Pencil Pushers

Pens are king, but pencils are rising among desk-bound urbanites. Here, the places selling the best ones, plus tools to keep you sharp

Weaver at her store
Weaver at her store
Photographer: Van Robinson for Bloomberg Businessweek

This Woman Will Sell You on Graphite

When Caroline Weaver, 24, started her website last November, she was shocked it took off. “I was shipping so many pencils out of my house, I was embarrassed to have people over,” she says. In March she opened a New York shop, selling 247 varieties in neat glass jars. Most go to travelers, collectors, and others who enjoy pencils for obvious reasons: They’re erasable. They’re cheap. They’re eco-friendly. And, after years of iPhone taps, they make writing feel good. 

Where to Buy Them

Online, of course. Start with these international retailers.

Antica Cartotecnica
Family-run since 1930, the stationer specializes in antique European writing tools. Don’t miss the notebooks, either.

Choosing Keeping
This shop, in London’s Shoreditch district, has great pencils alongside a nice selection of pens and desk accessories

Pencils.jp
A Japanese cult favorite with hard-to-find niche brands—try Tombow’s Mono. Accepts PayPal only.

Present and Correct
Opened by two nostalgic graphic designers, this London boutique also stocks vintage office supplies.

Caran d’Ache
The Swiss mainstay has a full range of its popular house brand online. If you’re in Geneva, check out the flagship.

How to Avoid Dullness

Necessary accessories

Photographer: Van Robinson for Bloomberg Businessweek

Standard pencils come with a rubber eraser, but it can dry out. Instead, spring for the plastic, Swiss-made Technik eraser ($3.25), which removes graphite and charcoal without the smudging and messy shavings others leave behind. The manual Classroom Friendly Supplies sharpener ($25) was invented by a teacher who was frustrated with his regular one. It feeds the wood through the blade, hands-free, while creating a nice long point. Unlike an electric sharpener, it’s very quiet. When your pencil becomes too short to hold—3 inches or so—the E+M Peanpole pencil extender ($5.50) can be useful. Simply insert the stub to extend a pencil’s life a week or two.

Why Mechanical Pencils Are Terrible

Weaver obviously prefers graphite to ink, though she keeps at least one pen for when it’s required (signing legal documents, for instance). On the subject of mechanical pencils, however, she’s adamant: “I don’t sell them.” Nor do most similar shops. “The lead snaps too easily, they’re fussy, and they lack that wonderful tactile quality,” she says.

Photographer: Van Robinson for Bloomberg Businessweek

The All-Time Top 10

SAT-standard No. 2 graphite is considered ideal, but swap yellow paint for ones with nicer wood, a balanced weight, and a better feel in your hands.

From left:

1. Viarco
Premium 2001, $1.25
Made by a small Portuguese factory—one of Europe’s oldest—it’s got a futuristic black matte finish.

2. Palomino
Blackwing 602, $2
Its motto: Half the pressure, twice the speed. Fans say a light, efficient touch is all it requires. It’s a reproduction of one used by Vladimir Nabokov, John Steinbeck, and Walt Disney.

3. Caran d’Ache
Swiss Edelweiss, $1
A staple purchase of Swiss schoolchildren. The high-quality graphite is virtually smudgeproof.

4. Faber-Castell
Grip 2001, $1.75
Winner of several design awards, it’s extra comfortable, thanks to its triangular shape and grippy rubber nubs.

5. Nataraj
Marble, 30¢
The best cheap style, it’s produced in India’s largest pencil factory, which makes 8 million of them each day. Each is individually marbled in the factory, so no two look the same.

6. General’s
Cedar Pointe, $1 
This completely raw option has a surprisingly effective eraser, which many competitors lack.

7. Mitsubishi
Hi-Uni, $2.50
The holy grail of Japanese options, prized for its soft graphite, solid point retention, and beautiful lacquer.

There’s a growing market online for vintage pencils, such as these, sold unsharpened:

8. Eberhard Faber
Microtomic 2B, $6
Mostly considered a drawing tool, it has a throwback silver cap that’s rarely seen in modern ones.

9. Dixon
Federal, $2
Smells awesome when sharpened, because it’s made of eastern cedar as opposed to more common incense wood.

10. IBM
Electrographic, $5 
Engineered for test-scoring machines. Collectors love it for the smooth, dark line it produces.

 


 

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