I have a bit of a thing for a pencil. Is that odd? Apparently not. A small amount of research into my writing instrument of choice – the Blackwing 602, which I discovered in elegant London stationery store Choosing Keeping – reveals I’m in esteemed company. It is said the author John Steinbeck started each day with the ritual of sharpening 24 Blackwing 602s; in 1948, animator Chuck Jones created Road Runner and Wile E Coyote with a 602 in hand; and Shamus Culhane, lead animator of Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, was buried with his.
Blackwing’s heritage is long and rich. After its 1930s introduction, the iconic 602 model, with its rectangular eraser and metallic ferrule, enjoyed over 60 years of production by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, but production ceased in 1998 – causing dozens of boxes to fetch more than $350 on sites such as eBay. Reintroduced in 2011, a Blackwing 602 (£26.99 for 12) is now a permanent fixture in my office desk drawer. The appeal lies in the tactile, lacquered-cedarwood body and soft Japanese graphite core, which does indeed require regular sharpening to maintain a keen point. Another draw is the smart eraser, which is replaceable and available in 11 colours (£4.50 for 10).
My latest Blackwing lust is the limited edition, glow-in-the-dark 811 (£3.25 each or £35 for 12), a purchase that was admittedly prompted by my daughter but is, in fact, a triumph of simple, effective design. It was created as a tribute to libraries; the pencil’s green hue and gold-coloured ferrule reference traditional library desk lamps. The phosphorescent quality was intended to make it a literal light in the dark, inspired by a speech by the late Maya Angelou in which she described libraries as a “rainbow in the clouds”, so that “in the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times, there is a possibility of seeing hope”. Even the name is carefully considered: a nod to the Dewey Decimal System’s catalogue number for “American Poetry”.