“Made in France”


Billographe 5

My father was a joiner. When he used to make plans for customers he always used to label them with this stencil. I think this stencil is one of the earliest things I remember from his workshop. He used it until he retired, when he was in his seventies.

A few years ago I decided to take it with me to the UK. At that time it was still in perfect shape. I kept it in a plastic bag for a few years and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I took it out of the bag recently. The stencil was completely deformed and the surface was very oily. I assume something from the plastic bag somehow interacted with the plastic form the stencil.

What a shame. I put some heavy books on, in the hope that it will help get the stencil at least a little bit back into shape, but I am not too confident that this will work.

The label reads BILLOGRAPHE №4 (bille fine) MINERVA FRANCE

It looks as if these are still being made, at least in some sizes, but they seem to be extremely difficult to get hold of outside France1.

 

  1. In Germany Standardgraph, which you might know because of their DUX sharpeners, is selling similarly coloured stencils – not only letters, also stencils to make plans of rooms, etc. []

Pierre Henry file boxes

I feel like this is a ‘Soennecken’ blog post. As mentioned in a previous blog post he invented the ring binder and the hole punch, two items mentioned in this blog post. Even though Soennecken is not very famous outside Germany they are still around and you can still buy their pencil and mechanical pencils.

Before

Before

Ring binders

Ok, on to the real blog post. I used to store all my bills, invoices and other important documents in folders / ring binders. This somehow, should I say because of my laziness, ended up in me collecting letters for weeks or months and then filing them away in one big session that involved lots of hole punching and sorting.

After the last ‘filing away session’ I was wondering why I go through all that effort if I hardly ever look up what I have filed away. If I change my energy supplier or switch to another credit card I will shred all the carefully sorted pages anyway, probably without ever having looked up a single document.

Wouldn’t a system be better where I can just drop’ documents, even if looking things up might take a bit longer?

Made in France

Made in France

Filing boxes

That reminded me of a filing box I had seen in Aldi several weeks earlier, but I didn’t need one at the time. I remembered that they were cheap, made from metal and made in France. A quick look on the Internet  made me find them online: These were filing boxes by Pierre Henry, a brand I wasn’t familiar with. Looking a bit more I found that these were just on offer at Staples. One A4 file box was only £12.49 (~$19.65; €17.60) (and still is).

Inside

Inside

Fast storage, slow retrieval

No hole punching involved. You just drop your documents in the right bit of your suspension files. It’s quicker, but if you want access to a specific document it takes a bit longer to get it out. It’s a bit like the good old magnetic core memory: storing information is quick, but retrieving information takes a bit longer – unlike my previous solution, ring binders, which are more like MiniDiscs: storing information is complicated, but reading it is easy …or to use a more stationery related analogy: it’s like cursive versus block letter: cursive is faster to write, but reading it takes longer.

The label roll from the previous blog post

The label roll from the previous blog post

Suspension files

For my purpose the file boxes came with a few, but not with enough suspension files. Staples’ suspension files were quite expensive, so I bought some from eBay instead. Unfortunately half of my order was the wrong size: foolscap instead of A4, but luckily the seller sent the right size after I contacted them. If you don’t live in a country where foolscap is being used you might have come across it in the Sherlock Holmes books. I think this is where I first came across it.

Staples

As mentioned earlier I bought the metal file boxes from Staples. They promised next day delivery to my local Staples, but somehow it was Monday before they arrived, not Saturday as promised.

Some good offers in Staples

Some good offers in Staples

Stationary in a stationery store

Stationary in a stationery store

Conclusion

So far I’m very happy with my new way of storing documents. I got a 30% off voucher from Staples after my first order. The voucher expires tomorrow. I wonder whether I should get some more metal file boxes.

 


Price and exchange rates: June 2015


BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK 3

 

SBIC ecolutions evolution BLACK

BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK packagingToday: another pencil from France. This time it’s an eco pencil, the BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK. It’s a really good looking eco pencil with gold lettering on a dark grey, slightly metallic looking body. I paid £1.49 (~$2.35; €1.80) for a set with four pencils from a local supermarket.

When I first saw the packaging I was sceptical – it looks good, but does it write well? Most eco pencils don’t write very well, with the Wopex and paper-rolled pencil being the only exceptions I find usable.

 

Similar pencils

“Relatives” of this pencil have been reviewed at pencil talk and Lexikaliker. Unsurprisingly the BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK seems to be very similar to these pencils. The box indicates that it’s made form 55% recycled material and looking closer this seems to be an extruded pencil with an aerated casing. The pencils seem to have more air bubbles in the centre of the body, near the lead.

...with the Dux Bio sharpener, a Wopex and a Silvine notebook

…with the Dux Bio sharpener, a Wopex and a Silvine notebook

 

The sharpener used

I thought an eco pencils deserved a suitable sharpener, so I tried out the Dux Bio, a sharpener being advertised as 100% compostable and made from 80% renewable resources – even though I think it might be biodegradable rather than compostable, i.e. it the sharpener probably doesn’t turn into humus .

BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK

A quick word about the Dux Bio, also known as the DX5907. It’s a great sharpener that produces an even point with an angle of ~24°, even on difficult to sharpen pencils. I actually tried to get my hands on one for a while, but wasn’t able to find it anywhere. In the end (about 18 months ago) Dux was kind enough to send me one.

 

Using this pencil

Sharpening this pencil is fairly easy for a pencil with a body made from recycled material other than paper. The graphite core looks similar to that of a traditional pencil, but when looking at a sharpened point the graphite seems to be more reflective. BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK

The BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK produced a fairly light line – so light that it is tempting to press harder, especially if the point has been used for a while and the line is wider. Unlike a more traditional pencil pressing harder doesn’t however result in a darker line – or should I say the causal relation between pressing harder and producing a darker line is not as obvious as it is with a normal pencil.BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK

 

Conclusion

Overall it’s not bad for a recycled pencil. It’s certainly much better than the recycled pencils made by Remarkable, but even though it’s easy to sharpen it doesn’t produce a line as good as the Wopex.

BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK


Price and exchanges rates: September 2013


The BIC Matic Classic 0.7mm 15

BIC Matic Classic

Introduction

Today: A mechanical pencil from France, the BIC Matic Classic 0.7mm. Probably their most simple pencil1. It’s main advantages, according to the packaging (click on the images of the packaging to enlarge, the thumbnails are rather small):

  • No need to sharpen and
  • Writes 2x nore than a graphite pencil.

 

Value for money

In April I bought a pack with three pencils in my local Morrisons (a supermarket chain from the North of England) for £1.50 (~$2.30; €1.75). £1.50, that’s very cheap – per pencil it’s cheaper than a typical, branded woodcased pencil. If you by the Matic in bulk you can get it even cheaper (i.e. ridiculously cheap). Other lead diameters (0.5 mm and 0.9 mm) and other looks (e.g. a girly, dotted version) are also available.

Matic Colours

 

About the BIC Matic

BIC Matic ClassicThe clip colours of the “default version” currently on sale in Europe remind  me very much of Lamy’s limited edition colours Aquamarine and Lime2. The colours used for the clips seem to have changed since this pencil has been reviewed by Pencil Revolution and Dave’s Mechanical Pencils, but the reason for the colour change might be geographical rather than temporal. I haven’t used this pencil in the past, but my pencils’ erasers perform very well, unlike Dave’s specimens. This could indicate that the quality of the eraser might have improved …or the quality of the eraser might vary depending on the origin of the pencil3.

These pencils don’t seem to be as common in the UK or Germany as they are in the USA or New Zealand …or France, I noticed this pencil in the French TV series Spiral (Engrenages).

Tintin using a BIC Matic (Image © Son et Lumière)

Tintin using a BIC Matic (Image © Son et Lumière)

I’ve often seen similar looking, but different, pencils with a similar grip section supplied as no name stationery in offices or supplied as freebies usually with company logos printed on them, but the BIC Matic isn’t a common sight here.

The Matic and the Noris

Looking at them my first thought was that they’d be uncomfortable to hold because they are so slim, but actually they aren’t. With more than 8.0 mm at the grip section and more than 7.5 mm at the at the body their diameter is bigger than that of typical hexagonal pencils (7 mm edge to edge, 7.5 mm vertex to vertex).

 

Writing 2x moreWrites 2x more

What about the claim that this pencil writes 2x more than a graphite pencil? This might be an accurate claim for many users, but will largely depend on how you use your pencils4). The length of the three leads per Matic added together is twice the length of the lead in a woodcased pencil. The “2x claim” is actually the same on the 0.5 mm and on the 0.9 mm version of BIC’s mechanical pencil, so it’s probably based on the overall length of the leads provided.

In reality your use would determine how much of the graphite you’re actually using. If you sharpen your woodcased pencil a lot you might not even use all of the central 0.7 mm of the lead, but if you don’t sharpen that often and rotate the pencil you might be using more than the central 0.7 mm of your pencil’s lead.

Arnaud, the intern, using a BIC Matic (Image © Son et Lumière)

Arnaud, the intern, using a BIC Matic (Image © Son et Lumière)

 

Want to double the 2x more?

If you see the statement “writes 2x more” as a personal challenge that you want to top this paragraph will explain what you need to do to double the BIC Matic‘s 2x writing with a normal, woodcased pencil. The trick is to use as much of the central part of the lead as possible. The central part you use should have a diameter of at least 1 mm. Done? Congratulations. You have now used twice as much of the lead (0.385 mm3 per mm of lead for the Matic compared to 0.785 mm3 for the woodcased pencil). In the following picture you can see a Black feet Indian Pencil with a diameter of more than 1 mm for the “unused” part of the “lead cone”. By rotating the pencil after every few words of writing the average writer should easily be able to produce a line of about 0.4 mm width, or even less if you rotate the pencil more often.  You also wouldn’t want to waste graphite when sharpening, so if you really want to increase your use the graphite you could a sharpener with a point adjuster to avoid removing graphite from the central part of the lead5. A suitable sharpener is the Deli 0668 – other sharpeners with point adjusters are available from DUX, M+R, Dahle, Carl and other manufacturers. Finally, to avoid wasting the last few centimetres of the pencil: use a pencil extender.

Blackfeet point

There’s another argument in favour of the woodcased pencil: the typical mechanical pencil can’t use the last centimetre or so of a lead, just because of the way the grip mechanism works. You can find more information about this at Lexikaliker. Thanks to Sean‘s help I got my hand on a few Staedtler Integrity pencils a few years ago. The Integrity wastes less then 2 mm of the lead (the Matic wastes about 11 mm)6.

Laure using an orange notepad (Image © Son et Lumière)

Précédemment dans Engrenages: Laure using an orange notepad (Image © Son et Lumière)

Since I mentioned Engrenages before and this blog post has a French theme: Laure, the main character in Engrenages is using an orange notepad, but unfortunately it’s none of the three I have shown in this blog (except the Rhodia there’s the Carrefour one and the Oxford one). I wonder how many how many people in France use the BIC Matic and how many different orange A7 notepads there are in France …

 


Price: April 2013

Exchange rates: June 2013

I’d like to thank Sean for the Blackfeet Indian Pencil seen in this blog post.

The screenshots in this blog post have been taken from episode 7 and episode 9 of the third season of Son et Lumière’s Engrenages. I believe that the use of the screenshots shown in this blog post falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.

 

  1. On the high-end of BIC’s spectrum you’d find the BIC AI and the BIC Rondo, which has been removed from local shops and from their catalogue, so I assume you will only be able to get the Ballgraf version from now on. []
  2. The Lamy pens in these colours sell extremely well and are sought after. The BIC colours don’t match the Lamy colours exactly, but without a direct comparison they look pretty similar. []
  3. It seems to be produced (or has been produced) in at least four different countries. []
  4. I’m taking the softness of the lead out of the equation. The provided lead seems to be a standard lead which behaves like many other HB leads []
  5. A great discussion of the percentage of graphite used in a woodcased pencil can be found at Lexikaliker. []
  6. Unfortunately I didn’t succeed in using the Integrity to use up short bits of lead, feeding it already short bits of lead doesn’t really work []