I am certain you have all seen, admired and perhaps even purchased"fancy" theme or holiday pencils before. Such decorative features are produced through a variety of techniques which include 4 color offset printing, transfer, foil or paper wrap, roll-on imprint, silk screen, etc. The proper combination of lacquer base color with a design overlaid and other finishing touches such as unique eraser color and style or end dipping can create quite interesting pencils for general use or collectable.
I can say with no hesitation that no one part of the pencil industry produces the quality and variety of "designer" pencils comparable to those produce Japanese pencil industry as a group. Starting with extremley uniform dimensional characteristics and a high quality base pencil is the first step to assuring an exceptional product. The quality, creativity, detail and variety of designs produced by Japanese manufacturers is truely amazing and surprisingly not often duplicated to such extent by other producers. One theme pencil trend recently in Japan was the advent of "game" pencils in which the 6 sides of a hexagonal pencil each represent a different result for the game when the pencil is rolled like dice.
Often such design pencils are viewed as purely of interest to children, although many knowledgable collectors appreciate these pencils as well. One of my own favorites from my collection is a 15 pencil color set in a tin. The set commemorates the Japan Railway System and each pencil is rectangular in shape with each of the four sides printed as if it was one side of the train. Each of the 15 pencils represents a different type of train in the system. As a part of a limited edition the set sells of about $200 at retail.
While relocating our corporate offices recently we have come up with a group of pencils that we plan to auction as part of our "Vintage & Collectables Series" at our eBay Pencil World Creativity Store. The first of these is a beautiful and unique collection of 1400 such Japanese Designer Pencils. Click here to visit this auction. These are pencils produced to the same quality of our Palomino graphite pencils with respect to the fine finish and smooth writing characteristics.
Theme pencils can represent a difficult and risky part of the pencil industry due to the "trendiness" of different designs. In Japan as well as here in the US many are tied to licenses of particular cartoon characters from television or the movies. Such pencils can involve license fees that along with art design costs and film set up costs increase the need for a larger minimum run sizes to amortize these costs. Themes that come and go over seasonal or holiday periods require careful inventory planning to assure no excess or obsolete inventory for the manufacturer that increase the working capital tied up. Even thematic designs that are acceptable one year may not be as saleable the next season.
As a collector, the challenge is to focus on those items that are more unique, are part of complete matched sets and are of good quality design and cosntruction. Also as with any collection selecting what you find personally interesting or attractive is also advisable even if it might not be so rare.