Review of $35 Blackwing 602 pencil

The beloved Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencil (Its slogan, "Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed," is stamped in gold foil on each pencil) went out of production in 1998. It sold for fifty cents. In 2002 you could get one on eBay for $10. They now fetch $30. How much with they cost five years from now?

I've written about the Blackwing on Boing Boing in 2002, 2005, and 2006. I guess it's about time for a new post about this incredible pencil.

Andy says: "As a pencil enthusiast, I recently bit the bullet and bought a Blackwing off eBay for thirty bucks. It was pretty awesome, but *perhaps* a bit over-hyped. I'm a product reviewer for, too, so I posted a review over at the product blog. It's some advice for what a layman should to do if he or she is thinking about getting one."

200709141128 I am impressed with the performance of the Blackwing. I might pay $5, or even $10 per pencil, but $35-$40 per actual pencil? I think not. Recently, eBay had a lot of 144 Blackwings, and that sold for about $1400. I almost bid on it, thinking that I could then make a fortune by splitting up the lot and selling individual pencils. But I stopped myself -- I love pencils, don't get me wrong -- because I couldn't bring myself to make a major (for me) investment in this particular writing instrument.

One of my joys of pencils is the fact that they're cheap. Even top-quality products like California Republic's various pencils aren't any more than a couple bucks apiece -- and that's at the higher end. If I go out and splurge on a couple unique pencils for my collection, my wife isn't going to get mad. I'm not collecting antique fountain pens, after all.

If you are looking for a good low cost pencil, try the California Republic Palomino HB ($5.15 for 6) and 2B ($4.75 for 6), sold here. Link


  1. Wouldn’t it be easier if they spend 30-40 bucks on a Lamy Safari fountain pen? Sure you can’t erase it, but you won’t need pressure to write.

  2. I used Blackwings for, literally, decades and genuinely loved drawing with them. I know it sounds silly to some but, if you draw, you do fall in love with certain tools. Blackwings were one of those sweet tools. Smooth, dark, eerily effortless. It was sad to see them go.

    That said, I would never drop $35 for a single pencil. That’s just crazy talk.

  3. Thanks for linking me, Mark! I do enjoy my Blackwing, but like you, Thorzdad, I wouldn’t drop $35 for a single pencil again. It’s in my collection, and there it will stay.


  4. What prevents this pencil from being manufactured again? Seems that if demand was this high and the pencil so extraordinary, someone would pick up the formula for the graphite and make more. Or is it that the formula calls for components no longer available?

  5. ohhhhh for drawing! I had no idea why anyone would ever spend that kind of money on a pencil. Its just retarded. retarded, I say.

  6. TK, yes, pencils. There are no steampunk rollerball pens yet, so we have to make do with pencils made of unobtainium for now.

  7. I lived on Blackwings for years, and only gave them up when I couldn’t find them any more (little did I know it was because they were no longer being made). Every other pencil since has been a pale imitation; I only use pens now.

    I’m with racerx here — what on earth prevents these things from being manufactured? I know they had more parts and crimping than a normal pencil and so cost more to manufacture — but that’s why they always cost twenty times more than other pencils. Is it just that the community of ultra-rabid Blackwing fanatics is too small?

  8. That’s what’s so mysterious about it, RacerX… They say the reason they don’t make it any more is because the ferrule machine is broken. But apparently it is an easy fix.

    Maybe it’s a vast ink-stained conspiracy to keep the pencil fans down?

  9. I’m a pencil addict and my personal favorite is the Mirado Black Warrior, which you can pick up at any old office supply store. They’re wonderful pencils. The lead is consistently soft but not *too* soft, and they have a satisfying heft and shape. Seriously…I don’t care how marvelous anyone tells me another pencil is, I’ll stick with my Mirado Black Warriors!!!

  10. Aha! I was going to sing the praises of the Mirado Black Warrior myself, but somebody beat me to it. It’s the best “cheap” pencil I’ve found. I’ve encountered a little trouble with weak erasers, though — I’ve had two or three nearly-new erasers break off at the collar while erasing. But I love their smooth dark lines and gold-foil lettering!

  11. Haha, Mark — One more thing for the US to ban. Then they’ll be expensive because they’re contraband, instead of because they’re out of production. Good call about the Palomino — they’re fun and stylish. Check out the Helix Oxford, too — they aren’t much to look at, but they write really well:

    The prettiest pencil I’ve seen in a while is the Rhodia pencil. I’m sure as an artist you’ve come across these, or the really really nice paper made by Bloc Rhodia:

    Thanks for the link — any time you want to discuss the finer points of pencils (pun, of course, intended), look me up!


  12. For $10, I’ll get the 20-cent pencil and press twice as hard.

    Might as well get some use out of those gym hours making myself burly. That’ll also come in handy when careless spenders force prices so high that I have to jump their fences to feed myself.

  13. MBourgon,

    I am a lefty. And almost any pencil I use, no matter how hard the graphite is, smears. I’ve sort of accepted it as a fact of life.

    I haven’t seen any mechanical equivalent of the Blackwing, but then again I’m not a huge mechanical fan.

    Let me look around, and check back here, I’ll let you know!


  14. Also, what about a nice technical pencil lead, I can’t find anything in my local shops and it really annoys me.

  15. Yup, the first graphite deposit was found under a tree in China and they made the best pencils for a long time. I use Sanford Design Ebony and a mechanical with the large thick sticks of graphite.

    What is this talk about pens? You are comparing apples to oranges when you talk about pens.

  16. While you’re out, can you pick me up a couple of Cambridge Mead 06064 business notebooks? They’re the One True Notebook, but I haven’t been able to find any since Staples took over.

  17. For mechanical pencils, I’ve always like Pentel Hi-Polymer leads (HB or softer) I’ve found them to produce a fairly rich, dark line with smooth glide quality.
    And, yeah, it’ll smear, like any good lead.

  18. When I was in school, studying to be an animator, I had the insane good fortune to meet Chuck Jones several times. The last time, which must have been in ’98, he asked all of us to keep an eye out for Blackwings, and to buy any we could find for him. He had a little stockpile, but was clearly dreading running out.

  19. I have not used a Blackwing before. I can not comment if it is worth it or not. Personally, I will saty a Fountain Pen lover in particular the “Diplomat” size 7.

    My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.” Graham Greene.

  20. Anyone interested in the best currently made pencils should check out the products of the top Japanese makers: Tombow, Mitsubsishi, Kita-Boshi, and Pentel. (The Palomino is also made in Japan.) They are more expensive than No. 2s from Staples, but nowhere near the vintage Blackwing prices being mentioned.

    Some info at my blog:

  21. Re: Mechanical pencils — I happen to be something of a fiend for mechanical pencils, and have tried literally dozens of different ones to find what suits me best. My two biggest pet peeves have always been a too-small eraser, and an eraser that doubles as the lead-advance mechanism. Both of these are satisfied with one pencil — the Pentel Clicker (NOT the “Quicker-Clicker” model with its kludgy rubber grip). The Clicker is inexpensive (under $4), so I don’t have to worry too much about misplacing one. The black or clear-barreled model is aesthetically pleasing with a sober lack of the blobboid or Transformers “styling” that afflicts so many mechanical pencils.

    You advance the lead by simply depressing a long button on the side with your index finger; no need to stop writing or drawing. I prefer the .5mm size, although the .7 has its place too. The lead reservoir holds up to about 15 leads, which is enough for months of use. For lead, I’ve found Caran d’Ache “B” to be ideal, and I replace the stock erasers with Staedtler Mars Plastic erasers, although it’s probably not essential. The only two complaints I have are that the point is a bit sharp for carrying in ones pocket, and the mechanism — while robust — doesn’t have the satisfying precision metal feel of a higher-end mechanical pencil. Still, the two big design pluses that the Clicker has, its low price and simple appearance make it a winner with me.

  22. Well, if you’re pencil fans, then you’ll want to read Henry Petroski’s facinating The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. That’s right, 448 pages all about the humble pencil.

    How long before the once ubiquitous writing implement goes the way of the mechanical typewriter? Will the next generation learn to write their ABCs on a keyboard? No, wait, that doesn’t work… Uh, will the next generation… Um. Yeah, um, so how bad has your cursive gotten after decades of keyboarding?

  23. #27:

    My cursive has always been atrocious. I consistently got terrible penmanship grades in elementary school.

    Strangely though, my block lettering has improved *greatly* through college, where my computer use has increased dramatically. I suspect though that this has more to do with me teaching myself to write with my other hand.

  24. “My cursive has always been atrocious.”

    Oh? MY cursive has always been pretty fucking awesome, goddamn it!

  25. I’d been looking for an excellent, cheap pencil. Pencils from the drug store and Target had crappy erasers… didn’t erase and left a
    pink smear. I researched and found rave reviews for the Dixon Ticonderoga 1338-2/HB soft. smooth dark lead and, just as important, a superior eraser. I am an artist and take a lot of notes as well as doodle.
    Look no further than this pencil.

  26. As much as I would love to use a Blackwing, I will “settle” for the fabulous Tombow Mono series of pencils from Japan. Great lead in them, and a good sight smoother, in my experience, than the California Republic Palominos. And speaking of the Palominos, the 2B is my choice, and would love to see them softer.

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