The New Yorker on the Blackwing 602


Blake Eskin writes about the Blackwing 602 pencil for The New Yorker's News Desk blog:

In June, I learned from the omnium-gatherum site Boing Boing that the Blackwing has been resurrected. I shared my excitement with our most experienced and revered copy editors -- O.K.’ers, in New Yorker parlance -- who still work on paper, with pencils.

Turns out Boing Boing and I were way behind my colleague Nancy Franklin, who still has a few dozen original Blackwings. Nancy informed me that Blackwing pencils first resurfaced last fall, but they were more tribute than clone.


Nancy ordered boxes of Palomino Blackwings for herself, and gave some to “three people whose proofreading has made my work better.” But the O.K.’ers were not impressed.


California Cedar wasn’t satisfied, either, so they came up with a second version—the one Boing Boing noticed—complete with the model number 602 and the pressure-speed formulation.

Nice article, but Mr. Eskin incorrectly stated that Boing Boing was "way behind" his colleague. In 2010, I received pre-production copies of the Palomino Blackwing and wrote about them here. (Like Ms. Franklin's O.K.'ers, I wasn't impressed with the first tribute pencil, either.) Side note: About five years ago, Mister Jalopy and I contacted Charles Berolzheimer, president of California Cedar Products Co., to discuss the possibility of a partnership to resurrect the Blackwing 602. Mister Jalopy and I lost interest on the project, but Charles thankfully pursued it. The latest incarnation is a terrific pencil.

The New Yorker on the Blackwing 602


  1. Seems (on the surface) that being obsessed about pencils and their writing quality is quite silly. But being an illustrator and wanting perfect consistency and control over a pencil is important, it’s a factor that you no longer have to worry about driving you crazy. Especially when you have to use pencils regularly. I’m just as obsessive over ball point and felt tip pens.

    1. Agreed, Michael. I’ve become obsessed with these:
      Pick a cartridge holder and one or more cartridges of your choice, and it’s about the sweetest  handwriting experience I’ve ever had, including the fancy Parker fountain pen my parents gave me when I graduated from college. The inks are lusciously colored and flow as smoothly as imaginable. Apply them to your favorite notepad or other paper and you’ll be hooked.

      As far as pencils go, (which BB pointed me to, BTW) got me hooked on these:  
      Automatic lead rotation is a godsend. I’ve got several different models with different lead widths, and I keep a few different hardnesses of lead in each width on hand.I haven’t tried Mark’s Blackwings, but I still favor a solid Dixon Ticonderoga as a nonmechanical pencil. I was very pleased to see them on the kids’ desks at Parents’ Night in my elder’s first-grade classroom.

  2. I remember Mark’s 2010 write-up, if for no other reason than my initial reaction to it. “Pencils?” I thought. “Who cares?”

    Well, now I know: what’s ephemera to one person is crucial to another. Who knew, eh?

  3. I don’t really get the pencil fetish, but I’m glad that folks take so much joy in small things, as life is really just a serise of small things…

  4. I try to write with high quality fountain pens and well made, wood barreled pencils whenever possible. Not for nostalgia but because better tools are just better to work with.

  5. I’ll have to try one. Seems the focus here is on writing but I assume they are great for drawing as well. If you’re like me and draw as many hours a day as you can manage, pencils are the most obvious thing in the world to fixate on.

  6. The good news is that if enough people request this pencil, it will become more available and less expensive. (Obviously this only applies while the company is making the product.) So no wonder Mark is talking about it.

    As far as that goes, no, the new ones will never be exactly the same as the old ones — in this case, the original wood is definitely no longer available, and maybe they had to change the graphite and the eraser recipe to keep the cost reasonable.

    But hey, if they can make a very nice pencil at a good price point, great. 

  7. I still refuse to write on paper with anything except for my sharktooth- tipped, mammoth bone using reconstituted dinosaur blood as ink. I know, I know, it sounds particular but I am just so creative and quirky that I can’t help it.

    1. MB, every profession has its quirks and its practitioners have their favorite tools. I do my professional writing almost exclusively in Emacs, then pull it into LibreOffice or Bean if it needs minor formatting, Scribus if it needs extensive formatting. My personal writing is “best,” IMO, if I use a very fine-pointed felt-tipped red pen on narrowly ruled or graphed yellow (legal-pad-style) paper. Yes, I do have OCD, but these are the things that have earned me a very good living over the past 20 years (things such as Scribus and Bean obviously having coming along more recently). Laugh away.

      1. Scribus is cool, but Emacs? Seriously?

        I used to do all my writing in Emacs (and then usually set it in LaTeX), but then I said to myself: do I really want to be a dinosaur? That’s when I saw the light.

        I use VIM now…

        1. My fingers have Emacs built into them after 20 years. Most of my professional work is sourced in XML and formatted via XSL. I refuse to get involved in the Holy Wars between the Cult of Emacs and the Cult of vi; the two tools are equally useful to different groups of people. I think your preference largely depends on which editor you first trained on.

      2. It was just a joke about eccentricity. Don’t take me too seriously, because believe me, I don’t deserve it.

  8. There are some recurring topics on BB that I get annoyed with. Pencils is not one of them. Do I write with a pencil? Never. Do I understand this obsession? Yes. And I love it.

    I wish one of the editors was obsessed with lower-end ballpoint pens.  

    1. I had some black plastic retractable ballpoints that said U.S. Government on the side as a kid.  I think I got them from my aunt who worked in the State Department.

      Cool they weren’t, but by God they wrote.  The last one crapped out nearly twenty years after I got it.

      I was reminded of them when I toured the Pentagon a couple years ago and saw all those sturdy, black Ma Bell-era telephones.

    1. Most current animators use Tombo, but the old guys all used Blackwings. I still have a few boxes given to me as a Christmas gift by Virgil Ross.

  9. Hmm, I guess this means the New Yorker’s famous fact checking only applies to the print edition? Or did they not try a google search for Boing Boing+blackwing?

        1. No. Never.   :wq!  is probably the single most dangerous thing in vi.  The problem is that the write and quit commands are queued – so if the write fails (disk full, USB storage not plugged in right, etc), the q! will still execute anyway and you lose all your changes.

          It’s amazing how many vi users I’ve had to point that out to over the years.  Mostly other sysadmins – and if we’re in a situation where I’m reading over another sysadmin’s shoulder closely enough to catch the idfference between :w :q  and :wq!, we’re probably working on a bad problem – one where :w has a high chance of failing…

    1. Blackwing pencils are the new vintage typewriter. What’s next — artisan chalk?

      You’re not an artist, are you?

  10. Growing up I’d see a pencil or two like this in parent’s desk. My mom used to be a school teacher and I think it was from the days she did the school’s yearbook/newspaper back in the 1950s. As a little kid I thought it was a cool artist’s invention. Her pencils had a brush at the end where the eraser would be. Draw out your picture in pencil, then flip the pencil over to paint it in with the brush. Kind of like those drill / head driver combos for your electric drill.

    Mom had to go ruin the illusion with a demonstration of how it would brush off the scraps left by the thick gummy rubber eraser. Definitely not as cool.

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