Monday, January 22, 2007

Yard-O-Led Diplomat Mechanical Pencil Review

Yard-O-Led Diplomat Mechanical Pencil Review
The YOL Deco 34 was the very first pencil I reviewed on this blog, so one year later it seems appropriate to review another YOL, this time the Diplomat. Now, unlike my Deco 34, my Diplomat was purchased at auction in “pre-loved” condition. It is hallmarked for “J M & Co, 1948, sterling silver, London assay office”. Brand new YOL pencils are well into the stratospheric price range, but good condition pre-loved ones can often be bought for a fraction of the cost of a new one. As you know, my Diplomat was made in 1948, but they are still being made today, and the Yard-O-Led website has this to say, “The original Yard-O-Led Diplomat, a classic writing instrument. This ever popular design remains unchanged since 1934. Thoughtfully designed, its angular hexagonal shape helps to stabilise it on a gently sloping surface such as a draughtsman’s table.”
When I look at the Diplomat I am often reminded of another of my favourite pencils, the Caran d’Ache Ecridor. The hexagonal body, patterned finish, silver colour and tapering front section are all somewhat reminiscent of the Ecridor. After a few wipes with a polishing cloth, the Diplomat really is very shiny. In different lights and at different angles you get all sorts of optical effects from the wave decorative pattern - the colour seems to change a bit, and the pattern varies widely from waves through to a checkerboard sort of look. Very nice. The wave pattern on mine doesn’t appear to be available on current Diplomats. The YOL website only lists plain and barley finish as currently available. Barley is somewhat similar, though larger and coarser, compared to the very fine wave pattern on my old Diplomat.
There is a plain section on one face of the body if you want any personal engraving. Remember that this pencil is made from solid sterling silver so it does slowly tarnish and you need to give it an occasional polish. Overall the weight of the Diplomat is less than I would expect from such an all metal pencil – 23 grams (3/4 oz) vs 32g for YOL Deco 34 and 32g for Cd’A Ecridor. Possibly modern Diplomats are heavier.

I tend to hold my Diplomat where the round conical tapering tip merges into the hexagonal body, so I am getting a sort of feel like a hexagonal pencil, plus a round section as well. I would rate the grip about average, as there aren’t any real grip-enhancing features, but silver pencils never seem to be too slippery. I think I would prefer the pencil to be just a little bit longer, as it’s possibly just a fraction too short for a “big-handed” person. Just going back to the tip for a moment, this is one area where I disagree with YOL’s statement about the Diplomat being unchanged. From website pictures, the tip on modern Diplomats is just normal silver, part of the main body and cone, but on my Diplomat (and other old ones I’ve seen) the last 9mm of the conical tip is a completely separate piece and is made from a light brass or gold coloured metal – not sterling silver. Maybe it’s something like 9 carat gold.

The pocket clip on my Diplomat is a bit “sprung out”. It doesn’t touch the main body so doesn’t really work on thin fabric like a normal business shirt pocket. I assume that it’s become sprung out from use (or abuse?) over the years as the clip on my Deco 34 is a lot closer to the body, and works well except that it is a very stiff clip.

Like all YOL’s the diplomat uses 1.18mm lead. You know, as I’ve used thicker leads over the course of this blog I am becoming more accustomed to them. I bought my Diplomat with a full yard of lead inside it, so I’m still using that. The grade is much lighter than my usual HB. Currently YOL sell B, HB and H grade, but I think its lighter again, something like 2H, unless their scale is quite different to other manufacturers and there is a huge difference between their HB and H. It really is a bit light for me. But there is absolutely no graphite dust when you write, and you don’t have to advance the lead very often at all. The lead advance mechanism is a screw mechanism, activated by winding around the top cap of the pencil. The leads winds in and out, so you can retract it for storage purposes. Twelve 3 inch leads are stored inside the body to give you your yard of lead. Refilling is a bit of a complicated procedure, as shown in my pencil refill instruction posting. Certainly modern mechanisms are far more convenient in this respect.

Photo - Lead advance mechaism and several sticks of refill lead partailly pulled out of body.
  • Best Points – The looks and changing effects from the wave pattern.
  • Not So Good Points – Perhaps this pencil is just a little short. Lead replacement is a bit of a mission. Offering a thinner lead would also be good. But then again, the thick lead and old fashioned mechanism are part of the tradition and charm of these sorts of pencils. There is no eraser with this pencil - sometimes something is better than nothing. Still waiting for them to invent truly non-tarnish pure silver.
  • Price Range – Stratospheric. An awful lot less for a good condition pre-loved one, but you probably won’t get any presentation box, etc like you do with a new one.

Dimensions – Length 118mm, width 8mm across the hex flats. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

A little trivia – Yard-O-Led sell Lead refills, not Led refills.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dave, Have read your comments re the Y-O-Led Diplomat silver pencil. I do not agree with ALL your comments but since opinions are not open to discussion or arguement I therefore state my findings. First; the new price is frightening and the cost of repair (should any be required)is even more so, eg.a replacement rivetted clip is in the order of £40 ! Set against that there is a lifetime guarantee but I am not sure if it is transferable. My experience with Y-O-L repair/refurbishment is that the Company is very accomodating and obliging. The Diplomat I think is more than a pencil, it is an object of beautiful design and craftsmanship. The weight of the pencil does not bother me as I am not interested in it's value as base metal. One does have to get accustomed to the rather long tapering point but you get used to it eventually. Refilling a new lead I find is a simple uncomplicated operation and the mechanism, dating from 1934 and STILL IN USE TODAY, must surely speak volumes for the original concept. My main criticism of the pencil is the rivetted clip. a more practical and convenient clip was used at one time (it was separate and retained by the screw top that retains the spare leads) I wish they still used it. My last observation is in question format:- What other pencil carries ONE YARD of lead? My verdict is a solid 10/10 to Y-O-L..

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for you comment. To answer your final queation, I haven't really thought about it before, but maybe quite a few pencils could actually carry one yard of lead. For example Staedtler push the concept of refilling many of their pencils with a whole tube of 12 refill leads. Now the leads are 60mm but you can buy 75mm long leads and they should fit, so that would be 12 x 75mm (3 inch) leads which is one yard. Just a thoght, haven't checked it personally.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, Re your Yard o Led leads. In 1948 the range of leads were HH (2H); H, HB, B & BB (2B). They were also made in indelible, red, green, blue & yellow. So you no doubt have an HH lead in your Diplomat.

Grinder said...

Hi Dave,

Great review and have acquired one. It might be worth noting that Filofax have changed their lead supplier and B is no longer available in 3 inch. Instead you get 15 2.75 inch pieces so now your pencil rattles and it no longer can hold a yard. Unless you keep the storage spaces filled with HB and have only one short B lead loaded.

Very disappointing that my YOL is now a 2.5 footer when loaded with B.

Kiwi-d said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kiwi-d said...

The "Two-Foot-Six-O-Led"? That just doesn't cut it. Shocking news.

Grinder said...

Hi Dave, fair play to Filo-fax. Following an email exchange they found some old stock and shipped a couple of tubes to me. My pencil is now a full yard, less whatever I've been using on paper.
Unfortunately, unless there is a supplier change, this is the last of the original B so I might have to get used to HB.

Great blog mate - chasing some more YOLs and possible a Caran d'Ache in the future.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Grinder. Thanks for the update and the compliment.

Michael Desmond said...

Where would you suggest shopping for mechanical pencils while in London?

Michael Desmond

dennis said...

Hi Dave.Your views on the desirability of the
useful pencils,vintage caran d'ache and the Y.O.L.s especially the stratophered ones of hexagonal design,has made me think twice of selling two pencils which were left to me.
each one is solid silver/hallmarked.they are unusual as they are lion impressed on clip,clip
top. and feed end.they are marked J.M.& Co.
lion,M for year and a leopard's head.What can you tell me about them Dave?and should I go
ahead and sell them at ebay auction.

Kiwi-d said...

I can't advise you re the decision to sell or not as that's your choice. The stamping of all separate parts with the Lion for sterling silver is a legal requirement so all sterling pencils are stamped that way. Leopard = London assay office, M = 1947, JM&Co is the maker Johnson Matthey the large "metals company" who were the maker for Yard-O-Led.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why the Parker Insignia sterling silver pencils being sold on ebay are not hallmarked - neither lettering or icons.

Kiwi-d said...

Several possible reasons. The UK tends to have quite strict requirements compared to many other countries. Maybe the country the Parkers in question were made in and/or sold in did not require hallmarking. There is also generally a weight limit on hallmarking as well so perhaps the Parkers do not have enough silver in them to require hallmarking.

Anonymous said...

Well they are sold as Sterling Silver which to my mind makes them at least 92.5 per cent pure. They are actually made in France.

Kiwi-d said...

I'm sure they are 92.5% pure, but if they weigh under a certain amount they won't require hallmarking. Thats why sterling silver ear-rings etc don't require hallmarking. They don't have enough total mass of silver in them. It's not a matter of silver purity, it's a matter of silver weight.

Anonymous said...

But then what about lettering at least - "sterling silver cap and barrel" etc. I have a feeling these French made Insignias are less than 95% pure (which I believe is the French Standard). It doesn't help when you try to sell at a later date and you can't prove it is Sterling Silver because of the absence of any lettering.

Kiwi-d said...

Oh, you mean they don't even have any marking or anything even asserting their own manufacturers non-indepenantly assesed claim of sterling silver? Well in that case you just have to trust Parker. Do Parker clarify that its solid sterling silver as opposed to sterling silver plated? I guess hallmarking is one benefit of dealing with YOL.

Anonymous said...

Sanford/Parker are a large corporation and getting anything out of them as a consumer is nigh on impossible. Usually with Parker if it is Solid sterling silver it is usually marked(inscribed) as such. Silver plating has no such inscriptions. Likewise Parker always inscribe their gold filled/rolled gold pens as such, eg - "1/10kt G.F."(US terminology) or Rolled Gold (English terminology). The seller muddies the waters even more by claiming that in the UK no hallmarks are required - Uh!(when it is a French made Parker anyway.) Inscribing products has at least given the pen owner some assurance, whereas no inscription at all leaves a prospective future sale with some doubts as to its material authenticity. Dave, look at your Parker 75 Classic Mechanical pencil and if I'm not mistaken you will see it is inscribed "Sterling Silver Cap and Barrel" (or words to that effect) - surely this gives you some assurance of its bona fides.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Anonymous. I haven't checked but as I recall my 75 is inscribed as you suggest. I'm not sure where we are going with this discussion..?

Caveat emptor applies to all eBay transactions :-)

Grinder said...

WRT YOL on ebay

I've picked up three good working ones for less than £50 a piece and one "bad" one for £15 including shipping.

Caveat emptor does apply but it's worth a punt.

The "bad" one was a result of the previous owner forcing the feeder onto a broken lead but managed to get it working again with a little care.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

Until today I never knew how much interest there is in mechanical pencils! I've been a long-time user of cheap throw-away ones (there's always one in my pocket, and one clipped to my French horn for rehearsals—I'm an amateur musician).

I was looking online today as I've inherited a pen closely resembling your "JM & Co" (Which, a quick bit of research told me stands for Johnson, Matthey & Co). Mine was assayed during the year that followed that of yours (so the silver marks are identical, except mine has an M instead of an L).

This pen has only one very minor ding on the barrel, and a few small dents on the end cap, but the surface is much more worn than yours, so much so that the maker's name is just about discernible as "M & Co"

I'm sorry to say that you seem to be missing the end cap (mine is very plain and matches the barrel).

Anyway, the reason I'm writing to you (other than to say congratulations on feeding your pencil-oriented eccentricity!), is to ask about the lead-loading mechanism of this particular model:

Is there a clasping mechanism for the lead? All mine has inside the cone is a solid metal rod which extends about 1/8" from a metal sleeve, which extends about 1/2" from a brass tube with an external screw thread (the cone screws on to a different thread on the barrel). It seems, then that Im' probably missing whatever it is that screws on to the brass tube. Should the solid rod move within the sleeve? The only movement I get is the rod and sleeve moving back and forth together when the cap is twisted. In other words, there is a pushing mechanism, but nothing to hold on to the lead to stop it falling out.

Would you post some photos of the internals of your pencil, please?