On the Blackwing 602, or, In Memory of an Object

This is not a profile of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 – people have written those, and they’re ultimately all good, but I find myself far more curious about what it’s like to use one of the original articles from which so much fandom and so much value inflation springs.

So I bought one.

The Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, purchased from eBay, sharpened for use in drafting this blog post.

My initial reactions were roughly what I expected they’d be after discussing the matter with the broader pencil fandom – it’s different, but perhaps “better” is the wrong word, at least as far as comparing it to the revival of its name by Palomino. It loses its point more quickly than I expected, which worked out well enough because I needed to take about an inch off of this specimen before I could encase it in a glass tube, never to be touched again. It also has more pronounced audible and tacticle feedback – think of comparing an IBM-manufactured Model M mechanical keyboard to a Unicomp Model M, but in reverse.

It’s a very, very good pencil. I drafted a significant portion of this post using it. I do not think it’s worth much more than I spent on it (I got an unexpectedly good deal) but I do find it very satisfying to use.

The tube, our pencil’s final resting place.
The trademark Blackwing ferrule, with an eraser inside that still somehow works!
Very classy, almost art-deco type for the pencil’s logo.
The pencil’s main signifier of its age – a star in the Eberhard Faber diamond.

Does it make me feel like Steinbeck? Or Quincy Jones? Or, goodness forbid, Disney? No, and that’s probably a good thing; being driven to want too many more of these would probably ruin me financially (at the time of writing, a dozen of these of a much newer vintage are being sold on eBay for $1850.00). But it feels good to use, and also good to be able to trace the history of the material experience of this pencil back from the modern recreation to the original.

The curious thing about the life of a collector is the constant struggle between wanting and having, and realizing, as Mr. Spock did at the end of Amok Time, that the former is often preferable. But in the synthesis of the two experiences, I find that what precipitates is a drive to curate and document material history, to share in a certain glee in the things people have made.

Now, this Blackwing finds its way to the tube in which it shall rest for as long as I can bear to leave it in place. It is just long enough to fit, end to end, inside. I have rarely felt so driven about preserving an object but this is special enough to merit it, and special enough to share, not because of its qualities as a pencil, but because it speaks to a link between the methods of the past and of the present.

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