When you first lay eyes on a Palamino Blackwing, it is immediately clear that this is a thing of beauty. It is not a garish school-bus yellow, there are no cartoon animals. Just a matte black with dark gold lettering. Even the standard dusty pink eraser is done away with for a stark white one. This is not the pencil that writes one’s first giant, shaky words — it writes great American novels.
Type “Blackwing pencil” into a search engine and you’ll quickly learn that its virtues have not escaped notice. The original Blackwing enjoys nothing short of a cult following. After a couple of decades in obscurity and 12 years out of production, however, the Blackwing is not widely known. But those who do know it love it to a frenzy.
This Palomino Blackwing is a re-creation of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing that originally went into production in 1934. The only machine in the world that made the pencil’s distinctive eraser clamp broke some time in the late ‘80s, and when the current makers exhausted the remaining back stock of clamps in 1998, they simply let Blackwing production fizzle to a halt.
The reaction in the pencil community was immediate and indignant. Collectors who were certain of the pencils’ value came out of the woodwork, selling single, dead stock Blackwings for prices upwards of $35. The likes of composer Steven Sondheim tried to convince Eberhard Faber to restore production, but to no avail.
With the tagline “Half the pressure, twice the speed,” the Blackwing was beloved for the especially smooth formulation of its graphite. The flat eraser clamp (formally called the “ferrule”) let you replace the eraser and kept the pencil from rolling off the desk onto the floor.
The Palomino Blackwing keeps these distinctive elements in place, but with a few adjustments to bring the pencil to the modern world. The lead — reformulated by a Japanese graphite producer — is every bit as smooth as the old Blackwing, but blacker and softer (graded at 4B). The hard pink rubber erasers were updated with more effective white vinyl erasers and the shiny blue-gray made matte black. Most controversially (and least consequently for the performance of the pencil), the “Half the pressure…” line was left off.
Other than the backlash against leaving the tag line off, pencil enthusiasts have received the Palomino Blackwing with great anticipation and unambiguous acceptance.
The soft and creamy lead of the Palomino Blackwing is nicely suited for note-taking and drawing. The point wears to a chisel quickly, so it also writes beautiful cursive.
Much of what makes a pencil good is a combination of the pressure of your hand and the way the lead interacts with the surface of the paper. While the Palomino Blackwing is well rounded and gets along with all sorts of paper from printer paper to college-ruled notebooks its best matches are thick, cream journal paper and newsprint.
The softer graphite with a relatively faster wear rate works best when you are switching between note-taking and sketching, and less well between furious writing and mathematical equations, when a firm, sharp point is best.
To achieve the most perfect sharpness, work away at the point with a blade. For those of us who are less adept at whittling, a good sharpener will more than do the trick.
More than a mere update of a cult favorite, the Palomino Blackwing seeks to improve upon its handsome predecessor. Charles Berolzheimer II, a sixth-generation pencil manufacturer, took on the painstaking (and brave) road of improving on a beloved classic.
Along with their Japanese graphite producer, Berolzheimer went through a formulation and evaluation process that involved a control group of discerning and experienced Eberhard Faber Blackwing and other pencil users with a knack for pointed feedback.
Berolzheimer stayed true to the functionality and silhouette of the pencil, but tinkered with color and design, changing the paint to a sober matte black from blue-grey, with a contrast white eraser.
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