How good can a wood-cased pencil be? Very good, apparently. A favourite pencil of Loony Tunes cartoonist Chuck Jones, Nobel prize winning novelists John Steinbeck and Vladimir Nabokov, and preferred toothpick of Hooper from Jaws, the Blackwing 602 is a pencil like no other.
Originally introduced by the Eberhard Faber pencil company in 1934, the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 would slowly become a cult classic. With its boastful slogan “Half the pressure, twice the speed” emblazoned on the side of each pencil, the Blackwing promised to write a dark and solid line whilst still holding a point. A bold claim.
By the late 1990s, the Blackwing 602 was beloved by many professional writers and artists. So much so, that when the Blackwing was discontinued in the late 90s it didn’t take long at all for prices of individual pencils to rise to $50 and higher. That’s a single pencil. Not a box. A single pencil.
But never fear, Palomino is here.
After more than a decade of being off the market, the Blackwing was finally resurrected by American pencil manufacturer California Cedar. A family business, CalCedar is now in their third and fourth generations of family ownership and have roots in the pencilmaking business that reach as far back as the 19th century.
CalCedar’s Palomino line of premium pencils, manufactured in Japan from Californian Incense Cedar, would draw nostalgic comparisons to the original Blackwing 602. We have to guess that it was these comparisons that would lead CalCedar to resurrect the Blackwing under their Palomino range.
In 2010, the Palomino Blackwing was introduced. With a matte black body and a soft dark graphite, this was a “modern” take on the mission of the original. While a fantastic pencil in its own right, some Blackwing devotees were still unsatisfied. Eventually, CalCedar would follow-up with a true revival of the Blackwing 602 with the gunmetal finish, slogan and all.
Today, the Blackwing pencil range features four mainline pencils and many other limited editions. Generally speaking, you can safely assume any of the limited editions will be using one of the following cores.
Natural - Extra Firm
Equating to an HB pencil, the Natural is the firmest of the Blackwing bunch. This is a core best suited for long writing sessions with as few trips to the sharpener as possible. As it is able to hold a really, really sharp point for an extended period of time, the Natural also makes for a great tool for outlining and rough preliminary sketches.
602 - Firm
The classic Blackwing, the 602 is the Blackwing that has in some form or another been around since 1934. It’s most commonly compared to a typical B or No. 1 core pencil, though there’s a reason why Eberhard Faber, the original manufacturer, never assigned such a label to the Blackwing 602.
That reason being that the Blackwing 602 has always kind of done its own thing. Yes, it’s dark and vivid like a B pencil but it’s tough and hardy like a HB. Our vote for the all-rounder, it was the 602 that was beloved by artists like Chuck Jones, as well as writers like John Steinbeck.
Pearl - Balanced
With a suitably pearlescent white lacquer, the Pearl is another modern invention of Blackwing’s current manufacturer. The Pearl is a touch softer than the 602, but not as soft as the Matte. Before the Natural came around, it was the middle-ground. A great tool for sketchers, artists and those with a light touch, the Pearl is roughly equivalent to a 2B maybe even a 3B pencil. It also just looks rather elegant.
Matte - Soft
When Palomino relaunched the Blackwing brand back in 2010, they did it with the release of the Blackwing Matte (though it would be known only as the “Palomino Blackwing” for many years). The Blackwing Matte is the softest pencil in the standard line of Blackwings, writing similarly to what you might expect out of a 4B pencil. This is a real artists tool, capable of rich dark lines with very little pressure whatsoever, you’ll adore what you’ll be able to produce while sketching with the Blackwing Matte.
Why “602” and a brief history of the Blackwing 602
So, while the names of all the Palomino introduced Blackwing varieties are pretty intuitive, the one clear and obvious oddball is the 602. If the Matte is called Matte because of its matte black, the Natural because of its natural woodgrain, why 602?
While nowadays it may be hard to imagine Blackwing not being a brand all of its own, once upon a time it was just another product name. The first half of the 20th century was a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of pencils with all sorts of strange and quirky pencils for almost any purpose under the sun.
There were pencils with wheel erasers on the end, there were graphite pencils with a tiny red pencil instead of an eraser like the Eagle Pencil Co. Shorthandy, or our favourite the No-Blot indelible pencil from Eberhard Faber, which had the bold claim of being “a bottle of ink in a pencil.”
The Blackwing 602 was just like these, a more specific idiosyncratic pencil choice for a more specific and idiosyncratic pencil audience. But, again, why 602? It was the product number. That’s all. The Blackwing 602 came right after the Eberhard Faber Van Dyke 601 in the Eberhard Faber pencil catalogue, and right before the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 603. There you have it.
Blackwing Special Editions
Beginning in 2015, Blackwing have been releasing limited edition sets of pencils to forever tempt suckers like us. These editions will typically use the same cores as the standard line above, but in all manner of finishes and colour combinations.
Starting out with a bang with the release of the 725, a tribute to Bob Dylan’s controversial “turning electric”, the Blackwing Volumes series is the most popular of Blackwing’s limited releases. Made as tributes to great artists, thinkers and occasionally historical events, the Blackwing Volumes quite often push the envelope of what a pencil could be expected to be.
Whether it’s a glow-in-the-dark pencil like the Vol. 811, a burgundy pencil reminiscent of what a Blackwing might look like in a photographic darkroom like the Vol. 344 or a pencil with sand beneath the lacquer as a tribute to the red planet Mars like Vol. 4, you can never be sure what you’re going to get with a new volumes release.
As the name suggests, the Blackwing Labs release is really a space for Blackwing to let loose and experiment. These experiments are sometimes functional and sometimes just straight up eccentric. A list of functional releases would have to include the Blackwing Lab 2.22.22 which featured a red pencil core and the Blackwing Lab 11.26.21, which featured an extra-soft graphite that was softer and darker than anything Blackwing had produced thus far. Basically a 6B Blackwing. Bring it back, Blackwing! Bring it back!
As for the eccentric side of Labs? Our pick of the bunch would have to be the Blackwing Lab 08.25.22, which featured a Balanced Graphite core wrapped in a barrel that had been painted with Chroma Key Green. That’s a Green Screen Blackwing. The ultimate pencil for visual effects enthusiasts? Maybe. A practical addition to the line-up? No. But you can’t say it ain’t a fun one.
For the history-buff and curio-curious among us, the Blackwing Eras edition are some of our favourites. The rarest release from Blackwing, there being only three releases so far, Eras hopes to replicate long-gone precursors to the modern day Blackwing.
The first edition, simply named Blackwing Eras, is a reimagining of the very first Blackwing 602 from 1934. With a darker gunmetal finish and a black anodised ferrule, it’s a recognisable silhouette for sure but when seen in its full glory it’s a delightful throwback.
The second release, Blackwing Palomino, was a tribute to the originator of the now favourite Extra Firm graphite core. The Palomino HB, a beloved pencil in its own right, was once the flagship pencil of California Cedar’s Palomino line. This edition resurrected the bright blue and orange barrels of the original Palomino HB and stuck to the end the iconic Blackwing ferrule.
The third release is a tribute to the Mid-Century look of the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. With a black painted band around the ferrule and an arrow punched out of the ferrule, it’s a charming and subtle variant to the typical 602, but not one to be overlooked. A great writer, and one that surely makes the ghost of John Steinbeck a little misty eyed.
It's difficult to know where to end this. Trust us, we could go on and on and on about mentions and appearances of the Blackwing 602 in popular media, from Jaws to The Hudsucker Proxy, and the people who used them. Instead, we’ll just call it quits here and let you make some Blackwing history of your own. You can find our range of Blackwing products here.