Red-and-Blue Pencils, Old and New

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The other day I got a box of Mitsubishi red-and-blue pencils, purely for sentimental reasons. We had some at home back in the early 80’s, and I had always loved their look; and besides the urge to stock up, I was also curious whether there had been any changes in the meantime. (Because Japanese pencil designs change so rarely, and because they produce some models so consistently, it can take much of the fun out of collecting – modern pencils often look and write the same as those decades old.)

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There are four model numbers, depending on the ratio of vermilion to Prussian blue. My older pencils had more of vermilion (7:3), whereas this time I opted for half and half. It’s mostly American and Japanese companies that’s been making these kinds of red-and-blue pencils – I wonder why they aren’t as popular or as available in other countries. I now know that many German manufacturers, inluding Faber-Castell and Lyra, also make these kind of pencils (the Color 873 and Document 9608 among others – please see comments below!)

On the older box there is a JIS mark in front (discussed in an earlier post), and the price (600 yen) is noted at the back. It was for a long time standard practice in Japan to mark the retail price of a product on the packaging, the numerals encased in a rectangle like this (though it is starting to disappear). On the newer box you have the now ubiquitous barcode, the recycling symbol for paper products and a note saying that the carton was made using recycled paper.

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The imprint on the pencil is remarkably similar – well, the letters on the modern version are infinitesimally thicker. I so want to say that the new pencil writes as well as the old one, but surprisingly, I do notice some differences. The wood has become whiter. The vermilion lead is harder, lighter and noisier, although it still writes well. The Prussian blue on the other hand has not changed much, it is still satisfyingly dark, but, again, makes more noise. Seems like I should save the old pencils.

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15 thoughts on “Red-and-Blue Pencils, Old and New

  1. 있어요, Faber Castell 873이라고, 사촌들의 진녹색 도장을 공유하는 점보 사이즈 제품이. 색도 예쁜 편이고 지우개로도 잘 지워집니다. 사실 Faber Castell에는 적-청 조합 외에도 여러 조합을 묶은 Bicolor 제품이 있기도 하고요(이쪽은 색연필의 휴대성을 높이기 위한 발상인 듯). 그리고 Lyra도 적-청 색연필을 갖고 있습니다.

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    1. 오 그렇군요! 찾아봤어요. 둘 다 점보 사이즈라는 것이 재미있네요^^ 근데 Faber-Castell 873처럼 진녹색이면 다른 연필이랑 구별이 안 가서 불편할 것 같아요.

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  2. Are these easily available in Canada?
    Unexpected that there are red and blue pencil with different colour ratios.
    I think I tend to use blue more, but it looks as if red is more popular in Japan.
    Recently, I bought the black and red Fili pencils and am looking forward to trying them out.
    Red and blue pencils are also available in Germany and are still being made there.

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    1. Yes, it seems like Faber-Castell and Lyra also make these kind of pencils, I didn’t know! Maybe they don’t export them much? And I am curious about the Fili pencils too.

      Sad to say I haven’t seen a single Mitsubishi pencil here in Canada. Maybe they have them in Vancouver or Toronto but not here. I bought these from an American online retailer. For me, the 7:3 ratio seems reasonable because you would use these pencils mainly for underlining or test correcting purposes, no? The bigger mystery is why they insist on that particular shade of vermilion instead of going for a true red/crimson.

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      1. Thank you for letting me know! I wonder why they coat these red-and-blue pencils in the same Faber-Castell green? Won’t they be mistaken for ordinary pencils? I appended the information in the text above too. Thank you :)

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  3. I assume that they have chosen green because it is their standard colour. – The old version of the 9608 had red and blue rings in the middle; I wonder why they have removed it.

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    1. The rings would have helped, definitely! I’m not sure I will be able to recognize the bicolor pencils otherwise, if they were presented on a standard display case along with all the other green pencils…

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      1. As far as I know the red and blue rings have disappeared during Faber-Castell’s reorganisation and design change in 1993. On that occasion the scales have been replaced by the jousting knights and the green got darker. It looks like the one in charge for the new design ruled with a rod of iron ;-)

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  4. As a Norwegian child in the fifties, we used this kind of pencil, but I could not remember why and how.
    A friend who went to first grade in Budapest, Hungary in 1942, told me he remembered the same kind of pencil.
    Lately I asked a Norwegian teacher what the purpose could have been. She guessed it had to do with vowels and consonants.
    Today I found one of my notebooks from first grade : The red was for vowels and the blue for consonants!

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    1. Eva, thanks for the information and sorry it took me some time to reply (we moved into a new place this Monday). The more I read about these red-and-blue pencils, it amazes me how people in different countries and professions use them for different purposes. I almost feel like an ethnographer collecting samples ;) Vowels and consonants, temperature and blood pressure, proofreading drafts of newspaper articles. Wonderfully varied!

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