Auto advancing pencils, from the 1970s to now
Auto-advancing mechanical pencils have been around for a while now. The Faber-Castell alpha-matic was released in the 1970s and was, as far as I know, the first of this type1.
These pencils usually work by forwarding the lead a bit when the sleeve or cone near the tip is depressed while writing. This will forward the lead a bit. As forwarding the lead is done automatically every time the sleeve is pressed during writing there is no need to push the pencil’s button anymore.
Pilot has a pencil similar to the Faber-Castell alpha-matic, but Pilot’s version is still made today. It’s called the Automac and looking at the grip section I think that the mechanism isn’t the only thing this pencil has borrowed from the alpha-matic. I think the Automac pays homage to the original auto-advancing pencil with its similar grip section.
My experience with auto-advancing pencils
If you want to try out a pencil like this: Faber-Castell still has you covered: For under £3 (~<$3.50; <€3.50) you can get a plasticky one with a cone that does the job. Ten years ago I used these a lot, just because of the novelty (at least for me it was new at that time). It was the only auto-forwarding pencil I have ever used. It worked well for me, but anytime I’d hand it over to a colleague to write with, especially if the pencil is filled with coloured leads, the user was almost guaranteed to break the lead and clog up the mechanism as it didn’t work well with soft leads, like coloured leads, at all.
Enter Pentel’s orenznero
When Pentel’s fibonacci mountain video came out last week I was immediately intrigued. In this video the new orenznero is used in a plotter. I never owned a plotter, but having spent most of my pocket money in the 1980s on computer magazines the video was more than fascinating as a normal plotter wouldn’t work with a pencil for long periods of time without some extra mechanism. Pencils tend to get shorter when you write, unlike ballpoint pens or fountain pens, so the plotter would either have to lower the pencil again and again (for wood-cased and mechanical pencils) or it would have to press the button to forward the lead (for mechanical pencils).
The plotter in Pentel’s video doesn’t do either, so the orenznero must have some sort of auto-forwarding mechanism. Just like when writing with a normal Orenz, you can write for a long time with the new orenznero without having to push the button to forward the lead, but this time it’s not the sleeve retracting, it’s the lead forwarding that makes this possible.
Some of the diagrams from Pentel make me think that their mechanism works even if the sleeve doesn’t touch the paper at all, but I am not sure about that and the Japanese I learned at university in the 1990s is just enough for me to decipher some Katakanas, not enought to figure out how the orenznero works, so I’ll have to wait and see.
The good news is that Yumiko, I mentioned her before on this blog, has bought me one already, from Umeda (Osaka) Loft, so I will be able to try it out soon.
There is a 0.2mm and a 0.3mm version. Even though 0.3mm would enable me to use Stadtler Mars micro and Pilot neox graphite leads I asked for the 0.2mm version as that is closer to a freshly sharpened wood-cased pencil and fits my small writing better. Well, it turned out that the 0.3mm version was sold out anyway and there were only two or three 0.2mm pencils left. Lucky me!
I would like to thank Yumiko for helping me to get this pencil.
If you want to find outmore about the (old) Orenz, here is my blog post about the 0.2mm version, 0.3mm version, 0.5mm version, and sliding sleeve pencils in general. There is also a page comparing different sliding sleeve pencils.
- You can’t this model them for quite a while now and used prices for the alpha-matic can easily reach £200 (~$250; €235) or more. [↩]