After the Blackwing was discontinued, one of the most commonly-asked questions was “which pencil is most like the Blackwing?” Looking within the Eberhard Family family of pencils, some say the Microtomic 4B actually had the same lead formulation. Others say the Contak 440 is more similar. But this points to a larger question, one that I have always wondered about.
Having made more than 1,000 different lead pencils, are we to believe that every single Eberhard Faber pencil had its own unique lead formulation? Of all the long-forgotten pencils, is it not possible that some differed in name and finish only? It boggles the mind, for example, that countless numbers of Eberhard Faber school pencils each had their own individual leads. The bigger names, like Mongol and Van Dyke? Sure. That makes sense. But the Pearl 3880, Empress 434, Big Top 678, Peer 697, Challenge 142, Gloria 350, and Princess 1396, etc.? And that list could go on for days. What comes first, the name of the pencil or its formula and appearance? It’s not so different from writing music I guess—sometimes the title comes first, other times it emerges in the composing.
This leads to something that made me wonder for the first time whether the Blackwing’s ‘unique’ lead formulation—or something near to it—might have actually been used in other pencils. This excerpt is from the 1940 Eberhard Faber catalog:
Just about everyone has heard of the Mongol, but perhaps not the Mongol Black Streak. They both have the word “Black” in their names, and though “Streak” is less graceful than “Wing”, it’s also suggestive of speed. Granted there are limited ways to briefly describe a pencil, but descriptions about the lead are almost identical. It’s interesting that the Blackwing is described as ‘smooth’ and the Black Streak is described as ‘very smooth’.
I wonder how Eberhard Faber saw them as being different. They were clearly different enough to warrant separate catalog entries, but I wonder if it mightn’t have been one “idea” expressed in two different forms. The Black Streak seems old to me, and though I don’t know for sure, I’m betting it was discontinued some time ago. Did the Blackwing just get by on good looks for a while, or was the Mongol line just too saturated to hold the Black Streak? And once the Black Streak as well as the other pencils were discontinued, does it mean that all those lead formulations never saw the light of day again?
On the same catalog page was this pencil, the Mongolette. The more pencil-experienced likely already know about this but it’s the first time I’ve seen it. Was there ever a Blackwingette, for editors on-the-go?
Special thanks to the Brooklyn Historical Society,
for their help with the 1940 catalog scan.