1 September 2014

The so-called ‘best pencil ever made’ is probably the Blackwing 602, originally produced by Eberhard Faber. Since the pencil’s introduction in the 1930s, it has become a highly coveted – even fetishized – item, with a cult following of writers, artists and others in the creative industry, whose work is facilitated by the soft pencil with high-quality graphite. Vladimir Nabokov reportedly wrote his novels with Blackwings on index cards; John Steinbeck used 300 of these pencils to complete East of Eden; and Truman Capote supposedly kept a box of Blackwings on his nightstand. The literary associations of this humble pencil (initially sold for 50 cents each) partly explain its allure. It is astounding to see the sheer amount of enthusiasm dedicated to this pencil; there is even a cultural history of the Blackwing.
The Blackwing pencil was sadly discontinued in 1998. However, the company California Cedar has recently created a reproduction, the Palomino Blackwing, which pays tribute to the original Blackwing 602. While the Palomino version has received criticisms, and cannot claim to be an exact copy of the original Blackwing, it is nevertheless a fantastic writing instrument. I love the sense of delight that can be inspired by so humble an object. This attests to the entanglements between humans and the material objects that make up our immediate environment – in spite of the rising importance of the virtual, the physical and the tactile world endures. For this reason, the pencil will not be replaced by the digital pen, the book will not be replaced by the e-reader. And the iconic writing instrument will continue to occupy a place in the cultural imaginary.

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