The edelweiss provides very good value for money – if you can get your hands on this pencil that is rather rare outside Switzerland.

Sharpened with a Deli 0635. Pencils not rotated while writing…


I bought these pencils in November 2011 from Stilus BSA for € 0.60 each. The price has not changed since then (September 2012).

Price: November 2011/September 2012

Exchange rate: September 2012

 

You can find a review of the edelweiss at pencil talk and a blog post at Lung sketching Scrolls.

Brand name pencils has a photo of the old version of the edelweiss.

  1. The 1/2 length pencil 541.272 must be their cheapest pen. []
  2. When it comes to ghosting/graphite transfer the Wopex is even better than a grade F pencil. []

Rotring Newton 5

Rotring has changed a lot since Sanford / Newell Rubbermaid took this company over in 1998. It actually changed so much that it’s difficult to believe that the generic products that are left today used to be from a company that created many great pens and pencils. The sad remains actually remind me of the transporter accident in the first Star Trek movie, where Starfleet replies to Kirk “What we got back didn’t live long – fortunately”.

Today I want to talk about one of their post-Sanford pencils, the Rotring Newton. I saw it being advertised on Japanese web sites as being Made in Germany, but I doubt that. The Rotring 600 morphed into the first Rotring Newton, sometimes referred to as the Rotring 600 Newton, which then became the pen shown in this blog post, the final version of the Rotring Newton, a pen that can look nice, depending on the colour combination chosen, but that doesn’t feel like a proper Rotring. Even though this pen is not available any more with a red ring on its barrel, it is still available – in its reincarnation as the Parker Facet. This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise because this pencil doesn’t feeling like a real Rotring and because Parker is another subsidiary of Newell Rubbermaid.

I mentioned that this pencil doesn’t feel like a proper Rotring. The main reason for this is that it is not very practical – it is actually one of the most impractical pencils I know. To advance the lead once you rotate the front barrel clockwise. If you rotate the barrel counter-clockwise you advance the lead and unlock it, i.e. the lead can be pushed back or can be pulled out. If the barrel is in this position and if you wanted to and if there’s no other lead blocking the way you could refill lead by pushing them from the tip into the pencil.

If you want to refill this pencil the proper way you have to

  1. Pull the front barrel out of the sleeve section in the middle. This hexagonal sleeve section its the main design link to the Rotring 600 pencil.
  2. Unscrew the cap you’ll find on the barrel. This cap come with a removable eraser.
  3. Take the pencil mechanism out of the front barrel.
  4. Remove the lid of the pencil mechanism
  5. Refill leads.
  6. Close the lid of the pencil mechanism.
  7. Put the pencil mechanism back into the front barrel.
  8. Screw the cap back onto the barrel.
  9. Push the fron barrel back into the sleeve section.

If you thought that’s acceptable… There’s one more thing you need to do: Pray that the eraser from the second bullet point doesn’t get stuck in the sleeve section. If it does you won’t be able to get it out and the rotate-to-advance mechanism will not work any more, instead you’ll have to advance the lead by pushing the front barrel against the sleeve section – or if you want press the sleeve section while holding the front barrel.

 


I bought this mechanical pencil last week from eBay for around £5 (~ $8; €6.25). The price including shipping was around £7 (~ $11.20; €8.75).

Price and exchange rates: September 2012

Dave has a review of the Trio version of this pen.