You don’t have to be a witch to enjoy an Eberhard Faber Blackwing:
I wonder if it doubles as a wand:
It seems though that Darren #2 has less discriminating tastes when it comes to pencils:
Thanks to blog reader Mike for the tip!
The question I’m most frequently asked through this site is “What are my Blackwings worth?” My usual response is “I have no idea”, though I sometimes qualify that with what the current ‘going rate’ seems to be. But like any collectible item, a genuine Blackwing pencil is worth only as much as someone is willing to pay for it.
I follow eBay auctions from time to time, taking note of interesting examples as well as extremes in auction prices. But blog reader Natale has been collecting Blackwing auction data for the last two years, and has generously permitted me to post the results.†
Two-year prices in eBay/Etsy auctions for each Blackwing subtype, with the total number sold for each sample:
† The author of this data is based in Europe, and as anyone who has searched international eBay sites knows, search results can often be omitted for any number of reasons. To that end there may be intermittent auctions that were not included, but this survey is by far the most detailed of its kind.
‡ There was an auction in July of 2013 for a half-gross (72) of Blackwing pencils listed at $2,500 with the “Make Offer” option available. The auction concluded successfully but the final amount is not known.
Special thanks to Natale for sharing this interesting research.
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,
California Cedar has fixed the most recent errors, which I mentioned were originally copied from here but done so in an erroneous manner (see this post for the details). This is further proof that CalCedar closely monitors this site for information, but never credits it.
I know it’s too much to expect an “I’m sorry” from them for the copying, but I thought maybe a “thank you” or some attribution at least for doing their error-checking for them, too. Maybe a check’s in the mail. I wonder what would happen if I actually sent them an invoice. 🙂 I don’t understand why it is so impossibly difficult for them to do their own work.
For a site that speaks so much about one’s “creative legacy”, I wonder what their’s will be.
What is there about that piece of cedar, graphite, and varnish that says “the master fashioned me?”
My pencilled revision of a quote attributed to M. Aldric,
who was originally speaking of Stradivari instruments.
A sense of loss imbues many of the posts on this blog, in varying degrees of intensity and transparency. It can take the form of outright disappointment, or nuanced nostalgia. It can be interpreted as obstinacy about the future or as deference to the recent past. All of it, however, is largely unquantifiable—it’s as intra- and interpersonal as it is intra- and international. But there is something tangible at risk of being lost to history, and the rapidity at which it may happen only amplifies the magnitude of its potential loss: centuries’ worth of pencil-making knowledge and craft.
I am speaking primarily of American pencil-making—the houses of Faber-Castell and Staedtler et al. seem as healthy as ever. But to say “American” pencil-making is in effect to include Europe since several of the most well-known manufacturers have familial roots that reach deep into European soil and history. With the virtual collapse of the American pencil industry, the artistry and science founded in long years of practice could all but disappear. Ironically though, this is in large part the fault of the pencil-makers themselves.
Rightfully so, the specifications, formulae, and techniques developed and employed by manufacturers were and are considered trade secrets, which were literally and figuratively kept “in the family.” Manufacturing plants in 19th-century Germany were run more like feudal cities, where no one worker would be taught more than he needed to know in order to complete his specific task. This way, no one could piece together enough of the “secret”, then share it with other manufacturers, or even start a company of their own. Very few technical papers on the engineering aspects of pencil-making have been presented at conferences or published in peer-reviewed journals. This culture of secrecy makes sense from a business standpoint, especially since it concerns an item as generic as the pencil. But with so few people in-the-know, and with so many great companies having folded, it’s much easier now for that knowledge to die with the remaining few who have it.
For example, the American side of the Eberhard Faber Company. Where is all of their “stuff?” You know, all of the templates, graphics, research, prototypes, catalogues, signs, product samples, photographs, etc. I would imagine the family has a great deal of it, but is the rest all gone? What did Sanford “get” as part of their deal in 1994, or Faber-Castell in 1988? Where does it all go? That’s more than 150 years of history—not only of Eberhard Faber and pencil-making, but of America too. Where is it?
To be honest, I don’t really know what the explicit benefits are in attempting to document this information. Instead it’s just more of a gut feeling: knowledge that has been acquired through long years spent in patient dedication to craft, which was then made manifest in sublime achievements of artistry and engineering, should be preserved. I don’t mean some kind of International Pencil Museum in Den Haag (though that’s something I’d probably like to visit), but rather some centralized and concerted effort dedicated to preserving the history, craft, and science of the pencil.
Maybe there already is such a place; other than in our hearts, that is.