warrior.jpgHerman Miller's Lifework blog today turns the company's impeccable eye to a design object most of us take for granted: The lowly pencil. Blogger Brian Greene highlights five models, from the Mirado Black Warrior (probably the closest pencil in the bunch to the iconic, schoolbus-yellow Ticonderoga #2) to the exotic mechanical Kuru Toga, which "has a tiny clutch mechanism built into the point, and as you write, the pressure from writing and then lifting the pencil off the paper engages the clutch mechanism that rotates the lead for you. This auto-rotating mechanism not only ensures a constantly sharp point, but it also results in far fewer broken points." The rarest is probably the Eberhard Faber Blackwing (out of production, but available on eBay and elsewhere at prices approaching $40 per). The most delicious is certainly the $1.20 Smencil, which is fabricated from newspaper and scented with essences of root beer, watermelon, cinnamon and black cherry -- although Greene, who also blogs at OfficeSupplyGeek, does request that readers don't chew pencils, because "I don't want to get sued." Fair enough. (Illustration by Jordan Awan for Lifework.)


  1. They still haven’t beat the Pentel Quicker Clicker. Best pencil design ever, and available on ebay in bulk for ~$1 each.

    We go through them quickly, now that I have a family to help lose them in the car seats and couch cushions.

    1. that one’s pretty nice, Zebra, but I feel the apex of pencil geekdom lives at

      The guy’s an amateur photographer who’s really into pencils. I wrote him once to ask him if I could use some of his photos (he said no).

      Beautiful pictures.

  2. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the California Cedar Palomino HB, perhaps the finest writing pencil ever created. The graphite is slightly softer than a standard HB, leading to darker lines and smoother operation. Available both with eraser and without, most prefer the non-eraser version because of it’s pure writing aesthetic, and with a Palomino, no mark is a mistake!

    I think it was an old BB post that turned me on to them. Good pencils.

  3. “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed”

    My sister and I used to laugh at that slogan when our mom worked in office supplies. Too bad we didn’t kick back a few cases of the pencil to ensure our retirement abilities. Sigh.

  4. BWAAAAAH! My grandmother preferred Blackwings for bridge scorekeeping. No idea why. My whole life, I loved pulling the erasers out, also no idea why. A few years ago, I realized they were magnificent for drawing and asked if I could have a few. She gave me 2 boxes from her stockpiled case. When I used ’em up, I think I just went back too my 2nd fave Koh-I-Noors. When she died, there were probably 10 boxes of those pencils left. I didn;t think much of it, and I’m sure my aunties just sent ’em off to the Salvation Army. Not that I wanted to ebay ’em, per se (but not a bad idea, and one that grandma would have supported wholeheartedly), but they were lovely for drawing, and I had no idea they were so rare. I have nubs in a box somewhere I’m sure…

  5. The thing about the Quicker Clicker is that the eraser is always ready to use, and it doesn’t click the lead advance accidentally, like all those fancy metal pencils with end-clickers do, if you press down while erasing.

    It would be nice of Pentel to make a sturdy version of that pencil in metal.

  6. Smencils? Pencils that smell? Horrors! I suffer enough mini-migraines coping with the fragrances that people wear. If office supplies are to be scented, it’s high time I retired.

  7. Can the Blackwing not be reversed-engineered by an enterprising type, a la Kodachrome?
    A more unscrupulous type could make a pretty penny Ebaying snide Blackwings…

    1. Actually here at California Republic we have indeed claimed the rights to the Blackwing trademark and will be introducing the Palomino Blackwing and reviving this classic product later this fall. In the meantime learn more about the Palomino product range here at our newly updates site and stay tuned for updates on the return on the Blackwing.

  8. Best mechanical pencil/eraser Twist-Erase III by Pentel. If someone can tell me they enjoy capped, miniature erasers on the back of their pencils… I’d be amazed. The twist-erases last forever. Their only shortcoming in my mind is the fixed tip, I wish they had a retractable tip model that would go into pockets easier.

    I’ve searched office supply stores in Tokyo and I have yet to find anything approaching the twist-erase III (which, of course they sell) … Here’s to the IV coming out someday.

    $2.17 at amazon.

    If someone has a suggestion for a mechanical pencil as awesome as this, let me know.

    Also, David Rees of mnftiu is offering an artisanal pencil sharpening service, totally boutique:

  9. I love pencils. I buy my own at work (rather than relying on the crappy ones we can get because they are cheap). I’m hooked on the Mirado Black Warrior pencils…I LOVE them. First off, they are fantastic pencils. Secondly, they look awesome and very distinctive. Thirdly, everyone thinks I am insane for using pencils, so no one ever wants to steal them. And fourthly, they allow me to doodle during meetings, which is an important part of my Not Falling Asleep At Work plan.

  10. You’re missing something if you don’t try the Kuru Toga. It’s amazing as it keeps a perfect point on the lead by rotating it a small amount each time you touch down on the paper. It has a little indicator you can watch rotate around the barrel if you are totally uninterested in what you’re writing.

    It comes in 3 and 5mm so you folks that like very thin lead can be satisfied. The only complaint I have is that the eraser is minuscule and worthless.

    Considering the high tech lead that is being manufactured in Japan, you have many choices of hardness, lead that has order, diamonds, etc.

  11. I’m also a fan of the Mirado Black Warrior. IMHO, a true pencil is wooden with an eraser on the end. In that realm, the Mirado Black Warrior reigns supreme! Mechanical & drafting pencils are something completely different.

    The lead/eraser combo works well together to ensure a clean erase, unlike many pencils today.

  12. Pencil Lovers,
    I work for CalCedar Products with Woodchuck and I would like to let you know that our new site is officially up! Visit to get the highest quality pencils at great prices. As you know…we will also have updates on the Blackwing as the weeks pass. Follow us on Twitter (pencilscom) and Facebook (The Pencil Page) to stay up to date with news on future plans, promotions, and sales!

  13. Well , the best value for money pencils I have come across are from statesman stationery. I picked some up in a trip to india and I thought it the range was awesome . I wish someone will import the brand into the states. They have the ultrasharp pencil sharpener as well as new type of twist blade sharpener I saw in the shop but haven’t seen on their website. This thing has a curves tapered blade that manages to sharpen anything. They also seem to do a pen/pencil thing that’s similar to the pilot frixion, but can erase with a normal eraser. I love it. Dunno if it’s a pencil or a pen though

    Check it out and if anyone knows where to get the stuff in the United States please post the details

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