I’m not sure how best to express this, but something I’ve always liked about the Blackwing 602 is how its reputation came about. I’m not talking about the Internet-inflected (infected?) hyperbole you read today, I mean how it quietly kept going on for more than 60 years and in spite of the fact it was largely un-trumpeted by its own manufacturer.
Everything now seems to indicate that in its lifetime, the Blackwing wasn’t a big seller. It wasn’t promoted as being “the best” anything. It wasn’t a fad or gimmick. It was just a good pencil.
The integrity of its design remained virtually intact, even after extended ferrules were long out of use. Compare this to some of its better-selling contemporaries such as the Van Dyke and Microtomic, both of which underwent some significant changes in design (in fact, the Van Dyke went on to become the Microtomic). The Blackwing didn’t seem to have been advertised much, either. But the Mongol, Van Dyke, and Microtomic were often the subject of full-page advertisements in major publications—some even came complete with a spokesmodel!
In contrast, the Blackwing seems to have been a quiet but consistent choice among some discerning consumers, and in sufficient numbers to maintain a place in the Eberhard Faber catalog. It didn’t need to have a story told about it. It didn’t need any celebrity connections. No silly ad campaigns for the Blackwing either. It was just a good pencil.
It seems that people came to learn about the Blackwing the old fashioned way—by word of mouth; back when you said something and stood by it. And the people who heard you say it knew it was you, and were glad you said it.
Despite the Fabers having been Americans for a few generations by that point, there was still an old-world way about it all: find the best materials, build with your own hands, be precise, take pride in your work. This sentiment becomes especially meaningful as I read about the Eberhard Faber Company’s hardships during the Great Depression.
After having learned more—but hardly all—about the Blackwing 602’s history, the expression “best pencil ever made” turns out to be a back-dated epithet, not a contemporaneous depiction. And I think it’s for the better. It was just a good pencil.