Shahsons Pencil Company

This post has been a few weeks in the making and I apologize for its lateness, but school and life seem to have gotten in the way of most of my obligations lately.  This week I am going to talk about Shahsons Pencil Company.  Shahsons is based in Pakistan and has been making quality pens and pencils since 1953.  Caroline from CW Pencils helped out a bit with some history:

The Goldfish Autocrat was their first branded pencil. It was originally scented to smell like sandalwood–though they don’t to that anymore because it’s too expensive. Shehzhad (original owner’s grandson) isn’t sure where exactly the name came from, though he’s pretty sure ‘Autocrat’ was supposed to be ‘Aristocrat’. They only really do two lines of the pencils, the Goldfish, which was since been expanded with lots of different branding and the Piscasso line, which is mostly drawing pencils and artist materials.

I always love trying out pencils from other countries as I enjoy the different wood and graphite formulations they have to offer.  There are three pencils that I will be discussing: the Vista, Autocrat, and Blue Bird.  I have spent considerable time with each, so without further ado:

Goldfish Blue Bird

I am a fan of pencils that have fun names and the Blue Bird surely delivers.  The blue barrel and silver foil stamping make this pencil quite attractive, but where it excels in aesthetics, it falls short with performance (this is compared to the other two Shahsons pencils, not the entire pencils universe).  The graphite core is a bit light (I’d say HBish) and scratchy on most of the papers I have used.

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Goldfish Vista

The Vista is the middle of the road pencil here; it is a bright red pencil with gold foil stamping.  It has a similar darkness as the Autocrat, but did not write as smoothly.  This pencil performs well, but due to the scratchiness, I would avoid it if you like smoother graphite laydown.

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Goldfish Autocrat

The Autocrat is the Cadillac of the Shahsons offerings.  It is smooth and dark and point retention is on point (sorry, had to).  I really like the design of this pencil as it has a natural wood veneer and gold foil stamping.  The Autocrat’s graphite core reminds me of the Nataraj Neon core or the Walmart Casemate core.  Of the three pencils, the Autocrat wins by a long shot.

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Overall, the three offering from Shahsons perform well, for their price point.  I would suggest trying out all three pencils, but know that you may be disappointed in the Vista.  You can head over to CW Pencil Enterprise to get a hold of all three.

 

Musgrave Ceres

There is something to be said for a classic yellow pencil.  After being inspired by episode 60 of Erasable, I decided to dig into my pencil case and try out a pencil I have yet to review/use.  I was immediately drawn to the Ceres due to its sharp lines and unique script that was stamped on the barrel.

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Musgrave produces four grades of this pencil and I am using the #1 grade for this review.  Immediately upon sharpening the Ceres I was greeted with the smell of good old cedar.  The Ceres sharpened very easily and the graphite was perfectly centered which allowed for even sharpening.  Interestingly enough, about a third of the way through the pencil, I found a knot in the wood barrel.

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I had never seen this before and though it was pretty interesting.  The small imperfection made the next few sharpenings difficult as the graphite was exposed unevenly, but once I sharpened my way out of it things were fine.  Writing with the Ceres was great and the pencil laid down decent lines.  The graphite was nice and smooth and I’d say the darkness was comprabale to a 2B (this is totally just eyeballing it).  The eraser on the Ceres was below average at best.

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The rubber was very gritty and when I did try to erase with it, it wore down very quickly.  Don’t plan on using the eraser if you don’t have to.  The black paint on the barrel began to wear off pretty quickly with normal use, but that kind of stuff doesn’t bother me.  I prefer a well-worn writing instrument.  Overall, the Musgrave Ceres is a great little pencil that is completely affordable (40 cents a piece at CW Pencils), but did not entirely win me over.  While I stated the graphite was smooth and not scratchy, it did not have the buttery smoothness I prefer in my graphite.  Also, not only is the eraser pretty crappy, but I had a hard time erasing with my everyday block eraser as well.  The graphite comes off the paper, but not as cleanly as I like.  If I had to give a rating it would be a meh.  average.  Stay tuned, because next week I will be reviewing the newest CW Pencils acquisitions: The Goldfish Autocrat, Blue Bird, and Vista from Shashon Pencil Company.

Marking Pencil Round-Up

For those of you that are unaware, I work part time in a community college writing center.  I find myself reading and editing papers for hours and have been searching for the perfect marking pencil.  While my list is not exhaustive, I tried to explore a variety of brands that are easily available to anyone.  I have used each pencil for about a week and have been able to form what I feel is a solid opinion on what to try and what to avoid.  First, here is a general overview of each pencil and a writing sample for each:

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As you can see all six pencils are quite different when it comes to color and hardness.  I will address the list top to bottom.

Tombow 8900 Vermilion ($0.85)

The Tombow 8900 wrote smoothly and the point retention was one of best of the pencils.  The ability to keep a sharp point on the Tombow allowed the maximum amount of correction with a minimum amount of sharpening.  For me, this is key when working with a student.  Less sharpening means a longer lasting pencil as well.  I could see myself using this pencil on a regular basis for correction.  I found the Tombow 8900 at a Kinokuniya bookstore, but Ebay tends to carry them occasionally.

Caran d’Ache 999 Bicolor ($2.80)

The Caran d’Ache 999 is vibrant and one of the truest to the color red behind the Mitsubishi 772.  The core is super smooth and much to my surprise point retention is above average for such a smooth pencil.  I also like that the 999 is a hex pencil as it is much more comfortable (for me) to hold and rotate while writing.  The only drawback is the price of this pencil.

General’s Red ($0.40)

The General’s Red has the best point retention of all of pencils I have ever used, but it is the worst as far as pigment is concerned.  It is way too light to be effective and feels horribly scratchy.  This pencil is a disappointment and you shouldn’t buy it.  I struggled trying to make my marks noticeable on papers for students and halfway through a session I picked up another pencil it was so bad.  Just don’t.

Musgrave 525 Hermitage ($0.29)

The Hermitage is a great middle of the road pencil.  The core is dark enough to be effective, but is not so soft that you feel like you are writing with a crayon. I found myself using this pencil more and more as the weeks progressed and was not disappointed with the results.  For this reason, I was pleasantly surprised as a lot of my experience with Musgrave products has left me feeling meh.

Mitsubishi 772 Vermilion ($1.00)

The 772 is vibrant and works very well for making small grammatical edits to 12-point font.  When editing papers, clarity is key and the Mitsubishi 772 is as clear as day.  The core is a bit softer than others, but as long as you rotate the pencil ever few marks you make, it seems to wear down just as much as an average pencil.  If I had to pick a winner it would be this pencil.

Mitsubishi Red “Smooth Writing Taste” ($1.65)

This pencil is smooth alright.  So smooth that you feel like you are writing with a crayon.  I love the color it lays down, but the Mitsubishi Red is not for making small edits or writing within the margin.  I’d say this pencil is perfect for making “checks” and “x” marks on papers or maybe even for underlining text, but not for the work I do.  It does get bonus points for its slogan though!

Overall my top two are the Mitsubishi 772 and the Caran d’Ache 999.  Both pencils have great, vibrant color without feeling too waxy.  The Hermitage comes in a close third (I’d even say a tie for second) with its point retention and affordability.  Either way, I hope this has helped those of you that are looking for marking pencils.

 

 

Back to School Special

The time has come upon us; it’s September, the leaves are changing (in some parts of the US), school is back in session, and I cannot resist the urge to purchase school supplies.  Ever since I could remember, the need to go out and purchase school supplies represented a new beginning– a way to re-invent oneself for the new school year.  Heather Rivard of the Art Supply Posse podcast, really nailed the feeling and excitement around school supply shopping:

“School supply shopping was an emotional experience for me. School supplies represent the part of life that made sense to me, like doing homework and what I was told. School clothes shopping represented the things that didn’t make sense, like social hierarchy and how to fit in and how to feel like an acceptable human being. School supplies! That is a source of so much warmth and comfort and excitement.”

This passage hits home for me.  Some years, life was great and my parents had the money to indulge my growing obsession with school supplies.  Other years, time were tough and I was forced to re-use items or buy the cheapest stuff.  I never thought about it at the time (because who does), but the act of school shopping tied directly into my self-worth.  Now that I am an adult with a decent amount of purchasing power, I find myself in a different race: Keeping up with the Joneses.  I’ve been distant from the group the past month or so because as a full-time student and part-time worker, I am unable to jump at every new stationery item that comes out.  I am not subscribed to any stationery or pencil service and do my best to buy at least one box of the limited edition Blackwings.  Again, I am faced with the need to keep up.

Now don’t get me wrong, our community is incredibly giving and I myself have given away countless pencils and other paraphernalia, but as with any hobby this gets EXPENSIVE.  Which brings me to this year’s school supply shopping experience.  Besides some folders and red marking pencils (which I will review in the coming weeks), I have purchased nothing.  Well, OK, my recent trip to CW Pencil Enterprise was an indulgence, but for the most part there has not been a ceremonial “school supply shopping” excursion.  I like it this way.  It has allowed me to pore over my current collection of pencils and supplies and rediscover some real gems.

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I have filled my pencil roll with some oldies and newbies, but I am content with my choices.  I am not sure if I am going to use a different pencil every week, bu I’d like to use all of them this semester at some point.  I will get back to blogging on a weekly basis now and will not only write about pencils, but stationery stuff and maybe some personal stuff.  Stay tuned all!

 

 

Nataraj Neon vs. Casemate Neon

Back to School season always gets me excited.  As a college student, I feel justified in purchasing extra notebooks, pencils, and erasers.  I peruse the aisles of the local Walmart or Target to see what’s new and have found myself gravitating to the Ticonderogas or USA Golds.  There has been a lot of discussion recently in the Erasable Facebook group about Walmart’s awesome deal on pencils from the Casemate line (97 cents for a dozen pencils and a sharpener).  A lot think that the canister of pencils is manufactured by Hindustan Pencil Company and are pretty much Nataraj pencils without the branding.  Even the sharpener that comes with the pencils says Nataraj. Now that back to school season is in full swing, I have seen the Casemate Neon pencils start to crop up.  There are two versions; the ones that are hexagonal and made in India and the ones that have a round barrel that are made in the Philippines.  DO NOT buy the round ones.  They are horrible and not worth your time.  What follows is a comparison of the Casemate (made in India) Neons and the Nataraj Neons.

Upon opening the Casemate pencils, I immediately noticed that the production quality was not that great.  Chipped pencils and sloppy finish were on quite a few of the pencils.  The graphite cores seemed to be a tiny bit off center, but nothing drastic:

Hand sharpening was quite easy, but I noticed something interesting in the shavings– the neon finish was separating from the wood of the pencil.  I do not have pictures, but the Nataraj pencils do not do this at all, so again I am left wondering if these are factory seconds or a few steps have been skipped in the manufacturing process to cut costs.

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Both pencils are almost identical save for the few production errors I have found in the Casemate brand.  The neon color on the Nataraj pencils is a bit more vibrant, but from a quick glance one would not be able to see much difference.  The ferrules on both pencils are the same black aluminum, but the Nataraj pencil has a cleaner look to it (Nataraj pencil is on the right in all of the pics below):

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Aesthetics aside, when it comes to writing, there is a noticeable difference.  I found that the Casemate pencil wrote a lot smoother than the Nataraj but laid down slightly lighter marks.  This observation does not seem to fit the experience, but I prefer this– some may not.  I wonder if this is due to the fact that there might be some additives to the graphite in the Casemate pencil to cheapen the cost.  Both pencils were a delight to write with, but I found myself preferring the Casemate.

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As you can see from the bottom of the writing sample, both pencils have HORRIBLE erasers.  Do not use them.  You can, but don’t expect good results.  They shading erased beautifully, but trying to erase text is an exercise in futility.  At 97 cents a 12 pack, the Casemate pencils are a steal, but remember HEXAGONAL only.  If you are interested in Nataraj Neons, head over to Caroline where one can pick up a dozen for about three and a half dollars.

It’s just pencils! Or is it?

After much thought and great discussion over on the Erasable Facebook group, I felt compelled to make a blog posting about the issue of Blackwing Volumes and their seemingly white, male-dominated lineup.  Before I get to the meat of the issue, I am in no way knocking Palomino– they have done great things with the brand and provide awesome customer service and I am positive there was no intent to have a lack of diversity in the Blackwing Volumes line.  But that’s just it.  The seemingly accidental overlooking of amazing people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, and other marginalized folks is not so.  Leaving out those groups is not intentional, but it is so deeply seated and natural for the majority to do so, that they do not see that they marginalize.  The only way for the world to change is to have companies or individuals use their power to bring light to these issues and take a stance– a stance that should be the norm.  When inclusiveness is the norm, things might just be a bit better for the world (and for sales!).  Here are some ideas I have for future Blackwing Volumes:

George Washington Carver – 44  George Washington Carver was known as the “Peanut Man” and is known for his research into alternative crops to cotton such as peanuts and sweet potatoes.  His angle was that poor farmers could grow alternative crops to provide food for their families and develop other products to improve quality of life.  Carver also promoted environmentalism and released 44 practical bulletins for farmers with information on recipes for peanuts and peanut products.  From Wikipedia: “In 1921 peanut farmers and industry representatives planned to appear at Congressional hearings to ask for a tariff. Based on the quality of Carver’s presentation at their convention, they asked the African-American professor to testify on the tariff issue before the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Due to segregation, it was highly unusual for an African American to appear as an expert witness at Congress representing European-American industry and farmers.”

A Blackwing Volumes edition for Carver would feature crimson colored pencil with a gold ferrule and tan eraser.  Crimson and gold are Tuskegee’s college colors and tan would be representative of peanuts.  It would be stamped with the number 44 as a nod to the 44 bulletins he released for farmers to promote the use of peanuts on their farms.

Susan B. Anthony – 19  Susan B. Anthony was a feminist who was deeply involved in the women’s suffrage movement.  At the age of 17, she collected anti-slavery petitions and in 1856, she became the New York agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Anthony also played a critical role in creating the International Council of Women.  One hundred years after her birth, women finally were granted the right to vote on August 18, 1920.

This pencil could be either green with a purple eraser or purple with a green eraser.  Both would have a white painted ferrule.  This is a nod to the symbolic suffrage colors of purple, white, and green used on banners and pins promoting the cause.  The number 19 would be used to represent the 19th amendment to the constitution allowing women to vote.

Stonewall – 1969  The Stonewall riots were a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against a police raid that took place at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969.  In the 1950s and 60s, gay Americans faced a very anti-gay legal system and as such, not many establishments welcomed openly gay people.  The Stonewall Inn catered to an assortment of individuals and was known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.  A year later, in 1970, the first Gay Pride would take place in NYC.  The Stonewall National Monument was established a month ago by President Obama and it includes Christoper Park and the Stonewall Inn.

This Volumes edition would be a no brainer– RAINBOWS!

I hope that those of you who have read this have been inspired.  Those that feel uncomfortable regarding this blog post– good.  That’s what its supposed to do to some.  It’s high time we start having those uncomfortable conversations and unpacking difficult topics.  After all, it’s just not about pencils.

 

Mail and Other Musings

So this blog has evolved into a non-weekly endeavor and is not really fulfilling its “weekly pencil” duties.  At the very beginning of this idea a year ago, I had dove into the hobby of collecting and using pencils of all sorts.  I was excited and wanted to share that with the world.  As I made new friends in the Erasable group, I was encouraged to post more and every week I used one pencil and then wrote about my thoughts on said pencil.  The idea seemed simple enough, but what I didn’t take into account was the fact that life happens and even the most loved hobbies can fall victim of disinterest and immense obligation.  Let me explain.  I still love pencils.  I will always love pencils, but keeping up with the blog on a weekly basis became a burden when life got in the way.  I became resentful in my new role as “pencil blogger/reviewer” and my posts every Sunday became this awful “thing” I had to do.  My need to stay current began to tarnish my love of pencils and the community that surrounded me.  That is why I took a step back.  I have received comments along the lines of “when are you posting again?  This isn’t the weekly pencil anymore?”  I appreciate followers, but I wish some would realize that this is 100 percent funded by myself both monetarily and emotionally.  Besides two items I have reviewed, I have paid for every item out of my own pocket.  I am not complaining about spending money here either.  Hell, I’d be buying pencils anyway, but I wish some would realize that this is not my job.  *Important note here– I am not calling any individual out here, I just am making broad statements of my general experience with this blog*  I love all of you followers and get super excited when other are enthusiastic in this niche hobby.  Just know that this blog will evolve a bit and include ALL of my passions (pencils, stationery, games, etc.).  I will keep the same URL for now, but the site design and title may change in the future.  Now onto the fun stuff!  MAIL  FROM CW PENCIL ENTERPRISE!!!!

Nothing is finer than when you expect a pencil package and you hear the subtle beep of the mail person’s scanner and a solid *thunk* on your porch.  I raced downstairs immediately and there it was– a package from Caroline and her crew:

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I always enjoy pencil-related mail, but getting a package from CW Pencil Enterprise is something really special.  From their packaging to their unique and personal attention to detail with every order, you really feel like you are something special.  This was my note:

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Not only did I get this adorable note from Caitlin, but there is something about the way they individually wrap everything.  Knowing that Caitlin herself walked around the shop and personally packaged my pencils makes me warm and fuzzy inside.  For at least a few minutes I had a personal pencil shopper.  How much better can pencil buying get?!

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Even though I already knew what was inside these lovely yellow wrapped packages I was excited to discover their contents.  I think that pictures will speak for themselves, but if you are interested, here are links to all I ordered: Blackwing Volumes, Camel Pastel HB, Nataraj Joi 2B, and Milan Graphite and Highlighter Pencil.  Now onto my pics:

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I plan on doing reviews on all of these products at some point, but I am really itching to try out the Graphite/Highlighter pencil.  Stay tuned for that review sometime in the near future!

 

 

Viking 029 Skoleblyanten

Hello pencil pals!  I am back from about a month long hiatus.  Life– mainly school, work, and moving to a new place got in the way of my ability to post regular updates.  I apologize for not keeping the blog updated, but going forward I should be back on track.  After all, I have quite the backlog of pencils and projects to post about!  OK.  Now onto this week’s pencil, the Viking 029 Skoleblyanten (Skoleblyanten translates to school pencil in Danish).  Viking is a pencil company based out of Denmark and has a 100 year history of making pencils ever since a Danish matchstick company started making pencils.  For a deeper write-up on the history of Viking, head to Bleistift where you will find some great reviews and details about the brand.

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Appearance wise, the Viking 029 is more than just an ordinary yellow school pencil.  From the classic yellow lacquer of a school pencil, to the black stamping of a Viking ship on the hexagonal barrel, and the ferruleless dipped end, the Viking 029 is quite nice to look at.  The Viking 029 not only excels in form, but in function too.  While the pencil is classified as an HB grade, I felt as though it wrote a bit softer and darker than HB grade pencils I am used to.  The graphite is nice a smooth on paper and erases cleanly and easily.  The weight of the Viking 029 is nice.  I usually don’t like the lightweight feel to ferruleless pencils, but the Viking 029 has just enough heft to it to feel comfortable.

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I have spent the past few weeks writing with this pencil and I can honestly say that while it writes a little bit darker than a standard HB, its point retention is great.  Breakage was non-existent and no grittiness was felt while writing at any point.  The graphite had almost a soft waxy feel to it, but it didn’t crumble like most waxy feeling graphite pencils do.  I can easily say that this pencil will make it into my school year rotation in the Fall.  The Viking 029 can be found at CW Pencil Enterprise for $1.25 a pencil and it is well worth throwing a few in your cart next time you shop.  For more information on Viking’s other products check out their beautiful page.

 

 

Kita-boshi 9500 Super Drawing Pencil

Some may think that adding a bunch of numbers and the word “Super” to the title of a product is a bit ostentatious, but the Kita-boshi 9500 Super Drawing Pencil earns every title it has been given.  Kita-boshi Pencil Company is located in Katsushika, Japan and started out as a lumber company.  When one of its customers, Tsukiboshi Pencil Company filed bankruptcy, what is now known as Kita-boshi shouldered the debt and got into the pencil making business.  Even though demand for the wooden pencil is down (not by the looks of it to me), Kita-boshi still prides itself on creating quality products.  This week, I take a look at the 9500 Super Drawing Pencil in graphite grade B.

The 9500 is quite unassuming with its lack of eraser and jet black lacquer, this seemed to be just another drawing pencil to me.  Stamped in gold on one side is “Super Drawing Kita-Boshi 9500” and on the other is “For Retouching and Special Drawing.” Since the graphite grade was a B, I wasn’t looking forward to wrapping up my semester with a smudgy mess, but I sharpened her up anyway and got to writing.  As always, I used The Masterpiece to sharpen and I did not have any difficulty getting the 9500 to a long point.

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When I put pencil to paper, I was pleasantly surprised– the 9500 was smoother than I had expected.  The best way to describe it is if a Tombow MONO and a Golden Bear had a child, this is how it would write.  Not too scratchy, but not smooth enough to declare it “buttery.”  My writing experiences this week were on regular copy paper, graph paper, and a Field Notes Shenandoah. I noticed the most smudging with the graph paper, but I was expecting that.  As far as erasing is concerned, I struggled a bit– I used the Pink Pearl and really did not have tremendous luck with lifting all reminders of what once was on the paper.  I wouldn’t recommend using this pencil for every day writing, but for art or sketching it’s quite amazing.

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Finally, the 9500 did extremely well with point retention.  I used this pencil over the course of two weeks for about 10 out of the 14 days in those weeks.  I am just about ready to put my nub in my bullet pencil, so I’d say for the $1.00 you spend per pencil, you get your money’s worth.  While the Kita-boshi 9500 Super Drawing pencil will not take up residency in my regular pencil roll, I still think it is worth a try.

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Palomino Prospector

After a grueling finals week at school, I am back in action with my reviews!  I decided to go budget this week and choose the Prospector.  I love the bright green color and the hexagonal barrel– no semi-hex here.  Have I hit gold with a nice-looking budget pencil or have I missed the gold rush?  Let’s take a look:

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Aesthetically speaking, the Prospector looks damn great for a pencil that sells for $2.25 a dozen (that’s about 19 cents per pencil).  I enjoy the gold foil stamping as it makes me feel as though it was a nod to the fact that the pencil is called the Prospector.  The pencil itself is made of basswood and its graphite core is HB.  Speaking of the graphite core, this pencil sharpens up beautifully and I had no point breakage while sharpening (I exclusively used the Masterpiece).  The darkness is on par for a number 2 pencil and while it certainly does not write nice and smooth, the Prospector is not too scratchy either.  There were a few times that I notice a bit of scratchiness in the graphite, but that cleared up with a few scribbles to wear down the rough patch.  Point retention is great and I am just about at the Steinbeck stage after using it for two weeks.  I did a lot of transcribing by hand (6 to 7 whole pages) and found myself having to sharpen every two pages or so.

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The eraser on the Prospector is what you would expect for a pencil that sells for under a quarter.  It’s good in a pinch, but definitely bring your own eraser to the party.  I can really see this pencil entering into my rotation as it is cheap and performs well.  Honestly, I think teachers should either be using the Prospector or Ticonderoga in the classroom.  You cannot beat the price and value that comes from this pencil.