Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cumberland Pencil Museum Turns 30

This morning I found the following link to a story covering this past weekend's 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Cumberland Pencil Museum. The museum is located in the heart of England's Cumbria lake district in the town of Keswick in what was formerly the canteen of the Cumberland Pencil factory. The factory itself was relocated to a new state of the art facility 3 years ago in the town of Lillyhall.

Not just an interesting place for kids, the museum celebrates the history of the pencil and has a number of fun an quirky aspects to it. It's location and that of Cumberland Pencil was originally due to discovery of natural graphite in the region and mining of the graphite. Today the region is best known as a tourist destination and the museum itself hosts 80,000 visitors per year.

I had the opportunity to visit the museam with my wife and son Philip in 1998 when he was 11, long before he joined us at CalCedar to work in our Pencils.com e-commerce operations. This was during a business visit to Cumberland relative to our Cedar slat supply for thier pencil production. Given the long business relations between our companies he also had the opportunity to get his first ever tour of a real pencil factory in addition to the museum itself. Something of great fascination for any young person and adult alike.

The article covers some interesting aspects of the museum two of which of particular relevance to me was the mention of the Charles & Diana Royal Wedding Commemorative pencil tin and in particular the secret "spy pencil" produced by Cumberland during World War II which housed a hidden compass and map inside and was used by aviators to provide a route home in the event of being shot down. The article mentions that there are only 10 of these in existence. Not sure if that is really the case, but if so that's quite remarkable as we happen to have one here in California. It's part of a special commemortive gift set of Cumberland Pencils produced for one of the company's anniversaries and was given as a gift to my father by the Managing Director of Cumberland many years ago. I also have a Charles and Diana Royal Wedding pencil in my own collection as well, though I don't know if this was part of the Cumberland set or was produced by Chambers Pencil Company, a former producer of novelty and advertising pencils in England.

Coincidentally, it's my other son Thomas' birthday today. Happy Birthday T!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Reviving the Blacking: The All New Palomino Blackwing 602

Well folks I have some exciting things to share with you in this update. We’ve recently received the first small production batch of the new Palomino Blackwing 602 model. This is just 5000 pencils with the next 25,000 schedule for arrival early in June. But more about the availability of this pencil in just a bit, for now let me tell you about this new product.

First, we are very pleased with the new 602’s lacquer finish which reflects the traditional blue-grey grey finish of the Eberhard Faber product during its later years of production, but with an even more distinctive gunmetal grey brilliance. The earliest production of Eberhard Faber product dating to the 1930s actually sported a darker black finish more similar to our existing Palomino Blackwing product. In response to feedback of many 602 fans we have revived the famous slogan “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” and finished off the design by topping our pencil with a black eraser giving the overall design a simple elegance. Understandably this is a departure from the pink eraser of the Eberhard Faber product that some would prefer, but we have provided this option among our eraser replacement pack options. Sorry I've not had time to get decent quality photos shot of the pencils before getting this post out.

Even more exciting is our specially formulated graphite core which has been developed to provide the Blackwing’s well known smooth glide while offering a significant improvement in wear rate vs. both or Palomino Blackwing and the Original Eberhard Faber product. One of the key concerns expressed by those customers doing extensive hand writing with our initial Palomino Blackwing pencil was that despite the extremely soft and smooth feel some customers would like to see an improvement in the wear rate to reduce sharpening frequency. The challenge has been to improve the hardness and reduce the wear rate without sacrificing much in smoothness and as little blackness as possible. We were looking for a firm and smooth formulation to complement the soft and creamy smooth performance of our existing product.

During our formulation and evaluation process with our Japanese graphite producer we performed a set of technical bench tests to develop objective measurements of the wear rates as determined by the length of line drawn per millimeter of wear under constant pressure. This is a mechanical testing device used routinely by our supplier to assure production batches meet established standards for each graphite grade. Our results indicated that the new PB 602 graphite core provided at least 25-35% more extended life vs. our existing Palomino Blackwing and approximately 15-25% greater line length than the original Eberhard Faber 602. So we have improved wear rate substantially versus both items. Of course we give up something in darkness by creating a harder, firmer lead, but the new product compares favorably with the original.

As indicated in my Timberlines post last Fall about graphite performance we’ve found no objective, scientific test that measures smoothness of lead. Each person has their own writing angles and forces reflecting their own writing and drawing style and posture. Based on the more subjective personal testing a number of us involved in the development of this pencil have completed it’s our assessment that the our new 602 model has only a slight loss of smoothness versus our existing Palomino Blackwing pencil and has comparable to slightly improved smoothness vs. the original Eberhard Faber 602. Clearly in the end you all will have to be your own judge on the smoothness characteristic as with your overall assessment of these pencils.

We’ll be officially introducing the new PB 602 model along with a fully redesigned lined of retail packaging for our entire range of Palomino and Palomino Blackwing pencil products the marketplace at the National Stationery Show in New York In just a few days. Our goal is to make our products more widely available by focusing on developing a retail dealer network that appreciates the fine quality and performance of our growing range of. If you have a favorite local stationery shop, artist supply store, bookstore or other gift or specialty retailer you think would be ideal for this product please let them know to drop by our Pencils.com booth if they happen to be visiting the show next week. At the show we’ll also be introducing a line of luxury notebooks and sketchbooks under the Palomino and Blackwing labels as well as FSC Certified notebooks under our ForestChoice brand. But more about these developments in a later post.

As to launching on Pencils.com and actual initial shipments we expect the final packaging production to be complete in the next week and will begin packing pencils as soon as we receive the packaging. This is a photos of our packaging production proofs just received this morning in time four use at the Stationery Show. We have not yet determined if we’ll drop the existing gift box or continue to offer that option on Pencils.com. We expect to initiate Pencils.com sales of the PB602 on or about June 1st providing all goes to current plan. To be notified about when the new Palomino Blackwing 602 goes on sale on Pencils.com make sure to register on our site here.

Finally, we are thrilled to see that our efforts at Reviving the Blackwing have now been covered in the latest issue of Fortune Magazine now on the newsstand. We’re hoping we’ll see increasing press coverage as a result of our launch at the Stationery show this next week.