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Dear Readers,

If this is your first visit here, please be sure to visit this page. It is a summary of the contents of this blog; an essay called “No Ordinary Pencil.”

Not long after I started this blog, California Cedar’s first Palomino Blackwing* began making its way into the world, and I was excited like a lot of people and very supportive: I gave them some early photos of mine for free, which were used for some international PR, and loaned them some items to be photographed for their website. However, that initial excitement dwindled into ambivalence after some early misrepresentations were uncovered, but the benefit of the doubt persisted. Though not long after, that ambivalence eventually turned into disappointment—I, as well as others in the pencil community, noticed that the advertising campaign for the Palomino Blackwing was at times wildly inaccurate (if not purposely suggestive), and my site and its contents were in some ways becoming an involuntary partner to that enterprise. I finally began posting about these things along with other blogs in order to bring attention to what was going on. My intention was, and remains, to document as accurately as possible the interesting true story of the Blackwing, and to that end it was hard to understand the choices that CalCedar kept making.

For better or for worse it seems that this blog happens to be the only one of its kind vis-à-vis the history of the Blackwing 602 pencil. The blog itself is about two years old, but it represents about four years of work and countless hours spent researching, photographing, collecting, trading, and writing—all done just for doing’s sake; a labor of love. But because this blog has content unique to the Internet, it means that it gets the attention of those who would like to use that content. Most have done so rather innocently (personal blogs, sharing photos, etc.) which is fine by me, and some have been responsible enough to send queries or notifications, but others—including some for-profit companies—have been less honorable and have infringed upon my copyrighted work. But my complaint isn’t simply about scholarship and attribution, and it’s not at all about money. Rather it’s a combination of the appropriated work, plus how it has at times been folded into California Cedar’s questionable PR campaign, which in turn has distorted the Blackwing’s story, that has spoiled things (see this page for details). Everyone wants to be recognized for their work, but this is less about my wanting credit than it is about me wishing they would just do their own work and leave mine alone—just like how you’d want the person sitting next to you to stop copying from your test paper.

Knowing that a company—one with vast financial resources—was watching my every post (the CEO of the company has subscribed to this blog) slowly began draining my enthusiasm: it’s difficult to explain just what it’s like to work hard for each new and unique Blackwing-related “find” and to put the work into posting about it, only to realize it’s likely just to be taken or copied in some way (and sometimes even inaccurately to boot). And it puts me in a unique position: as a consumer, I share the opinion of those who think CalCedar’s marketing has been inaccurate and questionable at times, but I have no control over that. The best I can do for the Blackwing is to publish my own work and let people decide for themselves. But, when on top of everything else it’s my own work that is being copied—especially when it’s coming from a company that claims to be continuing the “legacy” of the Blackwing—that’s a bridge too far. My interest remains unabated, but I don’t want to continue this blog if it means being a source of reference for CalCedar’s designs—the Blackwing, and the work I’ve put into documenting it, mean too much to me.

 

I want to say how grateful I am to everyone who has visited here, supported this site, and contributed to the conversation. It’s remarkable how this immeasurably obscure thing—a pencil—could bring together so many kind and like-minded people from all over the world. I’ve enjoyed hearing from you and more importantly, learning from you.

I’m going to leave the site up and the comments open, and I will be cleaning-up and updating older posts as well as continue to edit and expand the “No Ordinary Pencil” essay, but I do not plan on posting any new Blackwing content. There’s always a chance there might be a new post, but if there is it will likely be about current events. I would have preferred to keep sharing my ongoing research about the Blackwing 602, to say the very least, but not everyone is playing fair—I hope you understand.

For anyone who thinks this is about pencils, it’s not—they’re just pencils. It’s about caring for something very deeply.

Thanks for all of your support, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading.

All the Best,
Sean

Hogan’s Blackwing

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Say what you will about Bob Crane, but don’t forget to mention he was seen using an Eberhard Faber Blackwing.

Since the Blackwing first appeared in 1934, I suppose it’s technically possible one could have found its way to a prisoner-of-war camp in World War II Germany (the Eberhard Faber factory in Germany, however, did not manufacture the Blackwing 602). But I’m not so certain that the creators of Hogan’s Heroes were all that concerned with historical accuracy.

The mid- to late-1960s, when this series was televised, was a significant era for the 602. The first and only national advertising campaign for the Blackwing, designed and implemented in 1965 by Julia Faber (the widow of Eberhard Faber III), appeared in several magazines including The New Yorker.

And since Hollywood was no stranger to the Eberhard Faber Blackwing, there are likely additional cameos waiting to be found in the TV shows and movies of the ’60s and ’70s.

Thanks to reader Dan for the tip!

Blackwing Scotoma (or What’s Holden Holdin’?)

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If the mind sees what it wants to see, it’s never so true as when you think you might have spotted someone using a Blackwing. The glint of a long gold ferrule; the brightly stamped graphite-grey barrel. But too often you see it only in profile and you can’t be quite certain. Take for example, this scene from Blade Runner.

Context plays an important role, e.g. a Blackwing appearing in a movie such as All The President’s Men makes perfect sense, but Blade Runner? Well, let us not forget their appearance in another film that was set in a dystopian future: Soylent Green.

So, what do you think? Is Holden holding an Eberhard Faber Blackwing, or is it just another part of the Voight-Kampff Test?

“It wasn’t ‘just’ a pencil…” A few words with composer Juliana Hall

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A friend recently sent me a photo of Juliana Hall composing at the piano with an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Since posting the photo here, I’ve been in touch with Juliana and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Her thoughtful responses reveal how a pencil can become something more than just a writing tool.


Do you recall when you first came across Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencils? Were they recommended to you by a friend/colleague, or were they something you happened upon by chance?

I had mainly been a pianist until I was 26, at which point I was a piano performance major in grad school at the Yale School of Music…however, through the years I had composed a few pieces in “composing for performers” types of classes.  So when I entered Yale, I chose to actually study composition with a visiting professor (Frederic Rzewski) as one of my electives.

When the Yale composition faculty heard the songs I had written, they encouraged me to change my major from piano to composition…which, with their help, I did.  But I was new to being a composer, so I was looking for a really good pencil, and I asked a classmate of mine whom I really liked what she used and she recommended the Blackwing 602.  (A few years ago that classmate, Julia Wolfe, won the Pulitzer Prize.)

What were your sources for buying Blackwing pencils? Did you have to special order them, or were they generally in stock?

There used to be an art supply store on Chapel Street in New Haven, very close to the British Art Center and the Architecture School.  They sold the Blackwings during my time as a student and, if memory serves, they always had Blackwings available.

After Yale I went to study with the famous vocal composer Dominick Argento in Minneapolis, but I returned to New Haven to get married and once again begin a new life.  The art supply store closed a few years later, but my husband found a stationary supply store in the next town over, Hamden, and we used to buy Blackwings by the box.  One of my husband’s yearly Christmas gifts to me was a gross of Blackwings.

It was a shocking and very sad day when we drove over to buy some more pencils and the shop owner informed us that Blackwings were no more.  We bought what was left of his stock…but, of course, they eventually ran out.

Some find it difficult to understand how musicians and writers could be choosy (or so precious) to the point that they even have a preference for which pencils they use. But a writing utensil lies at a unique junction: the point through which one’s imagination is rendered tangible. Therefore it’s not surprising that the tactile experience of writing can become intimately associated with the act of composing. What role then, if any, has your preference in writing tools played in your work as a composer?

My transition from pianist to composer was a somewhat magical time in my life, a time when I seemed to be guided towards what I really was…and what work I would really do…for my time here on Earth.

The Blackwing was wrapped up in that, it was a part of that magic for me.  It wasn’t “just” a pencil, but a friend, and my connection to that paper as my ideas became real.  I loved the look of the Blackwing’s graphite on the page, and even the scent of the pencil as I worked was pleasant.

It had a sort of “old-time” feeling, because it wasn’t a machine or a computer…it was very human in its warmth, and it provided a cozy feeling as I drew the notes, the dynamics, hairpins, lyrics, and all the things that formed my compositions.

I miss the Blackwing days, as now everything is computerized…and that certainly makes many things easier for me, too…so I have gone the way of the computer as well.

But there will always be a special place in my heart for the Blackwing 602, and for the time we shared as I became a composer with it…I’ve never found a pencil I liked more.


Thanks to Juliana for taking the time to share her thoughts. This interview is part of an ongoing project to document the life and times of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, and its place in writing culture.

Juliana Hall

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Juliana Hall (b. 1958) is an American art-song composer. Here, she can be seen composing at the piano with an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602*. Along with animators, musicians were some of the most ardent exponents of the Faber Blackwing.

*Unless it happens to be a Microtomic.

Thanks to Elaine and Michael for the find!

Bernstein’s “Little Soldiers”

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Photo: Bernstein Estate

Leonard Bernstein referred to his pencil stubs as “Little Soldiers”, and one can only wonder which notes flowed directly from the tips of the pencils pictured above. As you can see there are many Eberhard Faber Blackwing stubs but also those of another favorite of his, the Alpheus Music Writer.

Thanks to George for the tip!

Buddy Bregman

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buddybregmanbw© 1956 Richard Tolbert/AP

Buddy Bregman (1930-2017) was a composer, arranger, and conductor who worked with some of the most notable musicians of the 20th century, including Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald to name only a few. Like many other musicians who worked in the same era, he can be seen using an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

Thanks to reader Boris for the tip!