For Want of a Blackwing 602

The following pencils have some qualities, to me at least, that are similar to the Blackwing. They are in no particular order, and please take into account something like this is always subjective.

Blaisdell Special Grade Calculator 600

The Blasidell Calculator 600 is as singular a pencil as the Blackwing, in my opinion. It is slightly softer and a little bit darker, but it is unmatched in terms of smoothness. This is a member of the “Steinbeck Trio”; it’s no wonder he enjoyed this one as much as the 602. If I could only keep one, I would be hard-pressed to choose between this pencil and the Blackwing. Of interest is the designation at the end: “MADE U.S.A.”

Faber-Castell Contak 440

This pencil was originally manufactured by Eberhard Faber, but made its way to Faber-Castell in the late 1980s along with the Blackwing, Mongol, et al. I’ve read that the lead formulation is supposedly closest to that of the Blackwing, but contains less wax. This seems like an accurate description to me. It crumbles a little bit—instead of a “waxy” smoothness, it has a fine, “powdery” smoothness to it. But when used on the right paper (something heavy and smooth) it’s an excellent writer.

IBM Electrographic

I learned of the IBM Electrographic through Pencil Talk. It wears much like a No. 2 pencil but is noticeably smoother than most. Its lead formulation was developed by IBM for optimized use with machines that utilize optical mark recognition.

Mitsubishi 4B Penmanship Pencil

What’s remarkable about this pencil is that it writes differently than a Hi-Uni 4B, which means that the artisans at Uni-Ball created a distinctly different pencil, one for the specific purpose of handwriting. It comes in hexagonal and triangular form—it’s probably the most comfortable triangular pencil I’ve tried, and the finish is top-notch.

Pentel Black Polymer 2B

The polymer lead in this pencil is remarkably smooth, and performs more like a mechanical pencil. While wood-cased pencils in general aren’t very heavy, this pencil is extraordinarily light. The imprint on the barrel leaves a bit to be desired in terms of quality, but in the end it’s an excellent writer. Thanks to Gunther for sharing some of his stash with me.

Berol Electronic Scorer 350

The Electronic Scorer 350 might have been Berol’s answer to the IBM Electrographic, and they are very similar. In fact there were quite a few pencils and lead refills available with these characteristics. It holds a point very well and writes smoothly on a variety of surfaces.

Dixon Film Marker 2225

This pencil is a bit of an oddball, but no less worthy of inclusion in this list. If I’m not mistaken, the lead was designed to allow for writing on acetate, but I don’t know if that was its sole purpose. It’s not some kind of grease pencil—it writes just fine on paper; dark and smooth, though a little bit soft.

Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 2B

This is a picture of an HB, but the description applies nonetheless. The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni is one of the very best examples of Japanese pencil-making. The consistency, quality, and finish are of the highest quality. They are available in a wide range of grades, but the 2B seems to strike the right balance between softness, darkness, smoothness, and point retention. The Penmanship Pencil is even smoother, though its 4B lead means more frequent trips to the sharpener.

Tombow Mono 100 2B

It is difficult to make distinctions between the Hi-Uni and the Mono 100. The Mono 100 is also one of the pinnacles of modern pencil-making; from the lead, to the finish, all the way down to the packaging. I think that the Hi-Uni might just be slightly smoother, but that opinion can change on a daily basis.

Craft Design Technology HB

This pencil is made by Pentel for CDT, though it seems they are no longer in production. But since Pentel also discontinued the Black Polymer, perhaps it might have more to do with Pentel than CDT. I think of this pencil as being a dependable HB, though its green finish and minimal imprint make it stand out. The wood of this pencil is a bit darker than usual. I wonder if CDT might find another manufacturer for this pencil.

Eberhard Faber Mongol No. 2

This is an unusual choice, but this No. 2 pencil writes unusually well. To me, the shade is closer to a No. 1 pencil. Though it’s not remarkably smooth, it’s far from scratchy. Having a round barrel contributes to the ease with which it writes. The Mongol has changed quite a bit over the decades, having been one of the longest-running products in the Eberhard Faber catalog. Its name became a byword for “quality”, and was the “business pencil” of choice for many decades. The valuable and hard-to-find Faber-Castell Mongol was at the center of an international incident in 2009:


Bic 101 2B

Ask someone in the United States for a “Bic” and you’re likely to be given a pen. So I was surprised to find out Bic also made woodcase pencils. I was even more surprised when I wrote with it—the Bic 101 2B is very smooth and dark. Thanks to Matthias for introducing me to this pencil.

Faber-Castell 9008 Steno 2B

Steno pencils are a reflection of times-gone-by, so it’s nice that a company as large as Faber-Castell still makes them. Round for comfort, this 2B has a lead that seems slightly darker than the Castell 9000 2B, but also a little chalkier too (perhaps “powdery” is a better word). Compared to the Blackwing, I’d say its slogan would be “3/5 the Pressure, 1.7x the Speed.”

Mitsubishi 9850 HB

This pencil is an unsung hero of Japanese pencil-making. It does little to draw attention to itself, but for a “common” office pencil, it’s remarkably smooth and dark. The imprint and lacquer finish are excellent, too. A nice little detail is that the edges on the (excellent) eraser are just slightly rounded. Thanks to Adair for getting me hooked on these pencils.

Ito-ya Romeo No. 3

The “No. 3” in this pencil’s name doesn’t refer to the grade of its lead. It turns out this this is a very smooth and very dark pencil, something as soft as a 3B or 4B perhaps. The form-factor of the eraser is a really nice aesthetic touch, though you’ll probably want to have a different one handy for extended use.

4 thoughts on “For Want of a Blackwing 602”

  1. Given that this is an active site, I’m surprised that the “revived” Palomino Blackwing 602 didn’t make this list, raved about here: [link removed]. I’ve never had the opportunity to use one of the originals, but I am quite happy with the performance of the new model from palomino, it’s found quite the following among the artists at my studio.

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    • This post seems to have lost its comments when it was merged together.

      The primary reasons the Palomino Blackwing pencils aren’t mentioned here are related to the marketing decisions made by the company that produces them. Several folks on this and other blogs found it a little slimy, and this particular blog put some distance between itself and CalCedar’s BW marketing project. The pencils are fine writing instruments, but they are not really part of the Blackwing legacy, and the way they’ve tried to appropriate the history of the actual Blackwing is good reason to not promote them. There are plenty of people who were suckered in when Moleskine did it, but not everyone has to play along.

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  2. The discussions from the original posts are still available here and here.

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  3. Try These 2.

    Stabilo’s, aquarellable, (all), 8008. Worked with an artist in Culver City, mad man. Swore by these. Wrote notes a plenty.

    Everest Guide Russell Brice used the Creatacolor 150 (3B)

    At least I like these 2 non eraser equipped art pencils, for WRITING.

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