Last time I visited Selfridges, they had the Robot Pencil Sharpener from Kikkerland on a shelf. I recognised it from Dave’s Mechnical Pencils, but I am sure I have also seen it in other blogs. Of course I could not resist and was drawn to it. Next to it there were also some other novelty pencils and eraser, including big dinosaur shaped erasers, Penguin Book pencils and paper pencils. This being Selfridges the items were not cheap, but I still bought the robot sharpener and the paper pencils.
The paper pencils are from a company called Eco Bridge and are made in Korea. I paid £3.95 (~ $ 5.95, ~ € 4.40) for three pencils. The price in Korea is 2300 Won (~ £ 1.35, ~ $ 2.00, ~ € 1.50). Not cheap, especially when keeping in mind that until recently Tesco sold similar pencils made from rolled Chinese newspaper for less than 5p (~ 8¢, ~6ct) each. O’Bon’s newsprint pencils, reviewed at pencil talk, cost $5 (~ £ 3.30, ~ € 3.70) for a pack of 10.
The Eco Bridge pencils is definitely softer than the Tesco pencil or the average European HB pencil, its softness is comparable to a Staedtler Mars Lumograph B, Faber-Castell 9000 2B or Palomino HB. Smudging is similar to other pencils of this softness. To my surprise the Eco Bridge is a very good pencil. It is much smoother than a Dong-A Fable HB, one of the few pencils from a Korean company that is, as far as I know, produced in Korea. I normally prefer pencils where the point stays sharp for longer, but softer pencils like the Eco Bridge have the advantage of delivering a nicer, darker black when writing.
When it comes to sharpening the pencils the Tesco pencil performs better than the Eco Bridge. The blade of the sharpener (in this case the Eisen 402) seems to cut the Tesco paper much better, while the paper in the Eco Bridge is more likely to get ripped away. While the paper used for the Tesco pencil is rolled paper with Chinese characters on it, probably from a newspaper or something similar, all three Eco Bridge pencils have a similar colour distribution on the paper, red in the middle, near the lead, and recycling beige on the outside. I suspect that the paper used for the Eco Bridge has been recycled and printed on specifically for this pencil, in order to produce this pattern on the paper. This would also explain the higher price tag. This recycling process might be responsible for the rougher paper, compared to the Tesco pencil, which results in the paper ripping easier.
The Eco Bridge is not cheap, but it is a nice pencil. It might not be able to compete with really good pencils, but it is better than most “average” pencils. If you like B or 2B pencils and happen to see the Eco Bridge pencils in a shop you could give it a try. On the other hand this money would (nearly) buy you one of the good pencils (9000, Lumograph, Palomino, Mono).
Price and exchange rates: March 2010.
I would like to thank Kent from Pencilog for the Dong-A Fable used for the comparison.
I would just like to say thank you to Sean from Pencils and Music. He told me about several auctions where old Graf von Faber-Castell items were offered that are no longer available …and as you can see I managed to be the winning bidder for some of these items.
In case you wonder about the Castell-Bank paper block and paper clip holder: They are promotional gifts from the “Fürstlich Castell‘sche Bank”, a bank that belong to the Castell-Castell and Castell-Rüdenhausen branches of the Castell family. I had the paper block and the paper clip holder since the 1980s or the 1990s, so I doubt they are still available.
When it comes to the recognition value of their pencils there is one company that – in my opinion – does by far the best job: Staedtler. Compared to other companies in this industry Staedtler is quite unusual as the company belongs to the Staedtler foundation whose main purpose is the promotion of scientific research… but I digress. Let’s get back to the pencils: As much as I like to use pencils from other companies, the Faber-Castell 9000 for example, for me the archetype of a pencil is the Staedtler Noris, available in two versions: as the 120 (without eraser) and as the 122 (with eraser).
The Noris is a pencil that is very common in Europe, but I would not say that it dominates the market. Noris as a brand name for pencils has been registered in 1901 and the name Noris itself is closely related to Staedtler: the nymph Noris is the personification of Nuremberg, the city where Staedtler has its headquarters. The Noris pencil is definitely quite popular in Germany. In UK it is also quite popular: in supermarkets you can usually find at least two types of pencils, often more, but a no name pencil and the Staedtler Noris seem to be the common denominator.
Somehow the look of the Noris is easy to remember, but this is not a feature unique to the Noris: Staedtler also did a great job in that respect with some of their other pencils: the tradition and the Mars Lumograph. These three models are instantly recognisable and unless you count the yellow Koh-I-Noor which was not the first yellow pencil, but seemed to have sparked the popularity of yellow pencils in America they seem to be the most copied pencils in the world.
The Staedtler Noris was the antetype for the Chunghwa 6181, reviewed at oh! super tooth, but even though the Noris has probably been less often copied than the tradition and the Mars Lumograph, it can be seen on TV more often, usually used by somebody who is probably not even aware what make or model it is.
In one episode of Black Books the main character is using a Noris to control who is allowed to talk. I just saw the Noris again last week in a BBC documentary unrelated to pencils, and I see an icon that looks like the Noris on a daily basis in Okular, the document viewer in KDE 4.
Slightly younger than the Noris, with Mars being registered as a pencil brand in 1900, but with the Lumograph being released about 30 years later, the Mars Lumographwould probably have to top the list when it comes to how often the look of a pencil has been copied by no name pencils. I have seen no name pencils with the look of the Mars Lumograph, but without any writing on it countless times. Sometimes you can also see copies of this pencil with the name of the manufacturer on it, e.g. the Chunghwa Drawing pencil, reviewed at Blyantsiden (Google translation) or the Medicise Drawing pencil 9002. Of course the Mars Lumograph also got its fair share of TV presence. Just to name one example, there is a Derrick episode from the Seventies where a secretary is using a pencil, unmistakably a Mars Lumograph.
The distinct look of the Staetdler pencils makes recognising them so easy. This must surely be an important factor that influences the decision of customers when they are in front of a shelf of pencils and need to decide which pencil to buy.
Unfortunately Staedtler stopped producing pencils in Australia and Great Britain, but some shops still have stock left that was produced in these two countries. You might know where this is going… After this really long-winded introduction I will now compare Staedtler pencils from different countries, to be more precise: I will be comparing the Staedtler tradition 110 from Australia, Germany and Great Britain. For this comparison I used recently produced pencils from the three different factories. It would be wrong to assume that there is no variation in the production, so please do not take this comparison too seriously.
When comparing the different HB versions Even though I have most grades of the British (actually Welsh to be precise) and of the Australian tradition I only have the HB version of the German tradition. you can see that the Australian version has the thinnest layer of paint. I have to say that I actually like it, because you can see the texture of the wood through the paint. On a negative note I also have to add that the Australian pencils (all grades) have the paint applied less consistently. All pencils came pre-sharpened, but the pencil from the German factory has been pre-sharpened using a different method than the other pencils. The pencil from Great Britain is definitely softer than the other two. It also smudges a bit more. When I tried to erase all three using the Mars plastic eraser pen (528 50) there was no real difference between the different pencils.
Comparing the Australian 4B and the British 4B I also thought that the British pencil was a tick softer, but this was definitely not as noticeable as it was for the HB pencils. Using the Mars plastic eraser pen the Australian 4B was maybe a bit easier to erase than the British 4B, but again there was not a big difference.
Conclusion: The tradition is a really good pencil. I am not sure why, but the German Staedtler web site lists the tradition in the artist category, not in the category for pencils used for writing. Nevertheless the tradition is very suitable for writing. Stock of Australian and British tradition pencils will be exhausted soon, so get some while you can …not that the performance of the German tradition is worse, but if you just spent a few minutes reading this post you must be pencil-crazy enough to want the Australian and British version as well.
I would like to thank David from Dave’s Mechanical Pencils for the selection of Australian pencils, including the Staedtler tradition, he sent me.
The photo of Stephen Wiltshire using a Staedtler Tradition has been taken from Top Gear Episode 5 of Series 14. I believe that the use of this image falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.
The pencil icon has been taken from Okular, the document viewer in KDE 4.
I found this KUM sharpener on a recent trip to Manchester. Unfortunately the model number is neither printed on the package nor on the sharpener, but it is probably 400-1K. Paperchase in the Trafford Centre sells these wedge-shaped magnesium-alloy sharpeners for £ 0.75 (~ € 0.82, $ 1.12). This does sound quite cheap for a sharpener that can potentially be used for a long time, but for just a few pence more you can get the 400-1E from Cultpens, a similar magnesium sharpener that comes with two spare blades, while the 400-1K does not come with any spare blades.
KUM has a very good reputation. Like most German manufacturers in the pencil and sharpener industry they are from Franconia (more details can be found in the Eisen 402 article). Because of KUM’s reputation my expectations were quite high and I was soon disappointed when I realised that I got another sharpener from this company that does not perform as well as expected. Previous disappointments include the KUM Streamline Chrome Canister Sharpener 460S and the KUM Long Point 400-5L. My only good KUM experience with a sharpener so far is with the Kum Automatic Longpoint Sharpener, reviewed at pencil talk.
The point produced by the KUM 400-1K is rather short and blunt. The sharpening angle is only about 24°. Normally you will only get a shorter point if you use a sharpener for coloured leads. The 400-1K‘s point is certainly shorter than the one produced by Möbius+Ruppert’s grenade.
It is nice to have a sharpener that produces a shorter point, but I am not very enthusiastic about the KUM 400-1K. Maybe I got a “bad one”. It does perform similar to other average sharpeners, but you do not have to spend much more to get a good sharpener that will certainly outperform the 400-1K.
I would like to thank Kent for the Staedtler 134 yellow pencils used to compare the different sharpeners.
There is a very informative PDF about the history of the pencil on Faber-Castell’s web site. Many of the facts are common knowledge among pencil enthusiasts and with only twelve pages you obviously cannot compare this PDF to something as comprehensive as Petroski’s book, but reading this document would certainly be time well spent if you have a few minutes to spare.