Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Yard-O-Led Perfecta Victorian Mechanical Pencil Review

Yard-O-Led Perfecta Victorian Mechanical Pencil Review

I bought my first new Yard-O-Led back in 2005, a Deco 34, and ever since then I have had a hankering for something more, for another particular masterpiece in sterling silver.

As you may know, earlier this year PenHeaven sent me a couple of pencils to review, and seeing they are a YOL dealer I thought, “Hey, let’s see if we can do a deal.” Turns out we could, and so…
yard-o-led perfecta victorian pencil
Thanks Pen Heaven - the guiltiest pleasures are always the best.

yard-o-led display box
Yard-O-Led display box. It just keeps going and going.
Currently the Yard-O-Led Perfecta is only made in the Victorian decorative pattern, but other finishes have been available in the past. Victorian is reminiscent of the floral patterns popular back in the Victorian era of the 1800’s. I am a fan of history and nostalgia, so this pattern and the overall style of the pencil with its flared end cap is right up my alley.
Yard-O-Led Perfecta Victorian Pencil
Handmade sterling silver body, traditional YOL twist action mechanism and lead storage, 1.18mm ceramic leads, and brand history all combine to produce a unique writing instrument and experience. Using a Yard-O-Led pencil is, and should be, different to using a ‘modern design’ pencil, be that an economical or luxury brand one. This is a functional pencil but it is an awful long way away from utilitarian.
yard-o-led perfecta victorian pencil pattern
Perfecta Victorian pattern


yard-o-led perfecta pencil tip
Perfecta Victorian pencil tip
In the hand then, the Perfecta is neutrally balanced and surprisingly light, lighter than I expected. In reality the Perfecta weighs in at about 26 grams so it’s not really a lightweight. It is though a relatively slim pencil. Obviously it is a general writing pencil, suited for letters, notes and so on, as opposed to technical or art work. The long tapering nose encourages you to grip further up the barrel, higher than my personal natural position. If you are person who grips your writing instrument right down close to the tip then this is probably not a pencil for you.
yard-o-led pencil hallmarks

There is a blank panel where you can have your name or other details engraved. Already marked into your YOL though is a full set of British hallmarks. My Perfectas hallmarks show, Maker = Yard-O-Led, Material = sterling silver (92.5% pure silver), Certified by Birmingham assay office in 2017. I love hallmarks! Speaking of sterling silver, it does of course tarnish. YOL include a silver polishing cloth with your pencil and you will need to give it a bit of a polish every now and then to restore and keep that lovely silver shining bright and glorious. Chrome, nickel, palladium, rhodium and various other hard coat metals look nice and shiny too, but for my money, there’s no comparison with polished sterling silver. It has a warmth and colour all of its own.

The pocket clip is proudly marked Yard-O-Led and individually numbered. Mine is number 2637. The clip is riveted and soldered on. Just a word of warning, anyone who has seen more than a few silver pocket clips will have seen a number of them “sprung out”. Silver is nowhere near as strong and springy as steel and clearly some people over-stretch their pocket clip and it becomes permanently bent upwards a little, no longer contacting the pencil body. I would suggest you just primarily regard the pocket clip as a beautiful decorative attachment and excellent anti-roll device. Do not attach it to anything thicker than a thin fabric pocket or a couple of sheets of paper.

All Yard-O-Leads are 1.18mm screw action mechanical pencils. There are no other options. You turn the top cap round and round to advance the lead. Spare leads are secured inside, and your pencil holds a total of twelve 3 inch leads thus making one yard of lead. That’s 91.4cm of lead for those of you with metric minds. When I say secured, I mean secured. Unlike most pencils YOLs do not have a magazine chamber in which leads are loosely stored. Rather the leads are all individually secured in position by a system of tiny saddle clips. I would love to post a picture of the storage, but I simply don’t have the photographic setup to successfully shoot a view looking down inside the body.
yard-o-led pencil mechanism

Changing the lead on a Yard-O-Led is a complicated affair compared to modern mechanical pencils, but that’s all part of the charm. I say complicated, and it is compared to putting a few sticks of lead into the top of your modern push top ratchet mechanism pencil, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it’s not really that big of a deal. YOL provide good instructions on the procedure. Also, the long leads, their diameter and ceramic composition mean they do not wear down particularly fast and you don’t have to change leads all that often, so don’t let lead changing put you off in any way at all. Unfortunately though, 1.18mm leads are not all that common and you are basically limited to just HB and B grade. If anyone from YOL should ever read this post then I would really urge them to offer a much softer option, e.g. add a 4B to your range.


Like all Yard-O-Leds, the Perfecta is handmade, and so no two are exactly the same, and the quality of workmanship may vary. If you look closely at the engraved ring around the top cap you will see that the ring is not quite closed, that the ‘end’ of the circle does not quite meet the ‘start’, that whislt going around the cap the engraving has got ever so slightly out of alignment. Now you may well consider that a fault, and I certainly umm’ed and ahh’ed about it when I first noticed it. I did think about contacting YOL and asking for a replacement cap, but I haven’t. It’s a handmade item, and for me personally, that little flaw is part of this pencils story, something that makes it unique, a reminder of the human touch in today’s mass produced machine dominated world.

In closing then, the way I see things, writing with any Yard-O-Led, and the Perfecta Victorian in particular, is an invitation to take a moment to contemplate, to take an extra breath, to just take things a little bit more relaxed and slower. The price tag is big, but put a YOL on your wish list.

•    Best Points – Seriously? Just look at it! Owning an heirloom piece.
•    Not So Good Points – Tarnish, lack of lead grades.
•    Price Range – Stratospheric.
•    Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? – No, but don’t let that make you think this isn’t a fantastic pencil and one that you should seriously consider owning.

Dimensions – Length 130mm, diameter 8mm across the main body. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Disclaimer – This Yard-O-Led Perfecta Victorian pencil was purchased at a discount from Pen Heaven. A review was part of the deal.

PS – Most Yard-O-Led models are also available in ballpoint, and some in rollerball and fountain pen.
PPS – For those of you who are interested in some history, please click through to George Clements excellent article on the development of the Perfecta.

Now I can finally take the photo...
"From Mascot to Perfecta"

4 comments:

George Clements said...

A very honest and well-balanced article Dave. I appreciate that Yard-O-Led pencils are not for everyone, and I am biased, but I get tremendous pleasure from my collection, and from using them. I totally agree about the limitation of the lead grades, and Yard-O-Led used to offer a much wider range, from 2B to 2H, and embracing indelible and coloured leads, but that is, sadly, history. Fortunately, softer leads do somtimes turn up on auction sites, and the Legendary Lead Company in the U.S.A. do have stocks of suitable leads in a very good range of grades.
As a collector, I do buy pre-owned pencils from auction sites and dealers, but I also buy new when I can. Yes, they are expensive, but I think that it is important to try to keep manufacturers viable. If I have to save up for a while to get a pencil I want, then the anticipation adds to the pleasure. I would never buy a pencil for investment purposes, but a pencil bought new and used carefully might well appreciate in value over time: undoubtedly, they last for many years, and can be passed on as heirlooms. I have examples dating back to the earliest days (1934/35), still in excellent working order, so you can say that they could have passed down three or four generations.
I should say that I have no connection with the Yard-O-Led company other than as a customer, but they did recently, kindly, supply me gratis with a small component that was missing from one of my pre-used out-of-production models, for which I am grateful.

JB said...

Nice review. How does writing with perfecta compare with a Diplomat?

Kiwi-d said...

Good question. My Diplomat is vintage, but presumably similar to current ones. Overall the feeling in the hand is fairly similar to Perfecta. Diplomat is a little shorter and lighter, but feels the same weight or almost a fraction heavier because of slightly different balance. Basically I'd say the difference is primarily aesthetic. On the other hand the Deco 34 feels very different in the hand. Much longer tip, heavier and very top heavy balance.

George Clements said...

The question that JB has asked is, indeed, interesting, but it cannot really be answered. The fact is that the Yard-O-Led Diplomat model has several different forms, and they handle in varying ways. For a start, the Diplomat can be hexagonal or round, and while the grip point is similar they do feel different in the hand. Secondly, the variety of materials needs to be taken into account: Diplomats have been made in a number of different metals, including: silver, rolled gold, rolled silver, 9ct gold and 18ct gold (though you would be lucky to find one of the last mentioned). Thirdly, the Diplomats are not all the same length, and that changes the balance and general feel of the pencil. I don't know exactly when the change occurred, but, for instance, I have to hand a 1948 hexagonal silver example which is about 119 mm long (4 5/8"), and a similar model from 1977 which is about 124 mm (4 7/8"). The difference may not sound much, but it is certainly noticeable. I prefer the longer length, but I have fairly long hands, and it is, in any case, quite easy to adapt to the shorter one. I do not have weighing equipment accurate enough to compare the various models, but I always feel that the hexagonal rolled silver examples feel heavier, substantial, well balanced and comfortable. These pencils are generally underrated, and they do. not seem to suffer from the coating rubbing through, which happens with the rolled gold models if they get appreciable use.
I have Perfecta pencils, and they are a joy to use. As Dave says in his review, you tend to hold Yard-O-Led pencils rather higher than some other mechanical pencils, and it may take some users a little while to accommodate to this. Polished metal pencils are also more difficult to get a firm grip on, and I tend not to polish pencils I am going to use as a slight patina seems to help. I also favour softer leads as less writing pressure is needed and this reduces the tendency to slip.
While I don't think that it is possible simply to compare Perfecta with Diplomat, to me they are both fine models that I am very happy to use.