Pencil-Shopping in Montevideo (And Thoughts On Cedar)

During a recent marathon bookstore-hopping session I came across some unusual pencils. In general, the pencil pickings in this country are pretty poor; in ordinary mom-and-pop stores it’s usually some vile Evolution-like green thing on offer, and at the better stationers they stock Faber-Castell Goldfabers and Staedtler Traditions. That’s about it. Not even the standard Castell 9000 or the Mars Lumograph can be easily found. Given this situation, you’d think the Brazilian subsidiary of Faber-Castell would be a big presence here, and it certainly is for colored pencils, but for some reason graphite pencils, especially ones just a couple of rungs higher than the neon Grip 2001 variants, are difficult to locate. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to come across some Brazilian-made Faber-Castells in a proper box.

The model name, Regent 1250, is unfamiliar to me and so I don’t know where they are supposed to fall within the spectrum of local FC offerings, but they don’t seem like total cheapies. The ends are scrupulously dipped, and the lead writes smooth and soft, slightly darker than the original Castell 9000’s. It’s interesting that the body color is not the usual dark pine-green you associate with modern-day Faber-Castell but something closer to the olive green of yesteryear. Also, Faber-Castell seems to have a local quality designation apart from the usual “SV” (maybe it’s just a translation?).

The most notable aspect of this pencil is the choice of wood. Inexpensive pencils often make use of pale, coarse-grained wood, and I can accept that as part of the need to control costs, but this specimen is a bit extreme. The wood is so coarse that the body, even coated with paint, appears pitted. This may be galling to the pencil purist, who rightfully considers woods such as red cedar the best: cedar is just soft and brittle enough, even-textured, fine-grained, nonresinous, light enough for bulk transport, and with a pleasing color and odor. (Thank you for the article, Sean!)

However, on a recent return visit to San Pedro de Timote, I came across an article in the American Hereford Journal on appropriate woods for fenceposts, and it gave me some perspective. As you may know (or not – I didn’t), maintaining good fences around his pastures is one of the top priorities for a rancher, since, apart from the obvious problems of theft and escape, raising a purebred herd is all about planned parenthood, which means ensuring that none of your Hereford girls have a sliver of a chance of meeting an unknown bull. Which is where fences come in. The article listed around a dozen different kinds of wood, and cedar was one of the top three candidates, capable of giving nearly thirty years of service in its untreated state. The woods at the bottom of the list (ash or some such) could only manage a paltry seven on average.

Considering that the same trunk could be chopped up to stand sentinel in the fields, come rain or shine, for thirty years, or grace a room for half a century or more as a heirloom cabinet, or be converted into several hundred boxes of pencils to be whittled away: which is better? Nowadays even old barn doors and fences are said to be repurposed to make vintage-looking furniture. Good wood has a surprisingly long life. On the one hand we are fortunate that red cedar was once considered so plentiful, and that manufacturers of that time left some extraordinary specimens to be admired and emulated. But on the other hand it certainly was an unsustainable luxury.

But should this warrant such a steep descent as with this Regent 1250? One of the main reasons FC maintains production facilities in Brazil is surely because of the plentiful supply of wood, and even here in neighboring Uruguay you notice how easy it is to grow and maintain forests here, given the temperate climate and abundant rainfall. I’m all for making pencils where it’s easy to make them, but please, let’s try to grow the right kind of tree. The Regent has a perfectly decent core, but the wood lets it down too much.

*                           *                          *

That day I also scored a couple of red-and-blue Nataraj “checking” pencils. I now have positive proof that Nataraj pencils exist on this continent.

  

There was also a fascinating eraserless version of the blue Staedtler Norica that I had previously assumed was only available in Canada. The imprint is slightly different (evocative of the minute differences between, for example, American and Canadian Mirados), and the local mystery Norica writes slightly darker and softer, but what does it matter, I was just so glad to see it again. Oh, and it is interesting to note that, regardless of the place of manufacture, both the Regent and Norica pencils are strenuously marketed as “German” pencils ;)

 

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19 thoughts on “Pencil-Shopping in Montevideo (And Thoughts On Cedar)

  1. Thanks for the post, Sola. The Nataraj checking pencils look great.

    re: finish, I saw something similar on some Johann Faber Alligator pencils, which I believe were also from South America. I could be wrong though…we’ll have to ask Gunther since he sent them to me. :)

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    1. What you say reminds me, the vintage blue Johann Faber pencils I saw in Buenos Aires also had this slightly “raw” look…

      I’m also wondering whether the fact that trees grow fast here affects the grain – whether they can’t help but be porous. Faber-Castell must have made their calculations too in choosing the wood, but I do wish they would upgrade. BTW Thank YOU for the posts and articles that always make one think :)

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  2. Thanks for another interesting look at the local pencil scene there! I also enjoyed your bookstore marathon on IG. :) Just curious, are adult coloring books popular there as well? Whenever I go to a bookstore here, there’s always a corner for them at a conspicuous corner.

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    1. I know, in Canada there was a whole trolleyful of those at every bookstore and art supply store =.= Here there are the obligatory Johanna Basfords and even some locally themed books (e.g. South American capital cities), but I don’t see them as prominently displayed, and also I don’t see much effort to sell colored pencil sets alongside them. I have the impression that people here have better things to do… like watch sunsets…

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  3. I’m from India. Is that the only Nataraj pencil on your blog? What about Apsara pencils? BTW… have you heard about Indian made Faber-Castell pencils? Now, I don’t really know if they are actually made *in* India, but it is likely, as the quality of wood and paint is quite unlike the German F-Cs, but better than the Brazilian pencil you showed.

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    1. I have several Nataraj and Apsara pencils, and I especially like the latter, but I haven’t managed to write about each and every pencil in my collection due to the usual constraints. Indian pencils have been fairly well covered in other blogs and for the moment I don’t feel I have anything to add to it. Regarding Indian Faber-Castell pencils, I would be pleased to read about them, if anyone would take the time to write about them.

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      1. I wasn’t expecting you to write about Indian pencils… yes they have been covered in other blogs. But i just would like you to upload one photograph of all (or at least some) Indian pencils you have, as your photography is really good☺. Shall try to give you information about Indian F-Cs (many models are made in India). Thanks!

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      2. Thank you for your kind words, but my blog doesn’t have that much traffic, I doubt whether an additional pic or two would make much difference 😉 I’ll keep an eye out for any Indian-made FCs, now that I know they exist. I appreciate the info!

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      3. This is what I got from the catalogue on F-C India website. [It appears the pencils are not manufactured in India. They may be made in other countries (Indonesia, Costa Rica as per Wikipedia)].

        FABER-CASTELL INDIA (Goa)
        In view to capture the vast potential of India, the 2 most populous country and one of the fastest growing markets in the world and the SAARC nations, Faber-Castell India was established in 1997 with its sales and marketing office situated in Mumbai. The manufacturing plants built on 1.5 hectares of land in Goa produce erasers, fibre-tip pens, crayons, oil pastels, wet paints, text liners and other related products. The plants in Goa are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified.

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  4. This is very odd. Here in Mexico we only seem to get German-sourced 9000 pencils, Perfect Pencils (origin unknown) and this time (for Back to School season), the local importer decided to bring some Faber Castell 1205 and 1210 pencils made in Brasil. The 1205 is painted a matte black and the other is a traditional yellow school pencil. Yet, the wood and the paint finish is of much better quality than what you show in your images.

    The core on these pencils is firm and of a light tonal value, but it is quite smooth and there is no grit like you find on certain Mirados or Ticonderogas. Point retention is also outstanding. Overall, I think they are pretty good pencils as compared to the local competition. They are not cheap, cause you can get a dozen Incense Cedar woodcased Ticonderogas for the same price as 5 of these Fabers, but I certainly prefer FC’s offerings.

    I’m going to take some pictures for you to see.

    We also got the Norica Blue, the Norica Metallic, and a couple of yellow pencils with the same 132 designation as the Norica, all of them made in Indonesia. However, they’re not marketed as “German pencils”, they claim these pencils to be merely “German engineered”. In Mexico at least, all Staedtler German products bear the German flag up front on the blister (Tradition, Wopex, et al).

    I truly enjoy reading your blog!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and the amazingly detailed information on the pencil situation in Mexico! The Latin American market is very large and I have always wondered how it is segmented – whether marketing strategies and products on offer vary country by country or whether companies group several countries into a common bracket. What you have in Mexico sounds great. I see something similar here – for instance the Brazilian Castell 9000s are always sold in packages of 4 artistic grades and priced higher than a half dozen of Brazilian FC Ecos – but I have never seen a black 1205 or yellow 1210. Also there are no Ticonderogas or Mirados here. No German flag on pencil boxes either 😉
      The Norica Metallic sounds intriguing. Perhaps the fact that Mexico has been producing pencils for a long time, often for American brands (Eberhard Faber, Dixon, Berol/Sanford etc.), coupled with proximity to the US, make for a different situation?

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      1. From what I’ve read, yes, Latin America differs greatly on pencil offerings. I really don’t know how varied or limited our market is, since my rediscovered love for pencils is quite recent. As such, I wasn’t much into looking for them during my trips.

        But judge for yourself: Dixon has the Classic, Black, Neon, Metallic and Cedro versions of their original hexagonal design, but they also offer the Triconderoga (triangular body) in a jumbo sized pencil aimed at children called “My First Triconderoga”; there’s also the “Stripe”, which is a black pencil with thin color stripes on the corners, and the Triconderoga Classic, which is the yellow pencil but in a triangular shape. They also offer a Dixon Metrico which is a standard-fare school pencil and guess there is another one that is just called Dixon. It’s worth noting that the Cedro, Classic and Stripe versions are all made of Incense Cedar, so the olfactory overload is amazing!

        Mirado also has two variants of their “Classic” orange pencil (hex + triangular), a “Colors” edition which sports both pastel and primary coloured bodies with contrasting colour eraser plugs. It has a rather rare core which is supposed to be a #2 but that acts and feels much more like a 2B or 3B, both in softness, point retention and tonal value. Last but not least, there is a Vietnamese-imported “Design” version that has a round black body with a color pattern covering the first half of the pencil.

        The Prismacolor Turquoise is also a common sight here which you can find in many different gradations and if you look into the Mom and Pop stationery shops, you might find early examples from the Berol era sporting a nicer ferrule, a more blueish color and much better cores than the current offerings.

        Hell! I was even able to shop a sealed box of Berol Empire Metallix and a box of Empire Triangular pencils from 1993!

        There are many other brands that escape me right now, but I will take some snaps of all the local-sourced pencils in my tiny hoard/ collection and email them to you.

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      2. Thank you for showing us these pencils, Guillermo! Even though the brands are familiar, the offerings always vary slightly from country to country and it is very interesting to see these colorful versions in Mexico.

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