Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Papermate Pacer Mini Mechanical Pencil

What a surprise! I was in a large stationery and office supplies store the other day and there were three new mechanical pencils on display. Three new models offered on the local market! Astonishing. Now, two of them were BICs and I’d seen them on overseas websites, but the third was a Papermate that had previously escaped my attention. I wouldn’t normally have purchased any of these new mechanical pencils, but the Papermates were very cheap, and it was such a red letter day I decided to hand over some coins and get a couple. I’m not going to review it, but here’s the Papermate Pacer Mini.

Pacer Mini with clear transparent body and coloured translucent end section/pocket clip.Papermate Mini mechanical pencilsMini eraser under the end section. Mini MinogueThe Mini is 114mm long with the sleeve retracted, and the rubber grip is 11mm diameter at its widest point.

Well anyway, at the price it was for sale at, it seems a useful little offering for the pocket or purse.

Now, I decided to take the barcode sticker off one of my Mini’s and it left a horrible sticky mess behind. I hate that, particularly because there’s no need for it. Anyway, in the past I have usually used a citrus based cleaner to remove the goo but I remembered that back at the beginning of the year ‘Anonymous’ left a comment on my Guestbook that a good quality eraser like Staedtler Mars Plastic was ideal for removing this sort of label goo. Well, they were right. It did. Nice and easy. I tried a soft PVC-Free eraser first and it wasn’t much good, but then Mars Plastic took it off no worries. I think the hardness is probably the key rather than the actual eraser material. So next time this happens to you, I recommend trying a vinyl eraser.

For ink-folk there is also the BP version, the Sport Mini, which has a reverse sort of colour scheme to the Pacer Mini, namely coloured transparent body and clear end section/pocket clip.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Number 2 Pencils, HB, 0.5, Scantron Bubble OMR Tests and all that kind of stuff

#2 Pencils, HB, 0.5, Scantron Bubble OMR Tests and all that stuff.

What is a Number 2 pencil?
Does 0.5 equal HB?
Does #2 = HB?
Is HB mechanical pencil the same as No 2 pencil?
Can I use a HB mechanical pencil on an OMR Bubble Scantron test?
No 2 Mechanical Pencil = 0.5 HB

I get a fair few hits from people searching with terms like those above. Then there are the emails from the parents of weeping children – “My daughter had one of those fill in the bubble tests at school today and she used a mechanical pencil, but they were supposed to use a #2 pencil, and now she’s terrified the machine isn't going to read her paper properly and she’s going to fail. She’s been crying ever since she got home from school.” Well hopefully this posting will let you dry those tears and sleep easy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Some Not So Glorious Conway Stewart’s

The late 1940’s through to the late 60’s was a tumultuous time for writing instrument manufacturers as the ballpoint pen quickly began to enjoy widespread commercial success. Patent battles, poor designs, quality control disasters, product recalls, smear campaigns – it was all on for young and old. Many industry giants were mortally stricken by making a wrong a call over the ballpoint pen, and in particular the mighty Eversharp were dulled, blunted and ultimately snapped and broken by their foray into the world of ballpoint pens.

Another brought low by the ballpoint was Conway-Stewart. Just look at this junk from this once respectable name. It’s a triple set, from left to right being ballpoint pen, fountain pen and mechanical pencil. Despite the tear on the inside of the lid I believe this set is NOS (New Old Stock). The trapezium shaped cardboard presentation box has a cloth interior and looks quite coffin-like in the photo, which is totally apt.conway stewart lying in stateThe three of them actually look reasonably smart, with bright shiny chrome upper bodies and plastic lower halves. But things change the instant you pick them up. For a start, they are absolute feather-weights, the mechanical pencil weighs in at a puny 9 grams, and all three of them together weigh only 29 grams. I’ve got mechanical pencils that alone weigh almost as much, e.g. the Pelikan D800 Souveran and the Parker Duofold Centennial both weigh 27g each.conway stewart triple setThe chrome top half of the mechanical pencil no longer fits securely onto the lower plastic half of the body. I will be kind and assume that there has been some shrinkage over the years, but now the metal top half just falls off under its own weight if you turn the pencil upside down. The pencil is a tip twist using 1.18mm leads as you would suspect.conway stewart BP FP MPTrust me, the ballpoint and fountain pen are equally uninspiring. They are just not what one expects from a name like Conway Stewart.

I don’t know the model numbers of these pens or when they were made but I assume it was sometime in the mid 1960’s to the company’s final demise in 1975 during which period the companies products slid many rungs down the ladder of quality. However, if you do happen to know the model details I would be interested in knowing.

The box has Conway Stewart printed on it, but the only marking on the writing instruments is “Conway” and “UK” stamped into the pocket clip.

It’s depressing. Every time I look at this set, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen!”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Uni Kuru Toga Mechanical Pencil High Grade Type M5-1012

Uni Kuru Toga Mechanical Pencil High Grade Type M5-1012

To be honest, I’m not really sure of the proper name for this mechanical pencil. First there was only the Kuru Toga, model M5-450 1P (or M3-450 1P in 0.3mm) but now there is a second model of mechanical pencil using the Kuru Toga ‘turn engine’, the M5-1012 1P. This new model is variously referred to as ‘high-grade’, ‘high specification’ or ‘2nd generation’, but high-grade seems to be the most common translation of Japanese websites so I’ll run with that. I guess it makes the 450 series Kuru Togas ‘original’. This article is mostly a quick comparison with the original Kuru Toga rather than a proper stand alone review, and should be read in conjunction with my original Kuru Toga posting.

Kuru Toga High Grade
Uni Kuru Toga High GradeAt a quick glance the High Grade and the Original Kuru Toga don’t share many components other than the name and presumably the same internal Kuru Toga “turn engine” mechanism. You can see the differences in the pictures below.Kuru Toga High Specification and Original
Kuru Toga Original and High GradeThe tip sections look similar but they are not the same.Uni Kuru Toga tip sectionsDifferent grip sections, main bodies, pocket clips, end sections, etc.
Uni Kuru Toga grip sections
Kuru Toga end sectionsClearly the extra metal components of the High Grade mean it should last a little longer.

At 15g the High Grade Kuru Toga is a medium weight mechanical pencil and about 5g heavier than the Original, but really neither of them are going to weigh your hand down. I expected the High Grade to be balanced towards the tip but it isn’t really, which was a little disconcerting until I got used to my expectation being incorrect.

The metal grip section of the High Grade is sculpted like the Original, but it’s a very slippery surface finish and I think the clear plastic of the Original actually provides a better grip.

Lead advance is achieved by a normal push top ratchet mechanism. Ten clicks will get you about 6mm of 0.5mm lead.Uni Kuru Toga push topIt’s only small and emergency use, but I really like the black eraser. Black pencil, black eraser, full marks to Uni.Kuru Toga erasersThe High Grade Kuru Toga is simple marked Kuru Toga.Kuru Toga logoIs the Kuru Toga a draughting mechanical pencil? (Or drafting pencil as much of the English speaking world says.) I have seen it advertised on some websites as a drafting pencil, so let’s examine that idea. The lead sleeve is a thin metal pipe, but only about 2.75mm long. That’s a bit on the short side - 4mm is the usual length for mechanical pencils designed as drafting pencils. Quite a few people are very demanding of their precision technical mechanical pencils and the Kuru Toga has two features which might not satisfy exacting standards. Firstly the tip section steps out to full diameter quite quickly and I’m sure some folk would say it interferes with their line of sight to the lead. Secondly the turn engine means there is a small amount of vertical movement of the lead as you press down on the paper. It’s only a very small movement, but it’s different from normal lead cushioning and I know from previous comments that some of you will not find this acceptable. When you use a 0.5mm (or 0.3mm) pencil for drafting you usually hold it perpendicular to the paper so that the lead diameter is the width of the line. If you hold your pencil perpendicular to the paper then you never get a sharp or chisel point on your lead and the whole concept of the turn engine has no purpose, it’s a nullity. Lastly, as far as I can see, Mitsubishi Pencil don’t claim it as a drafting pencil. So, for my money, there is no question, the Kuru Toga is not a drafting pencil. It may have the general form of a mechanical drafting pencil, but it is not a drafting pencil.

Another question – How long will the turn engine last? The turn engine is a mechanism of toothed plates engaging and disengaging, so obviously there must be some wear, and thus the kuru toga will have a life expectancy of x-million operations before the teeth wear and jam or just don’t turn anymore. How many is x?
  • Best Points – Turn, turn, turn.
  • Not So Good Points – Slippery grip.
  • Price Range – Low.
  • Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.
Dimensions – Length 146mm, diameter 10mm at widest part. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Scripto W610 Thick Lead Pencil

I got this part box of old Scripto mechanical pencils in a mixed lot auction a couple of years ago.As you can see the box states they are model W610 pencils, and cost 29cents. The fine print mentions both Scripto USA and Canada, so maybe back in the day they were 29cents in both countries? I suppose 29cents got you one pencil rather than one boxful as the fine print states, “To display: Separate at perforation and discard top”. I can’t see any perforations anywhere…
The pencils are very basic. You twist the top knob around to advance the lead, and it’s obviously intended as a propel-only screw mechanism, although you can wind backwards and then force the lead back up inside. I assume it was meant to be a disposable mechanical pencil and that you cannot refill the lead once it is all used up. The lead itself is not a graphite lead, rather it is some sort of waxy crayon type lead, roughly about 3mm diameter. It is a good dark black colour. I guess this pencil was sold for durably marking difficult surfaces, an alternative to today’s felt tip markers?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Strange Map

A couple of years back I did a bit of a survey of what pencils were available in my little corner of the world. Earlier this year I thought I might update that survey, but then I thought, “Nah”. The concept kept nagging away at me, and eventually I weakened and decided I’d do a survey of local mechanical pencil retailers. After some consideration, it became obvious to me that my retail experiences mostly occur in a fairly small well defined geographical area. It’s a roughly rectangular area, about 10km long north-south and about 4km wide east-west. The northern and southern borders are set by large retail shopping precincts, the eastern border is the sea, and to the west a motorway and commercial/wholesale zone tends to cut me off from the more westerly suburbia. At the end of the day, it’s got to be a pretty unusual item if it can’t be found within the borders of my retail rectangle.

So, over the past three or four months, as I have conducted my usual shopping and other travels around I have taken a couple of minutes to survey the retail outlets that would normally be expected to sell mechanical pencils. In total, they comprised 6 x large Office Supplies stores, 4 x large Discount type general retailers, 10 x Bookstores / Stationers and 2 x Art Supplies / Specialist stores. In each store I noted (i) the top two brands for sale, as determined by retail frontage and positioning, and (ii) the total number of different models of mechanical pencils for sale. A change in lead size counts as a different model, thus a store offering Pentel P205 and P207 would count as 2 models.

My original idea was to do some sort of statistical analysis on the results. So, I could tell you facts like
- Staedtler was the leading brand in 7 stores and the second brand in 1 store.
- Bic was the leading brand in 3 stores and the second in 4.
- The most common second brand was “generic/housebrand”.
- The average number of different pencil models per store was 4.7, with a range of 0 to 12, a mode of 2 and median of 4.
- Astonishingly, one store had no mechanical pencils at all, and another kept all theirs hidden in drawers behind the counter.

I could also draw all sorts of graphs and diagrams like

(click for hi-res)

Well that’s all fine, but you know, I’m a big fan of the blog Strange Maps, and a bit of a map-nut. Strange Maps shows how people draw all sorts of weird and wonderful maps about all sorts of crazy things, like the geographical distribution of various hot-dog relishes within a certain US state. Well, I’ve taken my survey results and made myself a country! My mythical country has a basis in real life. Its shape and geography is loosely based on my retail rectangle, and the frequency and prominence of mechanical pencil related features do reflect their retail presence and general location. So, I hereby present my own Strange Map, a map of the Pencilate of Lumographica.(click for hi-res)

The Pencilate was originally founded many centuries ago as a far flung colony of the German pencil-barons. Today the Pencilate is ruled by the 14th Pencilator, a scion of the House of Staedtler, who governs from the imposing castle Staedtler near the southern border with the friendly but aloof Separatists of the Peninsular. The Generic Hills form the main part of the northern boundary, across which are the rich but moderately populated Cowlands of the North. The western boundary is formed mainly by hills, mountains and the small but intense wasteland area known as ‘The Nothing’. The Plains of Papermate and the Bic River form the main central part of the Pencilate. One interesting feature is the Hidden River - the outlet of Lake Lamy to the sea is by an underground, hence hidden, river.

So, in case you don’t get the concept, The Nothing is the store without mechanical pencils, the Hidden River is the one with them all hidden behind the counter. Yes, in real life the nothing is a swampy no-go zone, the outlet of the lake is underground, and the aforementioned stores were nearby. The Plains of Papermate is an area dominated by Papermate retailers, and is a large central valley in real life. Staedtler was the main brand down south and just north of them three retailers had Uni as their main or secondary brand. There really is a castle, and the coast has a lot of abandoned old military fortifications.

I will leave you to decide whether this is proof of madness, or the creative out-pouring of a fertile imaginative mind. But hey, I do live in the land of the Lord of the Rings, and visit Hobbiton, Mt Doom and other such places, so maybe it’s not all that crazy. Maybe I just have to expand the whole concept and story line of the Pencilate, get hold of Peter Jackson

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labels and Maps

Yesterday was a red letter day for me. For the first time ever I paid money for a service associated with this blog. It never ceases to amaze me how Blogger, Wordpress and others offer all these free blogs, widgets, gadgets, etc etc etc and I'm very grateful for that. Maps are another thing that I find very interesting so yesterday I could resist temptation no longer and paid for an upgrade on my ClustrMap. You can click on the sidebar map to go to the enlarged world map just like before, but now you can click on the world map to zoom in to continent level data.

A question for you. I have never really been a big fan of article labels or tags, so haven't ever created many labels for this blog. I tend to think that search facilities like Lijit basically make labels redundant. However, I'm starting to re-evaluate that theory, so feel free to tell me if you think more labels would be good, or not. I've put a poll in the sidebar if you feel like answering with an easy click.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tombow Cool Mechanical Pencil Review

Tombow Cool Mechanical Pencil Review

Over the past few years I have become increasingly aware of just how much the offerings of the global writing instrument brands vary from one country to another. I guess ages ago I had a rather naïve and simplistic view of the global brands, something along the lines of the brand having a basket of products with a sort of pick and mix selection of those products being offered in various countries or geographical regions by the relevant national distributors. These days my view is more along the lines of the global brand having a basket of products, as well as the various national distributors each having their own individual baskets, such that the products offered in any one country are a selection from the global basket plus the contents of the local basket.

Although it is far away on the other side of the world, Turkey is an inextricable and visceral part of one of the most important events in the history of my country, and that of our ‘Trans-Tasman Cousins’. So, unusual connections to Turkey have a little extra interest for me. There are writing instrument manufacturers in Turkey, one of which is ADEL, a joint venture between Anadolu Group of Turkey and Germany’s Faber-Castell, but I haven’t as yet got my hands on any of their products. Today though I have something else of interest - it appears that there are some Turkey-only Tombow mechanical pencils. You can see them here at the website of Serve, who are an office supplies company in Turkey, and in particular a (or the) Turkish distributor for Tombow of Japan.

So, from Turkey, I present the Tombow Cool. According to the Serve website (with the assistance of Google translate, and as far as I can understand it) the Tombow Cool mechanical pencil is available in seven colour options and in 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm lead. Mine is the metallic grey colour and 0.9mm lead.Tombow Cool mechanical pencil 0.9mmFirst off then, does the Tombow Cool look cool? Well I quite like its looks, and the Cool logo printed on the body does look rather cool. The combination of black, metallic grey and chrome blends nicely.

The Cool is a triangular bodied mechanical pencil. The rubber grip is triangular and feels a little wider than average. It is quite long in length, taking up over a third of the length of the pencil so you can pretty much hold the Cool wherever you like – down low close to the tip or way up for that relaxed stance.Tombow Cool mechanical pencil front The rubber is smooth without any surface pattern and a reasonably grippy compound with a small amount of give under finger pressure. The Cool is reasonably lightweight and neutrally balanced so it doesn’t have a lot of presence in the hand.

The tip section is a chrome metal cone, and the retractable lead sleeve is also a short cone so this pencil is pocket safe but clearly intended as a general writing pencil. The mechanism is a standard push top ratchet. For my 0.9mm version, ten clicks will get you 7mm of lead. The mechanism feels and sounds nice, smooth and positive. Tombow Cool grip zoneUp at the top end of the pencil, the push top button is an extendable eraser housing. I quite like the grooved chrome ring around the housing.Tombow Cool eraser top The eraser core itself is a fairly hard white plastic or TPR and is about 4mm diameter. You can twist out about 26mm (1”) of usable length. The eraser is obviously replaceable.Tombow Cool twist out eraser The entire cartridge pulls out to allow access to the lead refill magazine.Tombow Cool refill chamberThe pocket clip is very smart looking. It is rather strongly sprung, almost too strong. It certainly won’t be accidently slipping off whatever you clipped it to.

Markings on the body are minimal – “Cool” up by the pocket clip, and “09, Tombow, Japan” down near the rubber grip.Cool logoTombow 09Overall then this is a nice smart looking mechanical pencil and quite reasonably priced. It’s unusual origins are a little added bonus to mechanical pencil collectors. Cool is not an inappropriate name.
  • Best Points – The looks.
  • Not So Good Points – Nothing really leaps out at me.
  • Price Range – Economy/Low.
  • Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.

Dimensions – Length 145mm, triangle sides about 11mm. Balance point about 70mm up from the tip.

PS – if there are any collectors or regular readers out there from Turkey, it would be great to hear from you – send me an email on the address up in the blog header.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Let's Talk Mechanical Pencils with Lamy

Recently I’ve been wanting to know a little bit more about some of my favourite mechanical pencil companies, and the mechanical pencil market in general. I own more than my fair share of Lamy’s, so I thought I’d approach them and see if they would participate in a brief Q&A type interview about themselves and their pencils. Luckily they readily agreed to an “interview”, and below are a few questions I put to Andrea Schuch of Lamy’s International Sales Department in Heidelburg, Germany and her replies.

Dave - Well firstly I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Perhaps to start with you could give me a brief introductory run down on Lamy.

Andrea - Lamy was established in 1930 in Heidelburg, Germany. We have approximately 370 employees, of which 2/3rds work in production, making approximately 7 million writing instruments annually. Our sales turnover is approx. €50 million/year, through 6,500 specialist dealers in Germany, and distribution partners in 62 other countries. Currently our range comprises 27 different series of writing instruments.

Every Lamy product embodies our brand values: Design – Innovation – Quality. Lamy not only develops modern, sophisticated designs, but also conducts ongoing research into technical innovations which raise the functionality of writing instruments. Lamy is 100 per cent “Made in Germany” and we have more than 100 international design awards.

Lamy head office & factory

Factory and roof garden sculpture
Dave - A lot of high-end brands don’t offer many mechanical pencils, but Lamy is a little different, offering a pencil option with most styles. So, thanks very much for that! How well do pencils sell in comparison to the various pen options? Are there some styles where the mechanical pencil option is a particularly good seller in relation to the pen options of that style?

Andrea - Lamy likes to offer complete ranges of the various product families, thus our customers have a variety of writing systems to choose from but also the opportunity to combine sets of their likings.
But to be honest, pencils are not our best selling systems. They do very well as a set with ballpens, but we are mostly selling ballpens, closely followed by fountain pens.
We do however offer two ranges where the pencils are selling very well and the ballpens are more or less an "addition". These are LAMY spirit, an extremely slim pencil, designed to fit into agendas (for those people who still write with a pen and do not use blackberrys) and LAMY scribble, a very handsome pencil available with two lead sizes (0,7 mm and 3,15 mm), designed for artists, architects, designers, etc. who are doing sketches or just like "scribbling"
But I should also mention our pencil LAMY abc which has especially been designed for school children who start learning to write. This pencil has an ergonomic grip section for small hands and a soft (B) 1,4 mm lead which forgives high pressure but also allows a great variety of writing positions.

Dave - Hopefully you see Lamy continuing to offer a pencil option as you introduce new styles?

Andrea - Of course, we will go on offering product families as complete as possible.

Dave - Lamy seems to have a world-wide presence. Are there any markets where sales of your mechanical pencils are much stronger or weaker than average?

Andrea - We are currently exporting our pens to more that 60 countries worldwide.
Should there be any preferences for pencils they are certainly in the Asian markets who like to write either with a fountain pen with a fine or extra fine nib, or with a pencil.

Dave - Counterfeit or fake products seem to be an issue for many well known brands and products. Is counterfeiting of Lamy writing instruments a problem?

Andrea - So far we do not have any problems with counterfeit products. We have however come across one or the other pen that has been faked, but mostly the copies are rather poor and you can easily see the difference. We are however closely watching the market and are taking legal steps when we come across such products.
Dave - To finish with, a question about your manufacturing operation. Lamy writing instruments are made from a very diverse range of materials, and many specialised manufacturing techniques would presumably be needed for this. What parts of the manufacturing process are carried out by Lamy itself? Is Lamy’s part essentially the final assembly of finished components sourced from external suppliers, or are you actually doing most things in-house - making mechanisms, moulding bodies, machining out pocket clips, etc?

Andrea - 97% of the whole production process is done in Heidelberg. There are certain parts we are buying from other suppliers, but for example all our nibs are being completely made in Heidelberg, we are injection moulding all plastic components, producing metal barrels, clips, etc....

Dave - Once again, thanks very much for your time, and I look forward to seeing many new innovative and unique products from Lamy.

Lamy TeamSome of the team at Lamy. The gentlemen in centre-front with the light suit and the sun glasses is Dr. Manfred Lamy, owner of the company and to the right in the dark suit with tie is Mr. Bernhard Roesner the CEO of Lamy.