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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

Subtle Changes

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One of the most notable changes in the design of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing was when the company stopped painting the black band around the neck of the clamp eraser ferrule. They were still being painted after the company’s move to Wilkes-Barre in 1956/57 but I have yet to determine the exact year this change occurred. It seems that it can be narrowed-down to the same time of this packaging style, but it wasn’t only the black band that changed.

The boxes pictured above (older on top, newer on the bottom) are nearly identical: the main difference is the addition of the PMA logo in the lower-right. But that’s not all.

The older box closes by way of an elongated flap, whereas the newer box has a shorter flap that tucks into the top of the box:

The printing on the flaps themselves remained the same:

It was the older box, however, that was used for the banded pencils. The newer, PMS-stamped box, was for the non-banded pencils.

I’ve always thought that the loss of the black band had everything to do with cost, but it’s interesting that the PMA approval is found on the packaging used for the non-banded pencils — in other words, did the PMA approval force the issue?

I’m currently unfamiliar with what was needed to earn PMA approval back then but I’m beginning to wonder if there wasn’t something about the paint used by the Eberhard Faber Company for the black band that was a concern. Then, faced with having to research an alternative, the company decided to discontinue the practice altogether.

Apart from the black band the pencils are identical (to the eyes at least), and there was only a slight update to the functionality of the box. Rather than being the result of inspiration though, the changes are starting to seem more like an accommodation.

Laurie Spiegel’s Blackwing

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Timeliness and timelessness.

Photo by Laurie Spiegel (Click for her Instagram)

There are two reasons why I can’t help thinking of a rocket shooting past a star when I look at this photo. First, the obvious: the pencil and clamp ferrule kind of look like a rocket, and the flash (or reflected lamp) looks like a bright star.

The other reason? Because this Blackwing belongs to composer Laurie Spiegel, whose piece Harmonices Mundi (The Harmony of the World) is, at this very moment, on two Golden Records speeding toward interstellar space aboard Voyager I and Voyager II.

It might just be me, but there is something about this photograph that is unimaginably hopeful.

Thanks to Laurie for sharing this photo, and for all the other gifts she’s given us.

2018

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Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks to all of those who submitted sightings this year, shared stories, asked questions, or just came by to look around.

Dave Lambert

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Vocalist and composer Jon Hendricks passed away yesterday, aged ninety-six. This photo, from the obituary published by the Washington Post, shows Hendricks on the right along with vocalists Dave Lambert and Annie Ross:

©Getty Images

Tucked behind Lambert’s ear is what appears to be an Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencil. The recording session is attributed to the late 1950s.

Thanks to Michael from Orange Crate Art, who I think has spotted more Blackwings than anybody.

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?