Blackwing X TWA Hotel Pencil

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This week, I bring you a collaboration none of us saw coming: TWA and Blackwing Pencils. If you think about it, they did exist in the same sphere— both prominent artifacts of the 1950s era. Trans World Airlines (TWA) was formed in the 30s and finally took the name TWA in the 50s. As the decades passed, TWA was known for being an industry leader in innovation: In the 1960s, they introduced in-flight movies and were one of the first airlines to use Doppler radar. The 60s also saw the birth of a brand-new terminal at John F. Kennedy International airport in NYC. TWA was innovative in the sense that they had a keen eye for design and concept— they, along with Delta, were one of the first airlines to introduce the spoke-hub system (this is where airlines had a central hub location and routes were organized in “spokes” around a central hub) which boosted efficiency and allowed for fewer routes and is something every airline does today. In addition to having a handle on productivity, their design of the terminal at JFK was revolutionary and boasted closed-circuit TV, interior passenger jetways, a PA system, baggage carousels, an electric arrival and departure flip-board system, and a robust selection of dining (Dunlap, 1994). All of the things travelers take for granted started with the TWA Flight Center.

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More recently, starting in 2016, the TWA Flight Center, dormant since 2001, began its journey to restoration. New York City-based Morse developers collaborated with MCR, a large hotel development company, to re-create the feeling of the early 60s excitement felt in the terminal. They have dubbed their creation TWA Hotel, a 512-room hotel with 45 event rooms and five hospitality suites that host up to 1,600 people. Each of the 512 hotel rooms are furnished with mid-century modern furniture. From retro-fitted rotary phones, walnut martini bars, tambour walls to walls adorned with vintage TWA advertisements, each stay takes one back to what I could consider the Golden Age of commercial airlines. Some rooms have a runway view where you can see planes take off and land (this makes me SUPER excited as I am an airplane enthusiast). In order to negate the LOUD jet engine sounds, all rooms have a 7 pane, 4.5 inch glass window. I WILL be staying here sometime soon. Anyhow, I digress. On to the pencils. In each hotel room there are Musgrave pencils— I just wanted to mention that as they have a pretty cool write-up on their website about them— perhaps a review is in order. We are really here to talk about the TWA Hotel X Blackwing pencil, so let’s go:

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First off, pictures do not do this pencil justice. The red is SUPER red, and SUPER glossy and overall fabulous. As someone that is not a fan of red anything, this pencil wins me over. To compliment the nice, bright red, there are two white stripes stamped on one side and Blackwing X TWA HOTEL on the other. I’m a little underwhelmed with the lack of iconography here. I know one side of a pencil is small, but I wish they were able to use the original TWA logo on one of the sides. I’m sure there was good reason to use the design they chose, but it’s kind of meh. The ferrule is a shiny silver with a bright white eraser to go with the print on the barrel. This pencil’s core is “balanced” which means it has a Pearl core. A few things that I wish they did with this pencil— first, the design I griped about earlier— something a bit more flashy would have been cool. Also, I was almost expecting a little paper inside the box with TWA history/facts kind of like how Blackwing does with the limited editions. I am sure it would have increased the price of these, but it would have been a nice touch. Especially since a lot of folks that buy things from a TWA Hotel gift shop will probably be enthusiasts of the brand. Overall, I’d only recommend these pencils if you are a collector. There is nothing different about these other than the finish. They also retail for $29.95— two more dollars than the volumes editions. If you are interested, they can be purchased here.

Blackwing 811

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The moment I set my eyes on the 811, I loved it. I’m a fan of bright colors and while it’s not super bright, the 811 certainly stands out among other offerings from Blackwing. Besides the color scheme, I really like the story behind the 811. As an individual that works as a writing tutor for both a high school and a college, I have such a soft spot in my heart for libraries. I miss my childhood where I would search through one of many card catalog drawers and put it on the pull-out table built into the magnificent piece of library furniture— I would flip through and find the call number of the book I needed and transcribe that onto a scrap piece of paper (you NEVER took the actual card with you— that is bad library manners) only to search through the stacks for what I needed. A lot of that is digitized now and when I was in college last year I would request a book online and it would be waiting for me at the front desk. It’s just not the same. I especially like the focus on Maya Angelou. There is not enough focus on women when it comes to stationery limited editions (especially with BW) and especially women of color. While Angelou was not the main focus of the edition (a library lamp was), she does have the honor of representing the 811 on the pencil.

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I really like the gradient on this pencil as it fades from a minty green to a darker, emerald-like green. The gold ferrule is spot on as it represents the base and the gold pull chain of those iconic green library lamps. The 811 is coated with phosphorescent paint which makes it glow in the dark— this is super cool, but really just a gimmick as you need a light to write, but it is super cool to see a cupful of these on your desk in the dark. Sadly, the glow doesn’t last very long. I charged these pencils for a few hours in natural sunlight and under a lamp and it fades pretty quickly. Because this is just an aesthetic offering and has no bearing on the performance of the pencil itself, this finding is inconsequential. The eraser is pink and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean, white would be too bright and black would just clash with the gold ferrule, so I guess pink it is. I was worried about the finish of this pencil since it is wrapped and not lacquered, but unless you look closely, it appears seamless. My other worries mirrored Johnny Gamber’s comments on his blog Pencil Revolution when it came to hand feel and grip, but I have not had a problem with that at all. The core of this pencil is firm just like the 602 and stays true to the 602’s performance. I am not a big fan of the softness of the 602 as it is very difficult to write small and I find myself sharpening a lot. I am also a very heavy-handed writer, so my experience with point retention might be different than others’.

602 core made it difficult to fill out my D&D character sheets

602 core made it difficult to fill out my D&D character sheets

Overall, I think this pencil is a buy if you like the 602 and/or have a particular affinity for the theme. Based on the community’s response, these may be hard to find in the near future as Blackwing’s website crashed the moment the 811 was released. You can head over to Blackwing’s website to purchase a dozen while they last as they are sold out elsewhere. They retail for $27.95 a dozen now due to Blackwing’s recent price increase.

Blackwing Natural

It has been quite a long time since I have reviewed a Blackwing pencil— I stopped reviewing special editions since I was really only talking about form since function never really changes (besides hardness). This new offering is different though— it is something Blackwing fans have been asking for for a long time— a natural Blackwing. If we remember back to the time of the 211, we remember how loved that edition was (and still is). There was something about a “naked” Blackwing that seemed to please everyone. It is so nice to have an affordable 211 look-a-like, but does it live up to the hype and expectations of the community? Let’s find out:

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When opening up the box of the BW Naturals, I am immediately drawn to the beautiful wood grain of the cedar. There are many other natural pencils I have used before, but there is something about this smooth finish on the BW Natural that really makes it pop. The shiny gold ferrule is a perfect mate to the gold imprint on the barrel. The gray eraser on the other hand? Meh. I really think any other color would have worked here— I personally like the pink or the yellow, but there is an easy fix as Blackwing sells replacement erasers in almost every color.

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The Blackwing Natural is advertised as “Extra-Firm”, but I did not expect how dark of a line this pencil laid down. To me, it writes like a F which is on the lighter side of grades, but definitely not what I would classify as extra-firm (I’d put extra firm in the 2H/3H category). It erases okay with the provided eraser but even better with a Hinodewashi (my favorite eraser of course). Point retention is great considering how dark the pencil writes— I was pleasantly surprised here. When one factors in the aesthetics of this pencil coupled with its performance, I can see how this would be an EDC for some folks as it definitely is for me. At 21.95 for a box of 12, you really cannot go wrong here. They are so worth it!