The pencil tour, day two.
Part One: MMX (Soft)
Here’s where it started in 2010. Palomino, clearly inspired by the Moleskine resurrection, bought the Blackwing trademark and found a functional ferrule machine somewhere, and the passable fascimile Blackwing was born.
They blew the play out of the gate by issuing a Blackwing that wasn’t a 602. The color of the barrel was wrong; the graphite was much softer than the original Eberhard Fabers (closer to a 6B rather than a 3B — the whole appeal of the original Blackwings was that the graphite was firm enough to wear down slowly like an HB despite laying down a dark line); and it didn’t even have the classic motto on the side.
They released their 602 a year or so later, with a much more appropriate look and core, but it seemed to me that they were feeling around in the dark. The frequent gratuitous redesign tweaks have confirmed this. They’re pencils, for fuck sake, why overthink it?
I didn’t try them out for a few years, probably around the time they introduced the Pearl (in 2013 if memory serves). I ordered a starter pack and, other than the 602s, the graphite was absolutely not my type. My wife, however, instantly loved the Pearls, so I bought a bunch more for her. She prefers darker pencils, but the MMX was too dark even for her.
I picked up a few Volume 73s just cuz they were such a pretty blue. I use them for underlining.
Part 2 - Pearl (Balanced)
Whenever a Volumes edition comes out with the Pearl core, I buy some for my wife. 33 1/3 and 42 are her favorites. I bought a bunch of Volume 1s because I really like round pencils. But Pearls are still a bit too dark for me to write with regularly.
Part 3 - 602 (Firm)
For a long time, my favorite core. The best core for actually writing. Other than a few fugitive Volumes (24, 530, 54, and 10), the 602 core was the firmest Blackwing offered until they finally issued the Natural with the “extra firm” core.
I fell hard for the 344, and bought a lot of them.
Part 4 - Natural (Extra Firm)
So, Palomino recently introduced a standard pencil to their lineup using the previously rare “extra firm” core. All three pencils pictured here are supposed to have the same firmness. Bullshit. The 530 is almost an HB, the Volume 10 is a firm B, and the Natural is indistinguishable from the 2B 602 core.
I love the Vol 10 immodestly, and have a large stock of them. I’ll be writing with 10s and 344s for decades at this point.
I don’t have to buy Blackwings by the dozen because the incomparable Wet Paint in St Paul sells them individually by the cash registers. So it’s not a major financial investment for me to try them. If I always had to buy them by the box, I probably wouldn’t have more than that starter pack and the subsequent box of Pearls for my wife.
I’ve largely stopped buying Blackwings. They were never my everyday pencil, and I have a very large stock of my favorite pencils. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty if I’m ever in the mood for them, and my wife has all the Pearls she needs for quite time to come.
Now, if only someone would reissue the Van Dyke 601…
(ps/ I probably could have dialed the snark down a bit; I do like Blackwings, but compared to many of the other pencils I have, use, and love, they’re fairly unremarkable. They tend to suck the oxygen out of the room whenever pencils are discussed, eclipsing other pencils equally worthy of attention. In the end, though, as Anton says, it’s all about writing in pencil as much as possible.)