I’ve been meaning to do a substantive pencil review for some time now, but time constraints mean that I end up doing very short posts on other topics instead of the long and detailed pencil overviews I intended to do. So this time I’m breaking up a post into two parts to make it easier: pre-WW2 Eagle Mikado pencils and postwar variations of the Mirado pencils. [I’ve collapsed the remainder into a single post, and changed the picture to include one more pencil.]
The Mikado came recommended by a very knowledgeable friend, but even so I found the name off-putting at first. I simply don’t get the fad for Oriental naming, starting from the Koh-I-Noor onwards – I much prefer functional names like the Lumograph. However, I suppose that the name “Mikado” (Japanese for “emperor” or “imperial household”) wasn’t as unfamiliar to the public in that particular era as to us now.
The Mikado is one of those many, many yellow pencils with gold or silver lettering that usually runs left to right (but which can sometimes be found in the opposite direction too). Because Eagle changed the name from Mikado to Mirado in 1941 with the start of WW2, it is relatively easy to date. I immediately fell in love with the first box of Mikado pencils I got. When I encounter American pencils that write as smoothly as this, I can’t help wondering, as a student of calligraphy, whether the particular handwriting of that time – Spencerian, aka “America’s Script”, better known perhaps as the Palmer Method of Business Writing – had something to do with the way pencils were made in the past. Spencerian is written at a vertical angle of 52 degrees, in a relentless forward motion that is designed to maximize speed and economy. With this type of script, it is natural to hold the pencil lightly in the hand, letting it lean against the crook between the index and forefinger, and let it glide. (On the contrary, when writing printed letters, you grip the pencil harder, and I’ve seen more than one pencil that threatened to fall over forwards while doing this.) Fountain pen nibs were also generally more flexible in this age. I would venture to say that it is probably with the rise of the ballpoint pen and a decline in penmanship that people started writing with more pressure in the hand, thereby necessitating harder leads and nibs – but this is only one theory among many.
But very soon I discovered something was suspect. On the back I discovered Mexican patent information. Although it did say “Made in U.S.A.” on the box, I still wanted to test my Mikado against one that was indisputably American-made, so I got a couple of samples from Bob Truby (he has a great photo of Mikado/Mirados together). He was kind enough to send me the box it came in along with the pencils.
The other Mikado was surprisingly different. It has a longer ferrule, and the yellow coating is much thinner, the angles of the hexagonal body more pronounced – which makes me think it’s older somehow. The imprint is slightly different too. The numerals “174” is more spaced out, and it says only “Eagle Pencil Co. -New York-” whereas my first Mikado said “Eagle Pencil Co. New York, U.S.A.” And it writes much blacker, and is noisier – closer to a modern-day Papermate pencil than to its sibling! If this is evidence of a significant improvement in quality, then I am happy to see it.
The third Mikado I tried is the one with the imprint aligned to the right. The lettering is rounder and roomier, and the lead seems equivalent to, if not better than, my first Mikado (the graphite seems better milled). That said, I still like the faux-“Mexican” Mikado best because it writes the most effortlessly – with a bit of a cushioning effect.
Wow that was a long post. See you next week, with another batch of Mirados!