For every category of collectible, there exists one item that serves as a standard-bearer. It glitters atop personal “must-have” lists, beckoning professional and amateur alike, ensnaring and obsessing anyone who turns an unwary eye its way. In the rarefied, cedar-infused air of the wood-case pencil enthusiast, the password to Valhalla is “Blackwing”.
The Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencil enjoys an unusually vaunted reputation—the kind one would rather associate with a fine wine than with something as common as a pencil. Discontinued in 1998, devotees—largely animators and graphic artists—gathered what stock they could and used them sparingly knowing that the favored tool of their craft bar-none would eventually disappear altogether. The decrease in availability, combined with an increasing apotheosis among the faithful, has made the Blackwing 602 one of the most sought-after modern pencils. What once cost a mere 50¢ each can now command prices north of $45 per pencil at online auction sites: dozens of hopefuls silently monitor the infrequent auctions, aiming to own some of the precious few that remain—from pristine unsharpened exemplars, to gnawed and battered stubs less than two inches long.
However, the Blackwing is currently poised to make a comeback, albeit not from the hands of its former manufacturers. The expired trademark was acquired by California Republic Stationers, makers of the Palomino—the pencil some consider to be the successor to the Blackwing. “WoodChuck”—the man behind the Palomino, Pencils.com, California Cedar Products and much more—has taken on the task of bringing this legendary pencil back to life. But what drives such devotion? I can’t imagine it’s profit. Sanford discontinued production in 1998 in part due to waning sales—as few as 1,100 dozen were made per year toward the end. While it is certain there will be a strong response by a core group of devotees, it’s not as if we’re talking about the release of a new iPod.
This meager blog is offered to serve as a repository for information about the Blackwing, in part to better understand and document why so many consider the 602 to be the “best pencil ever made” (and perhaps as an ancillary, why anyone would consider that there is even such a thing as a “best pencil”). I’m hoping that readers will share photos, information, and personal experiences drawn from the 40+ years this pencil was in production.
I am also interested in the Blackwing’s re-introduction into the wild. Can a legend pick up where it left off, or will the new pencil be considered a pretender to the throne? Will two camps emerge: those loyal to the “original” and those who support the newcomer? Regardless, it is an unmitigated boon for pencil lovers, and worthy of attention from anyone who has even once wished that someone would continue making some beloved—but now discontinued—item.