Palomino Blackwing 602: The Best Pencil Ever
Having a menu tab that says “stuff” means that occasionally I’ll stray from the musical nature of this blog, and today it’s time for a rant about the Palomino Blackwing 602, the best pencil ever! The tenuous link to music is that I like to write lyrics freehand rather than on a computer and the Blackwing is my pencil of choice (when I’m not using a fountain pen – which probably tells you I’m a bit of a writing instrument nerd).
The history of the Blackwing is cool, and here’s what the Wikipedia entry has to say:
The Blackwing 602 is a discontinued model of pencil that has developed a cult following as “the best pencil ever made”. It was produced by the Eberhard Faber company until 1998. Initially sold for 50 cents each, as of 2012 reproduction pencils, called the “Palomino Blackwing 602” and made by California Cedar, are available in packages of 12 for 20 dollars.
It was a very soft pencil with wax addition to the lead, and has been advertised as requiring only half of the usual physical effort to produce the marking. The wood was made from cedar. The pencil was used mainly by artists, including Oscar winning animation director Chuck Jones and writers, including John Steinbeck, for writing text. After the pencil was discontinued, some known writers (Joseph Finder and Stephen Sondheim) tried to convince Eberhard Faber to continue production or at least said some warm words about the tool they were used to. This likely popularized the pencil, creating its cult following.
While the company says that other pencils with similar leads are available, the devotees are convinced that there is no adequate substitution.
The Blackwing used a special eraser ferrule, which required special clips that could only be manufactured by a custom-made machine. By the time Eberhard Faber was acquired by Faber-Castell in 1994, this machine was broken; however, a sufficient backstock of ferrule clips enabled Blackwing manufacture to continue until 1998. At this point, the company ceased production on the Blackwing, claiming it was not commercially successful.
Amazingly, original Blackwings crop up on eBay for crazy amounts – like more than $20 each! But it’s the reissued one by California Cedar that I use – and it is indeed a very cool writing instrument no doubt made more interesting by the story that goes behind it. I use an Australia company called NoteMaker to get mine, but they are readily available online.
There’s are a couple of Blackwings in the Palomino range: the 602, which is meant to be a faithful recreation of the original; the Blackwing, a more modern version of it; and only recently they’ve introduced the Blackwing Pearl that is softer than the 602, but firmer than the straight Blackwing.
Is it that good? As I said, it’s the mythical nature of this pencil that inflates its value, but it is actually a really nice pencil to use. I use both the 602 and the straight Blackwing versions and will definitely be grabbing some of the Pearls. The lead is perfect and it uses decent wood so it sharpens really well. To me the combination of those two things is enough to make me choose it over anything else. Nerdy? You betcha!
4 November update: By the way, I have recently recorded an original “tribute song” to the good ol’ Blackwing. Certainly not the greatest track ever, but a tribute none the less! You can listen to it here.