What’s great about vintage advertising is that you find the product being placed in all kinds of contexts, rather than just in a “pencil advertisement” per se. Eberhard Faber made score-keeping cards that featured several of their brands, including the Blackwing 602:
Since this card comes from the 1930s, it can be concluded that this drawing likely represents one of the early versions of the Blackwing 602. Notice, however, that the ferrule is gold rather than black, and that the stripe is blue. Maybe a black ferrule didn’t look as appealing on the drawing? One can only wonder as to the extent of Blackwing advertising: magazines, newspapers, matchbooks covers…
Known not only for its exceptionally smooth performance, the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 is also distinguished by its unusual appearance. When someone sees a Blackwing for the first time there are often as many comments about its ferrule and eraser as there are about how it writes.
But this type of ferrule is anything but uncommon—its basic design idea dates back at least to 1891, was adapted as a ferrule, and was used for several Eberhard Faber pencils, though the Blackwing was the last surviving pencil with this particular ferrule.
In fact, many other companies employed similar designs, whose shape was best described on PencilTalk as resembling the end of a paint brush, sans bristles. Here is a small sampling of other large-ferrule pencils (pictures from Bobby Truby’s site):
With the exception of the Blackwing, use of this type of ferrule unfortunately waned during the 1950s and 1960s. Here is a close-up from a 1960s Microtomic ad (thanks to Herr Gunthekaliker for the scan).
While its basic shape and color varied only slightly over its 65-year lifespan, the Blackwing logo underwent some distinct changes. The earliest logo, though not overly stylized, is nevertheless distinguished from the rest of the text on the imprint:
Printed materials on the packaging featured a similar logo, but with the addition of triangular spurs:
Every subsequent version of the logo employed an oblique typeface, presumably a visual metaphor that suggests a sense of smooth motion. The letters are more rounded and less angular, and the lower-stroke of the ‘K’ now meets at the stem rather than at the upper stroke:
The “final” version of the logo seems to have arrived by the 1950s-1960s. One of its distinguishing characteristics is the bar of the ‘A’ which exceeds the left stem. Also, “602” now immediately followed “Blackwing”, rather than being located at the end of the imprint:
Most interesting though are the subtle changes found in the logo once Eberhard Faber was sold to Faber-Castell in the late 1980s. At first glance the logos look nearly identical, but upon closer inspection (and thickness notwithstanding) disparities can be found, between the ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘K’, and ‘G’ especially:
A few things come to mind that might possibly explain the change. Perhaps the actual stamping die wasn’t passed along, or, that they weren’t compatible with Faber-Castell’s equipment. Maybe Faber-Castell wanted to redesign the die from scratch owing to the other changes on the imprint and were satisfied with something that was ‘close enough’. Or perhaps the original design materials—created decades prior—simply weren’t to be found or were in an obsolete format. When Sanford/Newell acquired the Blackwing, the Faber-Castell version of the logo persisted.
It would be interesting to see what differences there might be between other contemporaneous products, such as the Mongol and the Black Velvet, from both the pre- and post-Faber-Castell eras.
Here is an advertisement for the Blackwing 602 in an Art Brown catalog from the year 1978. This excerpt is part of a larger collection found at Leadholder.com.
Note the 50¢ each / $5.00 per dozen price! It is also interesting to see it grouped with the EF Ebony, as well as the Eagle and General layout pencils.
When the Blackwing is referred to by its full name, it usually reads like this: “The Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602”. For the vast majority of this pencil’s lifetime it was manufactured by Eberhard Faber, but there was a relatively brief period of time—from 1988 to 1994—when the Blackwing was produced by Faber-Castell.
This excerpt from the 1989-1990 Faber-Castell catalog looks like a collector’s wish-list: the Blackwing is in good company with the Mongol and Black Velvet. The overall look of the pencil is the same—graphite-gray lacquer, oblique logo, and extended ferrule—but “Eberhard Faber” has been replaced with “FaberCastell” and the imprint does not have the same metallic appearance found on previous versions.
In terms of marketing, the Blackwing remained positioned as a smooth-writing pencil. Faber-Castell described it in this manner:
Compare that description to this copy for the Blackwing ca. 1940:
Perhaps the most distinctive change was in the packaging. Colorful boxes and logos were replaced by stark, Helvetica-inspired compressed typography for the company name, a halftone image of the pencil, and a mono-chromatic spine.
This version in bright blue—which has a fleeting connection with older packaging—though it was eventually replaced by a less-inspired version in brown:
When the Eberhard Faber catalog changed hands again in 1994 this packaging style was retained, except for “FaberCastell” changing back to “Eberhard Faber”.
Knowing nothing of corporate turnover, my questions are probably naïve. But, when the brand changed hands in 1988 was it merely a change in company letterhead while the factories and employees remained the same? Or was it more dramatic, where entirely different plants began making the Blackwing 602 from scratch? The changes in appearance and packaging lead me to choose the latter, but at the same time it seems hard to believe Faber-Castell wouldn’t have acquired the plants along with the brand rights. Then again, I have no knowledge of how such things work, so it’s all speculation on my part.
While the basic look and design of the Blackwing 602 pencil has remained nominally consistent—the dark blue-grey color, the oversized ferrule, etc.—it’s a rather different story for the style and design of the Blackwing’s packaging. It isn’t difficult to imagine why there is so much disparity—marketing teams evaluate the cost and effectiveness of advertising, which in turn have a profound effect on design elements and materials.
I’m certainly not the first person to appreciate the design sensibilities of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, or to have noticed how the design of pencil packaging has declined over the decades. When there were more pencil companies, and by extension greater competition, packaging design was perhaps given more intense consideration in an effort to attract and retain consumers. I think this might have been especially true in an age when pencils were more appreciated, and relatively more expensive for those who used them personally and professionally on a daily basis. The skill and effort put forth by artists prior to the desktop publishing revolution was manifestly noticeable in their work, which imbued a deeper sense of thought and consideration. I don’t mean to intimate that modern, computer-based design is of lower quality, I mean that just about everyone can see something and viscerally know ‘that would be hard to draw’, whereas fewer people might know the inherent difficulty in designing the same by computer; it’s a different sense of appreciation.
I certainly don’t want to come across as denigrating modern design—some of the most memorable designs have come from products of the last few decades. Instead, I’m just mournful for the loss of colorful and artful packaging vis-à-vis woodcase pencils, notably, the Blackwing 602.
My guess is that this box is from the 1940s – 50s. One of its most notable characteristics is the logo: the typeface matches the 1933 trademark application but hasn’t yet become the oblique lettering normally associated with the Blackwing.
The lid is hinged with a single piece of tape, which makes me wonder if that process was in some way automated or done by hand. The remaining graphic devices—a boat, waterline, and the sun—are a curiosity. My first impression is that they are akin to clip art, and don’t have much to do with the product. It’s true that you can get a sense of speed and smoothness while considering a sailboat, but they don’t necessarily connect to the indication of “feathery-smooth pencils”, nor the motto “write with half the pressure, twice the speed.”
Last, looking at the kerning of the logo, especially on the inside of the box, “Black Wing” seems to be two separate words:
Of the packaging I’ve seen, this next example is my favorite.
The box for one dozen pencils has a separable cover, which is festooned with blue/white stripes and features the bold Blackwing logo in white within a black field. The moniker “Feathery-Smooth Pencils” has remained though the motto “HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED” has been shortened and rendered all in capital letters.
The combination of blue, white, black, and red (as well as the poor registration in some places) takes me back to the comics from Bazooka gum:
Running along the bottom is a fantastic drawing of the pencil with a bright red eraser, and on the side is the catalog number, “602”, and the quantity indication:
Both this box and the previous box hold Blackwing pencils that are a bit shorter than most other pencils. I presume this is to accommodate the length of the ferrule.
I’ve grown fond of this length, as a newly sharpened “modern” Blackwing feels a little top-heavy until a bit has been sharpened away.
The box for 1/2 gross is unsurprisingly similar: blue/white stripes, Eberhard Faber logo, motto, and Blackwing logo. This is the kind of box, while not necessarily a ‘work of art’ that I would like to display, is nonetheless something you wouldn’t mind seeing on a desk or stacked somewhere in an office or classroom. I can’t say the same for a carton of copy paper. Here is a restored version of the top, but without the pencil:
The sides are also replete with the same graphic devices found on the top of the box.
The following boxes are more contemporary, and as you can see, they have all but lost the design flare of the previous example:
The company changed hands several times, with concomitant changes in design teams as well. This box is more like a tube, which better accommodates the shape of the Blackwing pencil. But the logo has disappeared from the front, now relegated to the flap, perhaps to make it easier to identify when they are stacked.
This design, though not necessarily the shape, was used for many contemporaneous pencils offered by Eberhard Faber, as was this design:
The dot-motif is the same but the form factor is more rectangular.
The following design is the last version of Blackwing packaging before the pencils were discontinued:
The starkness of the sans-serif typography is complimented (or, supplemented?) by the halftone photo of the pencil itself. This layout was used for several Eberhard Faber products.
It’s worth noting that this design is inherited from Faber-Castell’s boxes during their relatively brief tenure manufacturing the Blackwing 602.
The only thing that was different about the box (apart from the color) was that instead of “Eberhard Faber” it read “Faber Castell”.
Packaging can be an element that can accompany the pencil in such a way that it ultimately comes to be a part of the experience associated with using a particular brand. If that’s the case, some extra thought and care—even in the midst of computer-based design—could herald a return to the ‘glory days’ when someone might think twice before tossing the box into the garbage.