Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Worther Spiral Mechanical Pencil Review

Worther Spiral Mechanical Pencil Review

Setting aside a guest review of the Slight back in 2011, this is my first review of a mechanical pencil from small German manufacturer Worther. Actually the proper spelling is W├Ârther but their website is www.woerther.de and English language websites generally forget the umlaut and just go with Worther.

worther spiral mechanical pencil
Worther Spiral mechanical pencil supplied by retailer Pen Heaven

First impressions do count, but they are not always right. I must admit that when I first took the Worther Spiral mechanical pencil out of its light cardboard presentation box my first impression was “Hmmmm….” Clearly Worther were trying to make an impression with the spiral body, but it just wasn’t working for me.
worther spiral pencil

When I got to my office the next morning I took the Spiral out of my bag and “Wow, is that the same pencil? It looks great”. What a difference lighting makes.

worther spiral mechanical pencil

So, that spiral body. Well it is a hexagonal cross-section that is spiral twisted down the length of the pencil. That means there are basically no straight flat surfaces anywhere and the gloss and light reflections create a rather unusual visual effect. The alternating light shiny and darker patches as the spiral winds around really keep your eyes engaged and it is quite interesting how the look of the pencil constantly changes with the light conditions, the angle you hold it at, etc.

The hexagonal body is lightweight aluminium so this mechanical pencil is fairly lightweight. When looking at the Worther Spiral the big question for me has always been, “How will it feel in the hand?” The answer is “Surprisingly good.” The grip zone is of course part of the spiral body but it is still a hexagonal body so your fingers tend to grip it across the flats in the usual hexagonal fashion and the spiral is not twisting so fast that it interferes with your fingers. That of course is my subjective opinion based on how I tend to hold my pencils. I think it would be fair to say that this mechanical pencil might not suit those who grip very tightly, and those who have large hands. To those people I would say “Try before you buy”.

I did notice that when holding the pencil during pauses between writing that my fingers gravitated towards the top of the pencil. I guess that is the result of no specific grip zone and the spiral body sort of winding your hand along its length.

The pocket clip also follows the spiral down the body although it struggles to keep an exact match. The pocket clip does work, but its functionality is not one the strong points of this writing instruments design. The spiral body and very slim line pocket clip does mean that this pencil is prone to rolling on your desk.
Not just one of the flock
As a mechanical pencil for general writing the lead sleeve is a short cone, and it uses a standard push top ratchet mechanism. Ten clicks will advance about 9mm of 0.5mm lead.
Standard conical tip for general writing and office work.
There is the usual small emergency use eraser under the push top button. The small size and spherical shape of the button mean that it is actually quite hard to get a grip on and pull out. The trap for the uninitiated is that you do not refill the lead magazine through the top, instead you have to unscrew the tip section and pull off the end cap of the internal mechanism to insert your sticks of lead. It's all a little bit disjointed really. As pictured below you can see Worther use Schmidt system components.
worther pencil refill
Schmidt system
Overall then, the Worther Spiral mechanical pencil was a surprise to me, and I am glad to have it.

•    Best Points – The visual and tactile experience.
•    Not So Good Points – Desk rolling.
•    Price Range – Mid
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No

Dimensions – Length   126mm, diameter…a little hard to say because of the spiral but let’s say effectively 9mm. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip.

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this review, the retailer Pen Heaven provided this Worther Spiral mechanical pencil to me free of charge.
Much to my surprise the pencil arrived gift wrapped. Clearly their gift-wrapping staff are a highly trained bunch, probably origami masters, and if you were thinking of sending a gift to someone I can vouch for the quality of their gift wrapping service.
The Spiral is also available in other colours and ink formats.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Mascot to Yard-O-Led Perfecta

I am very pleased to be able to publish the following guest article by blog reader George Clements from England. So, over to George.

From Edward Baker 'The Mascot' to Yard-O-Led 'Perfecta': Evolution of a Classic Mechanical Pencil

Our blog host, Dave, has already written elsewhere on this site a description of his 1960 Edward Baker 'The Mascot' pencil, with some excellent photographs and a little history about the Edward Baker company, including how it came to be taken over by the Yard-O-Led company in the mid-1950s. I do not intend to duplicate what he has already covered, but aim, through a selection of photographs of pencils from my collection, to show how the essential design has survived and developed over a period of almost a hundred years so that it is still with us today as, what I consider to be, one of the classic mechanical pencils. I cannot claim that what follows is comprehensive, or painstakingly researched, but I hope that it will provide some useful information for fellow collectors, and others may be able to follow up with examples from their collections, or add further factual information.

Edward Baker silversmiths were making high quality products in the 19th century, and I have a beautifully engraved combined slide pencil and nib holder from that period, but that falls outside the scope of the present topic. A letter-heading from Yard-O-Led dated 1959 states that the company incorporated Edward Baker and Son which was founded in 1837, and Dave's article on his 1960 'Mascot' mentions the type of 'fancy goods' or luxury items that the company produced and exhibited at major fairs. The earliest example of 'The Mascot' that I have dates from 1926, but I do not know exactly when the model first appeared. Like all the early pencils described, it has a propel only mechanism: that is to say, the lead must be pushed back manually after retracting the propelling pin if the user wishes to get the lead back inside the body of the pencil. The overall length of the pencil is roughly 123mm, and the main body diameter is approximately 7.9mm.
edward baker mascot mechanical pencil

This pencil has no pocket clip, and it is apparent that, for many years, Baker's offered the pencil either with or without a clip. The next example shown dates from 1928, and has a soldered-on pocket clip. In other respects, it is identical to the 1926 one. I do regard pocket clips as something of a mixed blessing, especially when they are permanently fixed, as they are very prone to breakage and distortion and can be extremely difficult, or impossible, to mend.

At this point, it might be useful to mention some features that are common to all the 'Mascot' pencils I currently own. First, they all use 1.18 mm leads (unlike some other models made by the company). Secondly, they were all hallmarked at the Birmingham Assay Office. Thirdly, they all have a chamber at the blunt end for spare lead storage, which is accessed by a screw-on end.
Moving on to 1933, the next pencil is 9ct gold and is much shorter, at only 94.7mm., but the diameter remains the same. Once again, this pencil has no pocket clip. It is in lovely condition although, sadly, from my point of view, it has a personalised engraving. I know that this is a contentious issue, and some collectors regard such engraving as just part of the object's history, but my preference is for examples that are free of inscriptions or, at least, have only promotional trade markings.
mascot mechanical pencil gold

The next pencil to show dates from 1937. Its length is approximately 120.7mm, so a little shorter than the 1926 pencils, but has put on a little weight, with a body diameter of 8.1mm. It has a soldered-on pocket clip, and, unlike the pencils already mentioned, which are plain, it has a barley impressed finish to the barrel, and an escutcheon area for engraving, should the buyer so wish. I think that this pencil has a particularly nice feel to it: the weight and balance make it a joy to hold and use.

Another 9ct. gold pencil comes next. This time, the length is 121.35mm, and the diameter 8.00mm. It has a soldered-on pocket clip, but it is a different shape from the earlier ones, having a ball end. The major change however, is that it now has a propel and retract mechanism. The pencil is hallmarked for 1955, so it dates from around the time that Edward Baker and Son was taken over by Yard-O-Led. Interestingly, when I purchased the pencil, it was in a Yard-O-Led box, and I have no reason to believe that it was not originally sold in the box. There were no instructions.
I assumed that, after taking over Baker's, Yard-O-Led merely sold off remaining stock and just supplied their own brand boxes to retailers, but the 1960 example described by Dave clearly indicates that Yard-O-Led were continuing to send 'Mascot' cases for assay and hallmarking some five years or so after the takeover. Hopefully, the photograph will show that this pencil also has a plain barrel.

My next pencil dates from 1957, and is just like the one described in Dave's article. The Yard-O-Led influence is beginning to show itself in the style of the pocket clip, which is separate and held down by the lead chamber cover. Although it is clearly the Yard-O-Led shape, it does not have any name on it. The barrel of the pencil has the impressed barley decoration. When I bought it, it was, once again, in a Yard-O-Led box, but this time there was an instruction leaflet, and if it was supplied with the pencil when new, it could have seriously confused the purchaser as it describes the Yard-O-Led mechanism and not the Baker type.

Presumably, at some stage, someone at Yard-O-Led decided that it was time to discontinue the use of the Baker's type mechanism and rationalise production on the well-established Yard-O-Led pattern, which had been successful and reliable since 1934. At the same time, it would have been apparent that the shape and dimensions of the 'Mascot' pencil were popular, and still had market appeal. It must also have been apparent that the Yard-O-Led mechanism could be fitted into a similar case with minimal adaptation, and hence the Perfecta was born. Again, I do not know the exact date when the model was first marketed, and, also, whether it was called the Perfecta from the outset. My first datable example is hallmarked for 1973, and continues to bear the Edward Baker maker's mark, which Yard-O-Led carried on using for a considerable time. (I have another identical model but, unfortunately, the date letter in the hallmark is unreadable).

While the style of the Perfecta is, undeniably, developed from the 'Mascot', the change in mechanism makes it a rather different animal. The lead diameter is the same at 1.18 mm, but it now uses 3" lengths, and, although spare leads continue to be stored in the barrel of the pencil, the arrangement is different and follows the practice of other Yard-O-Led models. There is no separate removable end cap over the lead storage provision, but the propelling mechanism is removed by turning the tulip shaped end and withdrawing it from the pencil body. A small round nut then holds the pocket clip, which also covers the spare leads that are accommodated in separate chambers within the case of the pencil. Although this is an elegant design feature, leads often become stuck in the chambers and are difficult to extract. While the tulip shaped end is engraved or stamped Yard-O-Led, Made in England, the pocket clip bears no name. The length of the pencil is 123.7 mm and the diameter 8.2 mm.
yard-o-led pencil hallmark

My next example is hallmarked for 1977, and requires little comment. It is very similar to the 1973 model, the main difference being that the pocket clip is now riveted on and bears the Yard-O-Led name. It is slightly longer, at 125.7 mm, but it should be noted that there are small variations in the lengths of Yard-O-Led pencils, even within the same model and date. Each pencil is individually produced, assembled and finished, so minor differences are normal.
Although the model shown here has the familiar barley pattern, I do have a plain bodied example from 1989, and other patterns may have been available. The body diameter appears to have also increased to approximately 9 mm.
yard-o-led perfecta mechanical pencil

As times have changed, the use of pencils has declined dramatically. Even quite sophisticated mechanical pencils were produced by a multitude of manufacturers and sold in their hundreds of thousands, or millions. In more recent times, the market for propelling pencils has become more specialised, and manufacturers like Yard-O-Led have increasingly concentrated on high-end luxury products, no longer offering pencils in less expensive materials, such as rolled gold, rolled silver, rhodium plating or platinine. Yard-O-Led also diversified to offer not only pencils, but ballpens, rollerball pens and fountain pens, as well as various luxury accessories. Fortunately, so far, pencils have not been phased out, and, along with other models, the Perfecta remains available today. It is not cheap, but it is still traditionally produced by craftsman in Birmingham. Alongside the traditional barley finish, the Perfecta is now also available in the beautiful Victorian design. The Victorian features a hand applied design covering the body of the pencil, each one requiring hundreds of individually hammered elements so, once again, every single pencil is unique. Like all current models of Yard-O-Led pencil, each one now carries an individual serial number and the Yard-O-Led name. Also, Yard-O-Led now has its own registered maker's mark at the London Assay Office, so, for a number of years, the hallmarks on the company's products have read YOL. As previously mentioned, the company now also produce ballpens, and the Perfecta is available in that form.
yard-o-led perfecta victorian pencil

I truly regard 'The Mascot' and its successor the Perfecta as classics of mechanical pencil design. I would also like to add a postscript to this story: the title refers to evolution, and one of the things about evolution is that it continues in ways that are not always predictable. This year, Britain's Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in the chapel at Windsor Castle. To mark the event, Yard-O-Led produced a limited edition set of ballpoint and pencil. The first numbered pair of the edition of one hundred sets was sent to the couple themselves: the ballpoint engraved H for Harry, and the pencil M for Meghan. The set are not Perfecta models, but they have distinct similarities. The case of the pencil, for instance, resembles the Victorian model, and the top is similar except that the end is flat (like the Regent and Edwardian models) to carry the engraved initial. The hand-hammered design on the pencil refers symbolically to the bride's heritage. I hope she enjoys using her pencil as much as I enjoy mine.
"The Meghan Pencil", Limited Edition No. 063

Thanks George. Your collection is a wonderous thing.

All text and images were supplied by George and he retains copyright.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Vintage Sale, Lamy Plus More

I have to rationalize my collection which means getting rid of a whole bunch of stuff. In the pages header up above there are Sell/Swap pages where you can see what is going. Make an offer, I am a "motivated" seller and want to do a deal. Ebay is no match for my pricing! :)

Email me direct - address is in the View my complete profile link of 'About Me' in the blog sidebar.

Do me a favour and tell your friends to come shopping too.

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UPDATE - Have taken the Sale pages down.
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Thursday, August 09, 2018

About You

Now that this blog has been going again for a few months I thought I would have a little look at visitor data. I’m always interested in stats about the blog, so here's a little bit of data and comparison with the old days.

April to July 2018.
The Top 10 countries by pageviews

1 = USA (always #1 every week)
2 = France (always #2 every week)
3 = UK
4 = Canada
5 = Russia
6 = Germany
7 = Spain
8 = Australia
9 = Brazil
10 = Italy
The Top 10 account for about 77% of all pageviews.

Others who have made it into the Top 10 for more than one week - El Salvador, Japan, Netherlands, Poland.

Others who have made it into the Top 10 for just one week - Czechia, Georgia, Thailand.

Comparing that to long term stats… where are you Turkey? There used to be lots of Turkish visitors. Also France, number 2 every week, that’s a big difference from the old days. I like France - wine, cheese, rugby... but I'm not blogging in French, so it's a bit surprising. I also note the absence of India, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Cult Pens Double-Knock Mechanical Pencil Review

Cult Pens Double-Knock Mechanical Pencil Review

This mechanical pencil is a house offering of well-known retailer Cult Pens. Despite their company name they often describe themselves as pencil people, and so true to that, back in May 2015, they introduced their own house brand mechanical pencil, the Double-Knock. It is available in 0.5mm and 0.7mm lead sizes. On their website it is model CU43621 so my 0.5mm version is item CU43621-05.
Cult Pens Double-Knock Mechanical Pencil

The only colourway is silver metal, with the main body being a quite glossy satin finish and all other parts being bright shiny plate. Personally I am always a little wary of this sort of colour scheme, I often don’t like the difference in gloss levels of the same base colour, but this pencil carries it off, I think mostly due to the relatively high gloss level of the barrel. The only markings on the pencil are ‘Cult Pencil’ and the lead diameter. There is no country of origin marked on the pencil but the Cult Pens website states it is made in Japan by a contract manufacturer. The pencil is supplied in a small clear plastic carry case.
clear carry case

The Cult Pencil weighs in at 16 grams and in the hand is a little lighter than its all metal construction might suggest, but it is of course made primarily from lightweight aluminium. Another thing is it somehow looks shorter than its actual measurements. There’s some strange magic or optical illusion or something else going on here… or maybe I just need glasses or drink too much?

The grip zone is round knurled metal, just under 9mm diameter. Knurling is of course a classic feature of drafting pencils, but it can be rather aggressive on the fingers, particularly if you are not used to a knurled grip. I would say the knurling on the Cult Pens Pencil is just right, not rough enough to cause short term irritation but rough enough to ensure solid long term grip. Being round, you can of course rotate the pencil at will if that is your practice, but the pocket clip and side button might get in the way if you have large hands.
knurled grip

Now, hold on; just give me a minute to climb up onto my soapbox. The name. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, I really dislike the term ‘double-knock’ that has snuck its way into the English of the writing instrument industry. As I understand it, it is a literal translation from the Japanese, but it’s meaningless in English. How has it ended up being used in preference to elegant meaningful alternatives like ‘vanishing point’? Grrrrr… Okay, climbing back down now. Take a deep breath. Keep calm and carry on.

The vanishing point double knock system is a relatively standard one. The first push of the top button pushes the tip section out of the main body and locks it in place. Thereafter it functions essentially like any other fixed sleeve push top ratchet mechanical pencil. Ten clicks of the mechanism will get you about 6.5mm of lead. When you are finished applying graphite to surfaces you simply push the small button located towards the top of the main body and the spring loaded mechanism will slam the tip section back up inside the body. The lead sleeve is now protected and the pencil is pocket safe. I quite like the push button on the side.

To retract or not to retract?
The lead sleeve is a 4mm long metal pipe so this definitely counts as a drafting pencil, just as its overall looks would suggest. Now, as a vanishing point mechanical pencil there is of course the possibility of tip wobble, and indeed I can confirm there is tip wobble. I would say the amount of wobble is about average, or possibly a fraction more. The amount also seems a little variable and is sometimes also audible. Again that’s not unique, perhaps its temperature related? Personally I don’t find tip wobble a major problem but I know it is a source of annoyance for a significant number of pencil users. I guess I’m just not that precise.

The pocket clip is a simple plain metal one, springy and utilitarian, but not quite as strong as I expected. Under the push top button is the usual small emergency use eraser which also includes a lead cleanout rod, which is always a nice touch.

One unusual thing about this mechanical pencil is that the Cult Pens website details the nine point design brief that lead to its creation. I won’t reprint that here, you can cruise over to their website to read that. Of course it begs the question, “How well does the finished product compare to the design brief?” I won’t say 9 / 9 but it’s not far off it.
Suitable for Walter Gropius?
So, overall, the Cult Pens Double-Knock mechanical pencil is a very good mechanical pencil, and well worth your consideration.

•    Best Points – Vanishing point, good knurled grip.
•    Not So Good Points – Tip wobble will annoy some.
•    Price Range – Mid
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No

Dimensions – Length 136 mm extended, diameter 9mm across the grip section. Balance point about 65mm up from the tip.

This mechanical pencil was provided to me free of charge by Cult Pens. Utu, Cult Pens.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Link About

Here's a couple of links I want to share. You may have already read them, but if you haven't then I thoroughly recommend them to you.

Leigh Reyes. My Life As a Verb - Pen Zero.
What is your type of infection and your pencil zero? I've read this blog for 10 years or so... pity I don't like Disqus.

Cult Pens Blog - Mechanical Pencil Innovation
Mechanical pencil innovation. Surely one of the main reasons why we like them.