The Enduring Appeal of the Blackwing Pencil

How many of you are using a lead pencil regularly? The old-school variety, I’m talking about. The kind that maybe you used on a Scan-Tron test in high school, but perhaps not since then. 

The reality is that, for many of us, a pencil isn’t the first writing utensil one grabs for when it’s time to jot down a note. While a mechanical pencil makes it easy, its wooden cousin has a few complications that make it not ideal for the everyday user – you have to sharpen it, the lead can easily dull after a few minutes, the line size tends to be a bit broader. While all of this is absolutely true, it’s hard to not enjoy the hand-feel of a proper wooden pencil dashing across a page.

For me, I’ve slowly become a convert to the simple beauty of a pencil. I’m sure it’s part nostalgia, but there is also something more satisfying when scribbling with a pencil versus the almost-too-perfect gliding of a pen. Now, that’s not to say I’m a full-time user – but more and more, you’re likely to find a few pencil shavings littering my desk. And this is due, in large part, to finding the perfect pencil.

For longtime readers of mine, you may know I try to stay away from hyperbole. But when it comes to the Blackwing 602, it’s hard to not exaggerate the writing ability, graphite quality, and overall performance of this pencil versus, say, your run-of-the-mill yellow #2 variety.

For those who are unfamiliar with Blackwing, you’ve undoubtedly seen the distinct shape creep up on your social media feeds of your favorite designers, or at the very least in the hands of Cate Blanchett’s titular character in Tár. But, for the uninitiated, you’re probably wondering just why these pencils remain so popular and, really, when it comes down to it – is the $30 price tag worth it?

Screengrab from Tar

Lucky for you, I’ve done the homework and have come up with a guide to the brand behind the most popular pencils on the market today. Keep reading to find out why Blackwing may just be the desk companion you didn’t know you even needed until now.

History of the Brand

The story of the Blackwing pencil dates back to the mid-20th century when it was first introduced by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company in 1934. Designed by the legendary pencil maker Eberhard Faber himself, the Blackwing quickly gained a reputation for its unique features and exceptional performance compared to its competitors’ clunkier styles on the market at the time.

Initially marketed as a premium pencil for writers, artists, and musicians, the Blackwing stood out from its competitors due to its distinctive ferrule design, smooth graphite core, and replaceable eraser. Its sleek black finish and iconic rectangular eraser set it apart on desks and drawing boards around the world, making it not only a writing instrument, but giving it a bit of an “IYKYK” quality to it during the mid-century.

It was in the 1990’s that the original Eberhard Faber-produced Blackwing ceased production, which only enhanced the overall appeal for the brand. With so few in the market, the legend of the brand increased, giving it a nearly cult-like status among die-hard users. In fact, second-hand dealers have confirmed that at the peak of the Blackwing craze in the late 90’s and early 2000’s – prior to the brand beginning production again in 2011 – a single pencil was going for almost $75 (nearly $130 in today’s dollar).

As mentioned, the brand was reintroduced in 2011 under new ownership with Palomino, a California-based company who has bought the rights to the name and have since used a series of social media campaigns, limited-edition drops, and sleek branding to bring a new generation of fans into their fold.

Legendary Users

Over the years, the Blackwing pencil has found its way into the hands of countless creatives, including famous writers, composers, and artists. Renowned author John Steinbeck was known to be a devoted fan of the Blackwing, who used his 602s for East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath. Further fans of the brand have included filmmaker Todd Fields, E.B. White, and animator Chuck Jones. With a motto of, “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” it’s easy to see why those who wrote and drew enjoyed their Blackwings.

Chuck Jones using a Blackwing pencil. Image via Blackwing

Similarly, the Blackwing pencil found favor among musicians and composers, with legendary figures like Quincy Jones and Leonard Bernstein known to have relied on its precision and balance when composing musical scores. Due to the graphic content and the precision of the graphite, many musicians swear that a Blackwing 602 is easier to read under the harsh lights of the stage or recording studio.

Craftsmanship and Appeal

What sets the Blackwing pencil apart from its competitors is not just its rich history or famous users, but its unparalleled construction and aesthetic appeal. Each Blackwing pencil is crafted for a smooth, gliding writing experience that feels unlike the clunkier versions we’re perhaps all used to.

From its smooth graphite core that glides effortlessly across the page to its distinctive hexagonal shape that provides optimal grip and control, every aspect of the Blackwing pencil is designed with the needs of the writer or artist in mind. The iconic rectangular eraser, which can be easily extended or replaced as needed, adds both functionality and style to the pencil’s overall design.

In addition to its performance, the Blackwing 602 just looks good. It’s a beautifully designed pencil that has a bit of that German-designed aesthetic that appeals to a variety of styles. When a 602 is on your desk, it has a presence that’s not unlike wearing a luxury watch or driving a Mercedes – there’s just something imbued into the DNA of the product that resonates with one looking to elevate every experience of their daily life.

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Brett F. Braley-Palko is a writer based out of Pennsylvania. Having a full-time job in the luxury pens industry has given Brett an appreciation and understanding for the EDC market. When not working, Brett has three dogs and an upcoming novel that both keep him pretty busy.