Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From Brazil


Brazil….steamy jungles, boa constrictors, capybaras, jaguars, Rio! Fantástico!

I'm back and kicking-off 2009 with something a little exotic. Well, exotic for me, anyway.

Way up the Amazon, in the city of Manaus, is an outpost of Germany - a Faber-Castell mega-factory to be specific. Whilst not really a centre of mechanical pencil production, they do make a couple of MP items, namely leads and some economy pencils.

My thanks to Adriano of Cool Pencils of Brazil for sending me some of these Germans from Brazil. He tells me that Manaus, in the Amazonas state, is a traditional manufacturing area where the taxes were very low to encourage manufacturing companies to set up their plants and thus help “develop” the region. Apparently there are a lot of electronics factories, motorcycle plants (Honda) and so on producing for the Brazilian and wider (South) American export market. In the words of Adriano, “…besides Samba, Cachaça and Futebol, we make some lead”. Well the ol’ Futebol isn’t that big down here in Rugby-land, but we know the Samba-Kings are the team to beat when it comes to that funny game with the round ball where you can’t use your hands. Some of us also remember that singular moment of glory when our team actually made it to the 1982 FIFA World Cup, and Oh!, how happy we were on 23 June 1982 when we pulled one out of the hat and managed to just plain old lose, rather than be annihilated by Brazil.
So firstly, the Faber-Castell “Poly” mechanical pencil, sold in a vacuum shrink-wrap sort of hang-sell package. Its obviously an economy or low price range pencil, but the interesting thing about it is that it comes with a selection of interchangeable components. It is assembled with black components, but the package contains silver and bronze replacement tips, pocket clips and eraser covers so that you can mix and match and make up your own colour scheme. Two replacement erasers and a container of B leads is also included.

On the back we have
"Produzido no polo industrial de Manaus" = Produced in the industrial centre of Manaus, and

"Fabricado por A.W. Faber..." = manufactured by A.W. Faber...

Adriano says he has also rung the 0800 number and confirmed this pencil and the leads are really manufactured in Manaus, not just assembled or re-packed there.

The selection of leads consists of two hang-sell packs, and some loose containers.. For the hang-sell packs, one contains 2 tubes if 12 x 0.5mm HB leads, and the other contains 2 tubes of 24 x 0.7mm B leads. So, you get twice as many 0.7mm as 0.5mm leads. Also, whilst both are “grafites para lapiseriras” (leads for mechanical pencils), the 0.5mm are also “uso tecnico”. Both 0.5mm and 0.7mm leads are available in HB, B and 2B grades. The “Tampa Flip Top” of the lead containers is also obviously a feature.
The box of 12 containers also notes the existence of 0.9mm leads in HB, B and 2B. Whilst the 0.7mm leads in the hang sell pack are 24 leads in a red container, loose containers are 12 x 0.7mm leads in a green container just like the hang-sell 0.5mm leads.

One thing that does confuse me though is the word "cerâmica" on the lead refill box. Surely I should be reading "polímero" rather than "cerâmica"?


B2-kun said...

A cheap customizable mechanical pencil seems like a pretty good marketing idea. Though I think that with the ever increasing global outsourcing, I fear that the trusted "Made in Germany" and "Made in Japan" quality writing and drawing tools will become increasingly rare.

Anonymous said...


"Material cerâmico" is exactly what it sounds like: ceramic material. The components info relates exclusively to the product itself, not the wrapping (which is obviously plastic).

BTW, FC has a large operation here, producing lots of stuff, but mostly the cheap crap. Whatever nice they sell comes form other places.


Luis (down South of Brazil)

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Luis
Thanks for commenting. To explain further, my comment about ceramico was to imply I believe it is incorrect. Woodcase pencil leads are "material cerâmico" as they are graphite and ceramic clay, wherease mechanical pencils leads are not, they are graphite and carbon polymer, i.e. "material polimero"?. My apologies for my poor use of Portuguese words, but I hope you will get the general meaning. I suppose someone in marketing just approved the packaging, not really understanding...
Perhaps though the term cerâmico is used in Portuguese in relation to carbon fibre, etc?

Anonymous said...

design is..... simple!!
I want it but....
I don`t know how can i buy it..ㅠㅠ

Adriano said...

Hi Dave,

In my opinion, "material cerâmico" should be taken in this product context as carbon fiber - this just means, as Luis mentioned in his early comment, "ceramic material" - no polymer seem to be included in the compound, since, in this case, the words "polímeros" or "termoplásticos" would be included.

As you noted, the .5 green packages are advertised for "uso técnico" (technical use, or drawing). The red packaging says "para escrita", standing for "for writing" (it is sometimes advertised as "for school use".

Great post; I am glad you have appreciated the samples.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave, hope I'm not being a pain! I've e-mailed Faber-Castell in Brazil and they answered me that (my translation):

"We thank you for your message and add that the graphite used in pencils are the same used in mechanical pencils.

The difference is only in the diameter of the leads.

Regarding their formulation, the product is ceramic as it contains clay in its composition. We remind you that the more clay it's used, the harder (H) and lighter it is (technical use) and the more graphite, the more black (B), soft and dark it is.

And this is the reason for the different gradations."

Apparently they are sticking to their packaging.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Luis
Well thanks for persevering, that’s an interesting answer. I’m not surprised at them saying the graphite is the same, but the formulation between wood case leads and mechanical pencil leads being the same, and that they are both ceramic leads? That’s a surprising answer.
I guess there are two options here. First is that FC Brazils answer is correct. They really are making a ceramic lead for mechanical pencils. If that’s the case then it makes them rather unique, as the other well known manufacturers say that for MP leads they are polymer not ceramic, e.g. Staedtler, Pentel. It also begs questions like why the FC International website calls the leads ‘super-polymer’ and FC Venezuela call them ‘minas poly’ and ‘minas super polymer’. The FC Brazil leads are a different formulation to other countries FC leads? Second option is that something is still getting ‘Lost in Translation’.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I're right, of course, and we are not losing much in translation. I had already replied them and I'll get back to you as soon as I get an answer.

Funny. I've got the feeling my messages are going to be posted around FC as "check out this lunatic we have to answer" examples.

Redds said...

Heya Dave, I know this is an old post, but I just have to point out something most probably irrelevant to your line of reviewing, it's about the leads in the red containers. It relates to your entries before and after this one, regarding cloning. Not so much of it being about the leads(as leads are generally undiscernible without their containers anyway), as it is about the container.

They're molded in exactly the same shape and translucency, and even font placement(albeit in the traditional FC font) as my favourite brand and make of pencil leads, the Pentel PPL series of leads.

To be honest, I don't know who's 'cloning' who. I have never seen those red FC containers for sale here, ever. But the PPL leads have been around ever since I saw the word 'Pentel' in my country, some 8-12 years ago. Brown containers for .5s, blue for .7s are the common ones. Proof being that I remember buying them in packs of 6 at Makro, which is has been locally dead(due to upstairs management failure, none the part of the real Makro company, I'm guessing. "On 31 January 2007, Makro Malaysia was acquired by Tesco. All 8 stores in Malaysia will be converted to Tesco Extra." -wiki) for a couple years now.

And the oddest thing is, there doesn't seem to be any image of the PPL series of leads(not even the coloured ones, PLCR, that have white caps) that are in this shape of container on GoogleImg or the official Pentel site, even. They're all pictures of the rhombus/diamond/parallelogram shaped ones.

I happen to still own 2 PPL-5 and 3 PLCR-7 containers, alongside 3 differing rhobus-shaped ones.

What do you think? Are the pirateers getting better and better or is this a series that Pentel discontinued and had no track history of? Certainly you keep track of these details better than the average person. Help me out; I'd hate to think I've been lied to all these years!

Kiwi-d said...

Luis - I don't know if you are still there, but I've I'd love an update, even if it's "F-C no longer reply to my emails".

Kiwi-d said...

John - very interesting. Well, point 1, I am not familiar with Pentel PPL and PLCR leads. I'd be interested to continue this off-blog. Send me a note at the email address in the blog header.

I believe that several of my blog posts contain references to my conspiracy theory of just one big factory making an endless variety of lead brands. Actually, I do believe there are many many factories making leads, but maybe there are not that many lead container manufacturers.