The Joy of Inexpensive Pencils

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Two office-grade pencils I’ve discovered fairly recently are the Mitsubishi 9850 and the Tombow 2558. In Japan they cost about 50 cents each or less, occupying the lowest end of the quality-pencil cost spectrum. They are not THE cheapest pencils that Mitsubishi and Tombow produce (for example, the Mitsubishi 9800 and the Tombow Mono J, 8900, and Ki-monogatari pencils are cheaper) but they remain very affordable and is possessed of a quality that is way over what their price sticker may suggest. I personally don’t derive that much satisfaction from either the Hi-Uni or the Mono 100, but am bowled over every time I use either the 9850 or the 2558.

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Of the two, if forced to choose I would opt for the Mitsubishi 9850. I have more affection for the brand itself, and I love the color (a very unusual reddish burgundy), the precise silver lettering, and even the slightly raised barcode in white. There is another model with a slightly different number, the 9852, that has been in production for almost sixty years and which Mitsubishi has been commemorating this year in limited editions of four additional colors (I got the navy blue as a gift from a friend – thank you BM!). However I don’t think the lead in the 9852 is identical to the 9850, which I find more satisfying. Maybe the legend – “for office use” vs. “master writing” – really do point to differences in the formula?

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That said, there are days when I do feel the Tombow 2558 glides better on the page. The Tombow is not very lovable, at least to me – it has the kind of color that belongs on an American pencil, not a Japanese one, the imprint can be uneven, and the ferrule is dull compared to the 9850’s bright silver with rounded white eraser. However, it writes well, so well in fact that I was tempted to try the H and B grades too. While I still feel that the HB is best, the H is also a good choice. It writes very clean. The B grade was a surprise though – not in terms of quality (which is predictably good), but because it reminded me so much of the Palomino Blackwing from the very first stroke. Could it be…?

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8 thoughts on “The Joy of Inexpensive Pencils

  1. I am such a fan of Tombow 2558.
    I ordered a couple of them [B] and wish I had ordered more. The way they glide smoothly on the page and the clean lines they produce are just delightful. And they are beautiful.
    Great love affair with these.

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    1. Hi Pedro, it’s easier to call you now that you’ve changed your id :) I agree, they’re incredibly smooth, but in general Japanese pencils need to be sharpened more often than others, don’t you think? A tradeoff for all that buttery smoothness.

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      1. Hi to you Sola :)
        I spend so much of my free time writing and wandering about the house brainstorming that I end up overlooking some fine details about the “virtual world”. I guess P was just rather vague.

        Well that buttery smoothness is close to pure temptation verging towards sinful delights. It does require an extra bit of “maintenance” but what can I do? – I am still a very weak soul when it comes to dark and smooth lines.

        As far as my experience tells me, Japanese pencils need sharpening more often just as much as any other >B grades [exception to Castell 9000]. I have lately been using the Blackwings alternating with Tombow and Mitsu-Bishi and and find I need sharpening them equally as often.

        But this is me and the softer grades. I personally have no experience with Japanese HB pencils [apart from a few brandless ones that I presume are sold as HB, but when you put them on paper they perform better than some B or even 2B brand name pencils around].

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