CW x Iron Curtain Press Notebook

Yellow is my favorite color and the brighter the better. Bright yellow is a color that one doesn’t see often in their daily life. Sure, we see the yellowy-orange of street signs and traffic light poles, but not the bright, cheery yellow that never fails to put me in a good mood. When I clicked on the “new” tab on CW Pencil Enterprise’s website, I was not prepared to fall in love so quickly, but I did. The Iron Curtain Press (ICP) Standard Notebook in a striking yellow with black accents. I had never used ICP (gah— makes me think of Insane Clown Posse, but that’s for another blog entirely— lol) notebooks before mainly due to their hefty (to me) price point. This 160-page notebook is $17 and I just could never justify spending that much on a notebook. Until now. Let me just say that you get what you pay for and then some.

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To start off, the aesthetics of this notebook are super clean and no expense has been spared re: materials. The cover of this notebook is nice and thick with rounded edges so sliding it in and out of a bag is great as it doesn’t snag on anything. Also, it is spiral-bound with a matte gold wire binding. Letter-pressed on the front cover is space for your name, date, and subject. Inside you will find lined paper with a slight (and I mean slight) hint of toothiness. Pencil feels great in this notebook and erases beautifully as well. Each notebook is hand-made and while the CW collab does not offer it, ICP offers either lined, graph, or dot-grid options AND left-handed binding for you lefties out there (Lenore <3 ). I can’t recommend these notebooks enough. In fact, my next pick-up will be their dateless planner. You can pick the CW collaboration here or browse the entire catalog here.

Viking Verso HB/4B

The Viking Verso is simply not a double-ended pencil— it is a double-ended pencil with a long, rich history. According to Viking, the Verso was introduced over 150 years ago in Paris at the International Exposition of 1867. Back then a Bavarian company Berolzheimer (sound familar? :) ) & Illfelder released a double-graded pencil. The idea of the double-graded pencil kind of fell off the radar for years until a German blogger and pencil aficionado, Gunther Schmidt (Lexikaliker) brought it to Viking’s attention. The interesting backstory is not the only thing that makes the Viking Verso so special— it is not an easy pencil to manufacture. The problem comes in when the pencils are getting their coats of lacquer and stamping: it is near impossible to tell which end is which. Other double-ended pencils are simple to differentiate as they are red and blue or colored and graphite. Viking had to refine their manufacturing process for the making of this pencil, but the result is super worth it.

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As a non-artist, I thought that I would have no real use for this pencil. After all, writing with a 4B would be a smudgy experience with constant sharpening. I found after a week with this pencil, that that 4B end would come in handy. Most of my pencil use these days is at one of my (3) jobs where I tutor high school students. The format is such that I have to take three-column notes for the students while they are up at the board working on a problem. I use the 4B side to sketch out the three columns and write the headings and then use the HB side to take the actual notes. I also have used the 4B side to underline things in my own personal journal.

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On top of this newfound functionality, the writing experience with the Verso is enjoyable. Like all other Viking pencils I have used, the graphite never has a gritty feel to it, lays down easily true to grade, and erases wonderfully. The finish is a work of art as one side is glossy and the other matte. Several layers of paint have been applied which adds a nice thickness and a softer hex to this pencil. The bright white paint that highlights the Viking brand with its popular Viking ship (a Knarr? Faering?) finishes up the slick look. These pencils aren’t cheap at $3.00 a pop, but are worth the investment— even more so if you are an artist. CW has them in stock and for those of you outside of the US, they can be ordered directly from Viking.

Chung Hwa 6610 HB

This week’s review is of a very unique-looking pencil. The Chung Hwa 6610 and its over-sized ferrule is reminiscent of American pencils of the 50s and early 60s. the Chung Hwa’s bright, sparkly red finish and gold foil stamping make this pencil stand out even more. The China First Pencil Company was founded in the 1930s and while they produce pencils for other brands, the Chung Hwa is their “in-house” brand. The Chung Hwa name is common in China— I guess it could be likened to how Ticonderoga is here in the states. Using the 6610 for the first time took some adjusting to. The weight of the over-sized eraser and ferrule made the pencil top heavy and I had to change the way I wrote a bit to keep things feeling a bit more balanced. I am sure this sensation will fade as I use and sharpen the pencil more.

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The first word that comes to mind when laying graphite to paper is smooth. In fact, smoother than I expected. I try to review all products with an open mind, but almost all of my experiences of Chinese pencils have been sub par and I expected more of the same. I tried this pencil on two brands of paper: Baron Fig’s Confidant and the Iron Curtain Press X CWPE collaboration notebook. Both results were great— no grittiness and slightly darker (to me) than HB laydown. The Confidant offered its usually toothy feedback while the ICP X CWPE provided a super smooth experience.

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The large chunky eraser and ferrule on this pencil is weighty— at least for me— but it works well. The eraser removes markings with ease and leaves an average amount of dust. One thing of note though: the eraser/ferrule just pops right off the top of the pencil with very little effort. This “feature” makes for some good “hack-hwa-ing” (see what I did there??). I like this pencil alot. My only gripe is how off-balanced it feels when you first start using it. Overall, it’s still worth picking up. You can find them over at CW Pencil Enterprise for $2 a pop.

Apsara Matt Magic Pencils

I am a big fan of Indian-made pencils. In fact, my beloved Neon Casemates (suspected to be made by Nataraj) are from India. I am in love with the color schemes, graphite performance, and affordable price points when it comes to Indian pencils. When the Apsara Matt Magic pencils popped up on CW Pencils, I just had to have them. The Matt Magics have a black matte finish, are emblazoned with silver foil stamping, and have a color-dipped end that corresponds to the dyed wood of the pencil. What is striking about these pencils is when sharpened, the black barrel provides a perfect contrast against the colored wood.

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The Matt Magic is advertised as “extra dark” and writes just about as dark as the Apsara Absolute. Point retention is a bit poor, but that is to be expected with such a dark pencil. What really makes these a “must buy” for me is how aesthetically pleasing they are and how smooth they feel when laying graphite to paper. You can pick them up for 75 cents a piece at CW Pencils.

Jolly Graphit Kinderfest

This week, I am going to take a look at a brand that I had never used or heard of before— Jolly. Jolly is a company from Austria that mainly focuses on children’s art/school supplies. The Jolly Graphit Kinderfest pencil is, what I would consider, a “starter pencil” for younger children (like Kindergartners). It has a larger barrel than a standard pencil, but I would not consider it a jumbo pencil as it still fits in a standard pencil sharpener. The pencil has a natural finish with its top end dipped in a lime-colored lacquer. The pencil sharpens nicely and reveals a super thick core. At first I thought this would be an issue as a lot of thicker-cored pencils have horrible point retention, but my fears were allayed when I began writing with this thing.

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Point retention is wonderful! I have written a few pages worth of journal entries and have yet to resharpen this pencil. It falls right in the middle in regard to darkness which is okay with me as darker grades tend to smudge a bit more. Also, this pencil is branded as an HB pencil, so it shouldn’t be too dark to begin with. I will say that it seems a bit darker than a standard HB pencil. I initially balked at the $1.50/pencil for these, but with the way the point retains its sharpness, it’s not a bad price. If you are interested in picking a few of these up, CW Pencils has them in stock.

Baron Fig Vanguard Dateless Planner Set

I'm not a planner person. I mean I try as hard as I can to keep up with writing everything down, but I often forget to keep up or don't want to carry around a planner book. These pocket planners from Baron Fig might be the solution to my flakiness when it comes to keeping up with planners. At first glance, I am immediately drawn to the bright colors of these books and the super clean graphic design. I am a sucker for both, so picking these up is not a task for me. Each book has a 16-week dateless spread and in the back there is a two-page spread for lists or undated info and then a few pages of dot grid for jotting down notes. I really like the flexibility of these planners.

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They can be used for almost anything-- daily task lists, planning, or even short form journaling. There are four books in this set-- one for each season and they are priced at $14 a pack which is beyond reasonable. I am not sure if they will be a regular offering from Baron Fig (they should be!), but I'd pick up a few sets of these. The possibilities are endless. 

Baron Fig Archer Elements: A Conversation with Caroline Weaver

It's time again for an Archer release from Baron Fig and this time we are graced with the presence of Elements. This design is a collaboration between Caroline Weaver and Baron Fig. Quite frankly I was waiting for this to happen and while the design is great, there are a few misses. In addition to my review, I sat down with Caroline to discuss a few things. Let's get to that first:

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Me: What made you want to collaborate with Baron Fig?

Caroline: BF actually approached me about doing a pencil! I've known Joey and Adam since I first opened the shop since they're also in NYC and I love the products that they make. When they asked me to do a pencil with them I didn't think twice about it. 

Me: Tell me a little bit about that process (designing, how much input you had, etc.)

Caroline: I worked through the concept with Baron Fig, they designed it and I approved it--it was all very easy because they did a great job capturing what I was going for. A big part of what I do in my job is educate people about pencils, so I thought this was a good opportunity to throw a little lesson into the actual design of the pencil. It was all collaborative, but I'm grateful that they trusted my opinion and my ideas. I can't really take any credit for the actual design--that's all them!

Me: What would be your dream pencil? Graphite, wood, finish, ferrule, eraser choices?

Caroline: Oh man! I don't even know. For years I was saying it was a double ended graphite/red pencil but then we made the Editor, so that exists now. BUT if I could really have anything, it would probably be Try-Rex shaped, with a good cedar barrel, the core of Mono 100 in F, an elaborate early 1900s-esque brass ferrule, a Matomaru-Kun eraser on the end and vertical stripes in burgundy and a nice red-orange. 

Me: Are there any other CW collaborations in the works?

Caroline: Yes! Before the end of the year we'll release 3 more new products that we've been working on making with three different brands. 

I want to thank Caroline for her time and willingness to participate. Also-- it's super exciting to know that there are not one, not two, but THREE CW collaborations coming soon! Now let's get to the meat and potatoes-- the review.

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As a fan of bright colors, I wasn't wowed by the Elements Archer at first. That's my own subjective bias, so it's not a fault with the pencil, but muted colors are not for me. What I DID love were the symbols for each element of what goes into your average pencil. What was weird though is one of those symbols is for foil and this pencil has none. I get why that was used-- most pencils have foil imprinting, but this one doesn't and to the uninitiated pencil fanatic, they might be left feeling confused. One final aesthetic observation was the consistency of the finish on the pencils. This is not a problem with Baron Fig, but more of a problem with Viarco's quality control. When evenly lined up, some pencils either had a "wavy" transition between two colors or were dipped higher or lower (see picture below). I feel like I'm being a bit nitpicky here, but it's not fair to Baron Fig for Viarco to have so many issues with delivering a perfect product. 

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The way the Elements pencil writes is consistent with the other limited edition Archers I have reviewed in the past. The graphite is a bit harder than I like, but it seems to me like this batch has less imperfections re: grittiness than other Archers I have used. I sharpened up three different pencils and they all performed the same. I will say that a toothier paper is better to use with these pencils since the harder graphite feels as though it is "biting" into smoother paper at times. With all of this being said, I still like the Element. I'm a big fan of minimalist design and while the color scheme is not my cup of tea, the muted pink and slate gray work well together. Also, the iconography is brilliant and really like how it tells the complete story of how a pencil is constructed. One thing Baron Fig really has going for them is design and I have yet to encounter a product that is way off the mark from them (Okay, the mousepad was bit off there. Haha). You can pick them up here while they last!

***I received these pencils free of charge in exchange for a review. My opinions are mine and have not been influenced at all by free stuff.***

The Battle of the Budget Pencils: USA Gold Versus USA Titanium

Most readers are probably familiar with USA Gold pencils. Branded as "America's Pencil", the USA Gold's packaging is emblazoned with the American flag and "Made in USA" in as many places as possible. The history of manufacturing of the USA Gold pencils is complicated, so I'll try to break it down for you (thanks to "WoodChuck", who I suspect is Charles Berolzheimer, for this history of the USA Gold): Originally, the USA Gold was introduced by RoseArt as a competitor to Ticonderoga and Mirado pencils and was made of incense cedar. USA Golds were much cheaper than their competitor and RoseArt used this tactic to gain market share and popularity. Because of this reduced cost, the cedar used was often much lower grade and the graphite used was imported from China. In 2003, RoseArt purchased J.R. Moon and claimed to be the second largest pencil company in the US. Two years later in 2005, Mega Brands acquired RoseArt. I suspect that the USA Gold is manufactured in the old J.R. Moon pencil factory as Mega Brands has stated that their pencils are manufactured in Lewisburg, TN-- the location of the original J.R. Moon factory. ANYHOW, enough of that history lesson. Let's get to the review.

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The USA Gold pencil is instantly recognizable-- it has bright blue foil stamping that declares it is America's Pencil (I find that silly, but hey, branding-- if it works, it works). The finish is sloppy and I suspect it only has one or two coats of lacquer as you can see the wood grain and the seam in the slats pretty clearly through the paint. The ferrule is actually not that bad-- it has that old tin can look with a thick blue band in the middle. The eraser is pink and while functional, wears down pretty quickly. I prefer to leave my eraser unused and use a block style eraser to do the erasing. Performance is okay. For a budget pencil it works-- it is as dark as an HB grade leaning slightly towards 2B. Writing with the pencil offers a tactile experience as the graphite is a bit scratchy at times. For the price and performance, these pencils are worth their cost, but you can find much better performance out of even cheaper pencils at Walmart (see Pen+Gear neons). I paid 98 cents for an eight pack which puts them at about 12 cents a pencil. 

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The USA Titanium is a new offering from Mega Brands and is touted as "High Quality" and the packaging asserts that the pencils have durable lead and long-lasting erasers. LIES! First glance at the USA Titanium is underwhelming. The finish on the pencil is a bland pencil yellow and a tad lighter than the USA Gold. The Titanium definitely has only one coat of lacquer as you can clearly see the wood grain underneath. Equally as underwhelming is the silver ferrule at the top of the pencil. It does not have any of the detail of a classic ferrule and is largely smooth with two thick black bands at the top and bottom. The box of 36 USA Titanium pencils I purchased had a few pencils that were unacceptably defective and for a pencil that is "High Quality" this is disappointing. The graphite is a bit smoother and darker than the USA Gold so that is a bonus for me as I like a darker pencil. I'd say that the graphite it lays down is on the darker side of 2B. The eraser on this pencil is GARBAGE and actually leaves pink streaks on the paper. I though that the erasers on both the Gold and Titanium would be the same, but they are not. They both wear down pretty quickly and leave similar amounts of dust, but the Titanium eraser seems like it has something else added to it to make it feel more gummy. I also just could have gotten a bad batch. This is not really okay since I paid a bit more for the "better" pencils. I paid $5.47 for 36 pencils which put the USA Titanium at 15 cents a piece. 

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Overall, if you were to choose between the two pencils, I'd pick up the USA Golds. I am not sure why the Titaniums were so bad for me and don't get how they are pushed as a better option when they clearly are not. Both pencils can be found in your local Walmart. 

Pen + Gear Neon Pencils

It seems as though Back to School (BTS) season gets pushed further and further forward and this year is no exception. My local stores already set up their back to school promo areas the first week of July. I am in no way complaining here, but just like seasonal holidays, we are losing the distinct boundaries between "summer break" and back to school. This BTS season is also bittersweet as it is the first time in four years I, myself, do not have to purchase anything for a new semester. Anyhow, you're not here for my emotional diatribe, you are here for a review. So let's have at it:

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Unless you have been living under a rock, you know my favorite pencil is the neon Casemate (Which is now called Pen + Gear). I cannot say enough about this pencil-- it writes beautifully, is vibrantly colored, and is super cheap. In an earlier review, I had come to the conclusion that these Made in India pencils are factory seconds of Nataraj neons. There are two versions of the Pen + Gear neons: Made in India and Made in the Philippines. The ones made in the Philippines have a round barrel and write terribly-- do not buy. This year, however, I noticed a pack of hexagonal neons and became incredibly excited because there was an additional color in the dozen: purple. I flipped over the package and groaned-- Made in the Philippines. Something made me want to buy these though and for 97 cents I figured if they still sucked, it wouldn't matter too much. After sharpening and using one for a bit, I discovered something: they are no neon Casemates, but they aren't horrible either.  

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At first glance, there are some distinct differences in the fit and finish of the Made in Philippines version. First, the paint on the barrel is super glossy whereas the paint on the Made in India version is more of a matte finish. Also, while the Made in Philippines version feels about the same weight-wise, the wood used is much more dense (if that makes sense). It is a lighter wood that is very soft and a bit fuzzy after sharpening with certain sharpeners, so I suspect it is either basswood or ash. When dropping the pencil, there is no "pencil sound" like other pencils make and it doesn't bounce much. The ferrule, eraser, and imprint are identical to the Made in India version. Writing with the Made in Philippines pencil is a bit different than the India version. The Philippines pencil is a bit scratchier than the India pencil, but lays down the same dark lines as the India version. I am wondering if it is the wood that leaves me feeling as though it is scratchier than the Indian pencil and not the actual graphite itself. One other aspect of the Philippines pencil I noticed was the fact that it had a very strong smell after sharpening it. I am not sure where that smell would be coming from, but I suspect it is perhaps the way they treated the wood or the actual finish on the pencil. Either way, I don't like it. Luckily the smell fades after a while so it's not horrific. While I do not completely recommend these Made in Philippines hex neon pencils over the Made in India ones, they are not garbage as previously stated. The round Made in Philippines pencils *are* still junk and are to be avoided at all costs.

 

Galen Leather Pencil Cases

I'm a creature of habit and don't often stray from products I enjoy using. If I find a bag, pencil case, sharpener, eraser, etc. that I like, I forever use it. I'd say one of my faults is not straying from things I love, so that's why when I got an email from Galen Leather about reviewing their products, I was inspired to step outside my box of stationery accessory monogamy and try something new. Before I get to the good stuff, let's talk about Galen Leather as a company. Like most reviews I do, I start by reading over a manufacturer's website to get all necessary details about the products I write about. Galen Leather's story is not only amazing, it's deeply inspiring. The owner of the company, Zeynep, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and lost the ability to talk for a year. Because of this, she had to leave her career and find something new to pursue since she was unable to communicate verbally. That's when Galen Leather was born. I won't take up much space getting into the details, but you should read about it here. It's worth it.  

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Okay. So the two products I am going to review today are the Student Leather pencil case and the XLarge Zipper pencil case. Galen Leather's products are packaged beautifully. The sturdy kraft boxes have a nice black stamp on the surface with the company's logo. Inside each product is a care card and a small evil eye charm with a strange, yet fascinating story about the origins of the evil eye. Anyhow, A++ on presentation and packaging.

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First up is the Student Leather case. This pencil case looks great-- it is made of vegetable tanned leather and features brass hardware with an unlined interior. The design is simple and is made of a single piece of leather. I will say the leather is a bit stiff, but this will change once you use it a bunch of times. Included with all of their products is a care card which will give you advice on how to take care of your leather. All edges on their products are burnished which gives them a nice clean, finished look. The Student Leather case can fit 18 pencils, unsharpened Blackwings, and its slim profile makes it easy to slide into a bag or purse. I will say that undoing the clasps at first is a bit difficult-- this is due the the stiffness of the leather and will get easier over time. What I would suggest is to open and close the case several times to work the holes in the leather a bit. 

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The other case I am reviewing is the XLarge case. This case is a classically styled zipper case with a YKK zipper, a leather zipper pull, and a lined interior-- it definitely lives up to it's name-- it's HUGE! This case can fit 48 or so pencils and will fit an unsharpened Blackwing sideways. It's not ideal, but it works. Again, the leather is a bit stiff and the design of the case is such that it is slightly triangular so it stands up on it own. This makes it a bit bulky for a bag, but not so much that one wouldn't want to carry it. As I use this case more and oil the leather, I predict it will become a lot more pliable and less bulky feeling. This case would be good for not only pencils, but accessories like erasers, sharpeners, and highlighters since it is quite deep. The zipper is smooth as butter and the hand-stitching is on point. I'd recommend this case wholeheartedly.

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I unequivocally recommend anything by Galen Leather. The quality of their products is outstanding and their customer service is wonderful (I had communicated several times with the owner and she was responsive and informative each time). Their items ship from Turkey, but I got them quick-- it took a little over a week for my stuff to arrive via UPS. I did not have to sign for the package and it was left at my doorstep which was a bonus since I hate going down to FedEx or UPS to sign for something. 

***I was provided these items free of charge from Galen Leather. My reviews of both products were in no way influenced by free stuff and are completely my own.***