National Pencil Day: Who is Big Pencil?

Yes, it’s National Pencil Day again and I had a phone conversation yesterday that I felt raised a subject worthy of a bit of commentary here on our newly redesign Timberlines blog.  Also this is the first post since relocating Timberlines to our redesigned CalCedar website in honor of our 100th Anniversary year in business.

Over this past Christmas holiday I gifted a number of my friends a 1 year subscription to our Blackwing Volumes program, starting with our last Volume 530 release.  Yesterday I was speaking with one of these friends who mentioned how much his wife enjoyed the pencils for her art, but more importantly he had given his high school aged daughter a few to try as well.  She had recently taken up digital note taking in class about a month or so prior to that.  Having receiving trying and enjoying the pencils, she started back with hand written notes in class. She reported to her father that she she actually retained more of the content than when she was blindly taking note verbatim on her computer in class. I told him that there have been studies showing that the slower rate at which you can write versus type requires you brain to process and distill information to take notes and this leads to higher retention.  As has often been said by proponents of hand written notes, “I am not taking notes to remember things later, but to remember them now”.

This conversation reminded me of a Freakanomics podcast about a year ago I had listened to titled “Who Needs handwriting?” (Feb 10, 2016) in which some expert guest was predicting the death of handwriting and writing instruments and that these types of studies were all just funded by “Big Pencil”.   I vividly remember almost tripping in laughter as I walked along the beach listening.  The whole concept of “Big Pencil” and it’s nefarious ability to dramatically influence the mass market thinking on this topic seemed pretty ludicrous to me.  What pencil company in the world has the financial resources to do this?  Supporting and promoting such studies as an industry via an industry association for what little positive impact that can have with a very limited budget is certainly reasonable and prudent for the industry to make some small dent in perceptions and awareness of the values of handwriting.  And these studies certainly are not fake science by any means.

Meanwhile Apple, the most valuable company in the world, can afford to give hundreds of thousands, or millions of free iPads and computers to schools across the country.  So it’s more like “Big iPencil” if you ask me.  As programs such as common core and the like have driven increasing focus on digital learning and test taking I wonder if our children are really always better off.  Hundreds of millions or billions of dollars spent around the country to revamp education around the digital age and we’ve seen educational attainment decline over the past 20 years.  Certainly much of this challenge has other roots in social and economic issues we are facing.  However continual reinvestment in new educational technologies, just to be scrapped and move on too a new generation of learning technology is also driving up costs for strapped school districts which can’t even afford to buy traditional school supplies like pencils.  This pushes this financial burden back on teachers and parents.  Under these pressures and new thinking many schools drop teaching handwriting (or at least cursive) at all, as well as drawing, arts and music. These are all things our industry and our own company rightly support in many forms.  Not just because of our company’s economic self-interest but because what would a world be without these things and the creativity.

Please don’t think this perspective means I am against technology in education at all.  There are extremely strong benefits to exposing students to technology as part of the learning process.  I also certainly understand, as this guest expert proposes in the podcast, that some students struggle with learning handwriting and it might hinder learning in other areas.  However, there is a place for and value in both learning methodologies and I strongly feel the needs of a few who may struggle with such burdens of learning handwriting should not preempt the exposure to and learning of these and other manual skills using pencils and other writing and art materials for the many who certainly can greatly benefit.

Anyway, this morning as I was preparing to head to the office watching ABCs Good Morning America, I had a revelation about just exactly who is Big Pencil.  Here it is, March 30th National Pencil Day,  and they were doing a feature promoting a segment tomorrow in which Crayola will reveal which of it’s 24 colors was being discontinued on of all things National Crayon Day, March 31st. Now if a company like this can totally preempt National Pencil Day on national network television, my real concern is clearly “Big Crayon”.

We’re 99 Today! CalCedar’s Centennial Year is Upon Us.


Just a quick post to note that today is California Cedar Products Company’s 99th birthday (per our original stock records book of 1st shares issued to company founders right).  So we’re now entering our Centennial year in business.  Despite the lack of activity here on Timberlines, for quite some time we have been hard at work here at CalCedar setting in motion plans for our year long Centennial Celebration.  A gala event with employees, customers and special guests, commemorative products, a published Company History, Timberlines historical content and a number of special contests are in the works for the coming year.   Look forward to fresh and more routine content as we move into the new year with the Timberlines blog integrated to it’s new home on CalCedar website which will also be getting a new look.

In the meantime, I’ll share this brief story about our company founder  William “W.B.” Thurman that I shared with our employees, board and shareholder members and families at our Annual Christmas Dinner last night. The party doubled as our 99th birthday celebration.

Company founder and 1st President W.B. Thurman, hailed from Madera, CA about 100 miles south of California Cedar Products Company home in Stockton.  Coming west in 1849, his father William H. “W.H.” Thurman, had a long career in and out of the lumber industry and in law enforcement throughout California and in Washington state up to his death in 1895.  In 1876 W.E. Thurman established the California Lumber Company flume and sawmill (later Madera Sugar Pine Co.) as well as founding the town of Madera to bring logs from the Sierra forests to the Southern Pacific Railway there.  W.B. worked in his father’s mills off and on and also followed him into politics and government serving as deputy Sheriff under his father who was Madera county’s first Sherriff.  This photo of W.B. shows him in 1899 in this law enforcement role, though he quickly returned to the lumber trade, feeling this a much safer career option, after being shot in the thumb during the attempted escape of one of the prisoners in his jail.

W.B. then founded a new partnership which later became Madera Sash and Door Company which he operated until selling the company to pursue his plan to enter the pencil slat business by founding California Cedar Products Company up on Stockton.  The other initial shareholders were his brother James Thurman, a San Francisco based lawyer serving as corporate secretary and San Francisco lumber trade F.F. Sayre who resigned as President of the California Sugar & White Pine Company to head up sales as Vice-President for the new venture.

An interesting postscript is that after sharing this story last night, our Executive VP an General Manager for our Tianjin China pencil slat factory told me that before completing his forestry degree and entering the timber business himself and joining our company in 1978 he had served as a deputy sheriff in Madera County of all places and had a book on the history of Madera Sugar Pine company, but never knew of this interesting historical connection to CalCedar.

If you’re wondering where the Berolzheimer family comes in to this CalCedar story, more to come in future editions as our projects progress in the new year.  Until then  then hope you all have a happy holiday season.

Charles Berolzheimer
Chairman and CEO
California Cedar Products Company

The Season of Pencildom Anniversaries

Just a quick note in recognition that today marks the 10th Anniversary of my first ever Timberlines blog post. In that post I mentioned Timberlines was the name of our former company newsletter. We’ve been prepping for a relocation recently and today I unexpectedly came across boxes of the old newsletters and selected a few for this post’s image. After 10 years we are ready to move again to a new facility more attuned for our current needs (but more on that for a future post).

Interestingly one old 1989 issue featured our pending move to a new corporate headquarters building finished out throughout with Incense-cedar of all things. We stayed in that building through 2005 until a company restructuring around that time meant downsizing back to the original administration building called the “White House” that had been used up till 1989. I remember my dad’s first office was in the “white house” and now that office includes four of our Pencils.com and Blackwing marketing and sales team, including my son Phil. I know they’re all looking forward to this relocation soon.

Looking at these old issues the provide a representative sample of themese. Some often featured travelogues that my grandfather wrote about trips to visit customers and friends around the world as well as the typical fare of employee retirement farewells, new employee welcome profiles and life advice for employees as we’d enter a new year. The special issue in the back left was in honor of my Grandfather’s death August 30, 1995 including contributions from family, friends and employees. Hard to believe it’s been 20 years now, how the industry and our company have changed in that time.

Going back to my first Timberlines blog post I credit (a now old pencil friend) Johnny Gamber for the motivation to begin my own blogging effort on this date which also marks the 10th anniversary of his first ever review of our ForestChoice pencil. To my knowledge that Pencil Revolution post was the first standalone pencil review ever posted in the pencil blogosphere.

Also as far as I can see it seems Johnny may have let the Pencil Revolution blog 10th anniversary pass quietly back in July. I know his wonderful endeavors along with Andy and Tim on the Erasable podcast these days generally take precedence over his own PRevo blog posts, but he deserves recognition and renewed thanks from me and many other’s for his contributions via Pencil Revolution over the years. So here’s to Johnny, the original Pencil Revolutionary, for 10 years of influence on web pencildom.

I don’t post often these days with all the other things to fill my schedule. Sometimes I think I’ll get going with a new series of posts on a theme of interest at the moment, but looking back these generally ended up being one off posts with good intentions. It’s been easier to contribute more frequently within the Erasebale Podcast Facebook group. However, as the next 2 months is a period of some news for us at CalCedar on several fronts, including our relocation, some new products we’ve been working on and some other company history anniversaries, I’ll hope to share some things on these topic in the coming weeks. Then given past experience, Timberlines will likely go dormant once again for a while.

Anyway thanks for those few of you who’ve read these pages over the years and for your support of our efforts and products at California Cedar Products Company. This is an old, but interesting industry and company. Every now and then these anniversaries kick in some good memories I think might be worth documenting.

Erasable Podcast: Liner Notes fom the Zurückbringer

I was very honored to be the guest last night of Andy, Johnny and Tim on their latest Erasable Podcast Episode 14: Incense Cedar House Rules . My guess, given my readership and frequency of posting, is that if you’ve found your way to Timberlines, you probably already know about Erasable. Though, just in case you’re a neophyte and into pencils, then you need to follow these guys, listen to their podcasts and potentially even jump into the Erasable Podcast Facebook Group where they’ve inspired pencil exchanges and a whole host of nefarious pencil related behavior, including a Pencil Army. When it comes to anything new and interesting in the world of pencils these guys have all the fresh dirt. Or is that fresh pencil shavings?

Typically I listen to podcasts while I’m walking the dog in the morning, but tonight just couldn’t wait to see how it all turned out. So I’m listening while I write this post up.

One of the fun parts of the show is when they cover their “Tools of the Trade” which represent the pencils, notebooks and beverage of choice for the evening. Unfortunately I didn’t get to participate in that part of the conversation so I shared mine in my post photo above. During the discussion I mentioned my great-grandfather Philip who had run for Congress in the 1920s. One of his platforms was the overturning of Prohibition so in his honor, so last night during the podcast I was drinking Brew Free or Die IPA from 21st Amendment Brewery which is just down the street from my residence in San Francisco. I was using one of our old California Republic Palomino HB blue end-dipped pencils in an early prototype of a pocket sized notebook we were evaluating earlier this year as we refined our design choices for our new Blackwing Slate journal.

My interview segment comes in at about 43 minutes into their broadcast and runs through the end.

Thanks guys for including me it was great fun and I appreciate your asking me to join in and all the great feedback and put from the members of your growing Community. Pencil is Forever!

Drawing With History: AOL’s This Built America Covers New Jersey’s General Pencil Co.

We received this press release at Pencils.com this morning. Have posted about this wonderful family and company in the past here. Happy to share another great “pencil success story” of one of our wood slat customers. Find some of General’s great products here on Pencils.com. Congrats Jim, Katie, Kirsten and all…

Jersey City, New Jersey (August 6, 2014) – This Built America, a new multimedia platform from AOL exploring the companies and people reimagining American manufacturing, comes to Jersey City this week to profile the General Pencil Company — a company built on family and dedication that has been going strong since Edward Weissenborn founded his second pencil endeavor in 1889.

In this episode, the fourth, fifth and sixth generations of the family discuss why keeping General Pencil in the family is the key to their business success. It hasn’t always been easy to keep the company afloat, or to turn away offers to buy General Pencil, but the Weissenborns feel a connection to their long running, made in America company.

For General Pencil Company, being chosen to represent New Jersey in This Built America is proof that founder Edward Weissenborn made the right decision banking on family business all those years ago, no matter the circumstance. “We believe in America,” says Jim Weissenborn. “We are proud of our employees and the quality products they produce.”

To view the full episode and more on General Pencil Company, visit here.

General Pencil Company joins a national movement in This Built America that is devoted to supporting American companies and American-made products. AOL is proud to support the effort along with sponsor Ford Trucks. Through the year, the editorial and video teams will explore 50 states in 50 weeks to bring 50 stories of the people who are bringing back manufacturing to America. The platform is produced in coordination with Man Made Content.

Help spread the word through your social channels by following these platforms for more episodes and updates:

Facebook: facebook.com/thisbuiltamerica
Twitter: @builtamerica
Instagram: thisbuiltamerica
Google +: builtamericaproject

What’s your Story? The impact of blogging, social media and podcasts on the analog world of pencils

Last week I was listening to Johnny, Andy and Tim’s Erasable podcast with guest Brad Dowdy. This was the 11th episode in their new endeavor which I find quite interesting, even if I don’t always have time to sit through an entire episode. When I can, I check in on the Erasable Facebook group and even participate with a comment and it’s great to see the level of engagement the members have with their wood cased pencils and their developing community. This is a direct tribute to the power of social media and the leadership of these individuals and other pencil, pen and stationery enthusiasts, and it got me thinking about the role these social media technologies have had on the analog pencil industry.

Today marks the 9th anniversary of Pencil Revolution’s first ever pencil review back in 2005, which featured our Forest Choice Graphite pencils. To my knowledge, as the first and original “pencil blogger” Johnny’s post was the first ever blog review of any pencil on the internet. At least for a blog specifically focused on pencils, pens or stationery. Perhaps more research is needed to validate this claim, but for now I’m making it, and congratulating and thanking John for this accomplishment.

In honor of this anniversary and his selection of our product for that review, Pencils.com is offering a special 1 day only 25% discount on all ForestChoice pencils and notebooks, here. As it turns out we’ve made reasonable progress since those days using ForestChoice to promote FSC certification for wooden pencils. We’ve used this item as a driver product in our focus on providing high quality green school supplies http://gogreenschoolpencils.com/, at Pencils.com, and have even placed ForestChoice pencils in over 60,000 school supply kits this year with one key customer.

More importantly, today the vast majority of the wooden slats CalCedar sells to pencil manufacturers around the world are either FSC or PEFC certified. I like to think that that first Revolutionary post, along with our continued focus on providing such materials (not to mention the growing impact and awareness of environmental and sustainability issues enabled through blogs and social media) has certainly had an impact on the commitment the industry has shown to utilizing certified woods in pencils.

Johnny’s launch of Pencil Revolution a few weeks earlier and his communication with us asking for pencil samples came at a time when I myself was in the process of exploring how we might use blogging to further promote wood-cased pencils and California Cedar Products Company. In a sense, John’s serendipitous selection of our ForestChoice product, the first ever FSC certified pencil brand, provided the inspiration for me to initiate the Timberlines blog. The subsequent orders received and his response to trying out our original California Republic Palomino lead to me moving forward to launch online sales of our Palomino, GoldenBear, and Prospector range the following month. I’ve written about that previously here.

In checking in with Johnny this week about this anniversary and his role in influencing some of those early decisions he comments “I am very happy if I and/or my blog have/has had any impact at all on pencil making and marketing. But if Pencil Revolution played even a small part of the story that lead from the Palomino to the Blackwing, that’s fanfreakintastic!”

As it turns out, today also marks the 9th anniversary of my 1st post on this Timberlines blog. Though I have not been a very frequent publisher, I’ve used my posts over the years to share some of my personal thoughts on topics I have felt relevant to the wood cased pencil industry and other topics on forestry management, natural history, etc. (plus the occasional promotional pitch to support a new product introduction and our goals at California Cedar Products Company). There have been many good intentions to do more, but frankly the time I spend composing what I really want to say prohibits frequent posting given all my other commitments. Let’s just say I’ve never really developed the knack of brevity, but hope that my occasional in depth posts prove of interest to some readers.

Fortunately we have a great, committed team at CalCedar and, between our Pencils.com blog and our Blackwing602.com fan site, we’re producing some great creative content that supports the use and awareness of wood-cased pencils of all sorts as well as the creativity of end-users. And, it’s all promulgated with associated social media tools. In general I think we do good job and have been a leader within the pencil industry when it comes to internet marketing, communications and utilization of these tools to tell a story. There have been successes and mistakes along the way, but we’re always striving to improve and to make the most of these tools and honor the relationships and communities it allows us to develop and participate in with end consumers.

In fact I now describe CalCedar’s business as “enabling great pencil success stories from tree to final nub”. (Note: THe graphic above highlights some past successes and some in the works I used with our team to illustrate this updated vision of our business.) Fulfilling this objective requires operational excellence at many things, from technical and manufacturing knowhow to source raw materials, produce slats and support those industrial customers using our wood, to designing and sourcing unique and exciting products within our Palomino Brands unit that delight customers and dealers, to selecting the right products and improving customer service and e-commerce operations at Pencils.com that feature the wood-cased pencils and associated creative products. Ultimately many of these operational details cannot succeed without also telling these stories, engaging and listening to our customers and building new success stories. These social media tools have been the great enabler and have allowed our company to accomplish numerous successes so far with our Pencils.com store, and Palomino, Blackwing, and ForestChoice products, and to keep telling the great stories of our customers using our wood to make many of the best brands of pencils on the planet. Without a dedicated commitment to using these tools, and the ongoing support of people like Johnny, Andy, Tim, Brad and you, CalCedar would look like a much different (read older, more tired) company today. So, for us, these things have been a transformative process, yet we remain every bit as committed to our traditional slat customers today in providing great and competitive wooden slats.

Towards the end of the Erasable episode the crew talked about a recent article in the New York Times positing that pens and other writing instruments were dying product categories, given the continuing advancement of computing and communications technology. I was enthused to hear the gang vehemently disagree with the author and talk about subjects dear to my heart such as their feeling of connectedness to their writing tools and the textural, tactile sensation one gets when writing or drawing on paper with graphite, ink or other materials. It’s a sensory experience that just isn’t replicated well through all this new technology.

Perhaps this article was somewhat wishful thinking by the author, hoping for some company along the way, based on what’s been happening to newspaper circulation (which is an industry I’d suggest is much more clearly being disrupted by these technologies). While one may discount pencil bloggers and their followers by claiming that they are just small groups of obsessed people talking about their beloved pencils on the web, the reality is wood cased pencil production continues to grow globally at about the rate of world population growth. In my view, the wooden pencil remains the most affordable and efficient writing tool in the world and increasing levels of education in the developing world correlate with increased consumption. In more developed countries, yes new technology has some impact on use habits of writing instruments, but after a generation of commoditization and quality reduction by large mass retailers focused primarily on price, there are many people rediscovering the joys of writing and creating in graphite resulting from interesting product reviews and stories from the web. Frankly I think those are all some pretty good stories.

So what’s your pencil success story? We’re listening and hope to help you share it.

Caran d’Ache Offerings Expanding on Pencils.com Store

Earlier this summer our Pencils.com unit began offering a selection of outstanding graphite and color artist pencils from Caran d’Ache, the Swiss producer of extremely high quality art materials and writing instruments. Known as the “Maison of Haute Ecriture” the company’s products feature “Swiss Made” quality, subtle luxury, craftsmanship, authenticity and contemporary personality that set an aspirational benchmark within the creative art materials and writing instrument industry.

Originally founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1915, as Fabrique de Crayons Ecridor the company was acquired in 1924 by Arnold Schweitzer, predecessor of the present day owners. At that time Mr. Schweitzer acquired his pencil factory he gave it the name Fabrique Suisse de Crayons Caran d’Ache in honor of a famous French artist he very much admired, Emmanuel Poiré. Under the pseudonym “Karandash”, which is the Russian word for a pencil, Poiré worked as a designer and caricaturist in Paris during the Belle Epoque.

The term “Karandash” is derived from the Turkish phrase “kara tash,” which means “black stone,” referring to the graphite found in pencils. He was most famous for his “Stories without words” which were printed by most of the illustrated newspapers of the time, and he is considered one of the fathers of the comic strip. In fact, the painter’s original signature, slightly modified, is still used today as the highly distinctive logo of all Caran d’Ache Fine Arts products range shown here.

We at CalCedar are extremely proud of our multiple generation association as wood supplier to Caran d’Ache and of the close relation between the family owners of both companies. This relationship began with my grandfather who travelled annually to Geneva, visiting his friends at the factory, consulting on technical matters related to wood machining and pencil making followed by a period of hiking the glaciers of the Swiss Alps. The commitment to excellence in use of quality materials and technical processes to produce superior products in a responsible manner are mutually shared values of both companies.

One important example of this long collaboration and shared values is the commitment Caran d’Ache demonstrates to supporting responsible forestry practices through the utilization of our FSC Certified slats in all of their Incense-cedar pencils throughout their product range. All of the Caran d’Ache pencils offered on Pencils.com feature FSC cedar wood in combination with superior pigments, product performance and craftsmanship. Our current offerings include the 120 strong color pallets of both their famous Pablo coloring pencils and their Supracolor watercolor range, the extensive 15 grade range of Grafwood graphite pencils and the outstanding set of Artist Series pastel selections covering 84 vibrant colors in both pencil & cube form. All these top professional quality ranges offer rich and smooth coloring performance for fine artists with great coverage and high lightfast performance. Many of these have long been used by some of the most noted pencil and fine artists past and present.

Now I’m also very excited to announce that we will be adding in the coming days and weeks a larger mix of fine Caran d’Ache products including an interesting selection of ball point pens, mechanical pencils, fixpencil and some specialty gift selections which represent totally new categories of products to the Pencils.com store. This selection has been curated to extend our commitment to creativity in offering one stop shopping for the best of wood cased pencils and a growing range of outstanding artist and writing products as we enter the holiday gift giving season and a variety of price points. While we won’t be adding any of the Ultra-Luxury fountain and ball point pens Caran d’Ache is well known for, we’ve selected a couple of classic and stylish pens that we think complement our fine and general writing pencil selections and demonstrate the great writing performance of Caran d’Ache products as well.

Also to improve our commitment to educating our customers about products we offer on Pencils.com our Studio602 blog will publish a series of more detailed product posts regarding different Caran d’Ache product ranges in the coming weeks as well.

Keeping A Road Trip Journal

Each year Ginger and I take a road trip together in August. This year we’ve headed North to Oregon and I decided to try keeping a road trip journal using one of the beautiful prompted journals from the Journals Unlimited Range we stock on Pencils.com. This is a great series of Journals, each promoted with relevant data depending upon the topic. There are both mini and normal sizes in a number of topics. All the notebooks are “Made in the USA” and use soy based inks as well so they are environmentally friendly. Would be a nice pairing with our ForestChoice pencils as a gift, but on this trip I’m using my Blackwings and trying out a prototype pencil case.

For this trip I selected the Journal entitled, Adventures, My Road Trip Journal. Each day’s entry has prompts related to who you’re traveling with, departure and destination points and stops along the way. There is a technical data section for keeping track of odometer readings, MPG, gas prices, total distance travelled, and the route taken. Also sections for noting highlights, sights and memorable places visited, where you ate and things to remember for the next trip. The back page is open form for notes and journal thoughts about the day. I’m using it to make notes of interesting things Ginger and I talked about during the ride. Also each year we listen to one or two books on CD, usually picking an old classic. This year’s selection is Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and I’ve taken to writing down a few thoughts of interesting passages we listen to that day.

Overall the format seems pretty helpful, though on a down driving day like here in Sun River for a few days the technical sections are less useful, though I did use an app to track our bike ride and there is plenty of space for writing about our wilderness kayak trip today and my fishing trip tomorrow.

Introducing the Blackwing Pearl


Recently, our Palomino business unit announced the newest addition to our Blackwing pencil range, the Blackwing “Pearl”. Here is the first photo of the “Pearl” set to make it’s official debut on May 2nd at Pencils.com and other dealers around the world. You can register for the Studio602 newsletter updates at Pencils.com for more information on just when the product will go live.

May also marks two years since we introduced our “602” model as a follow up to our first Palomino Blackwing pencil launched in October 2010. Since then, we’ve focused on building awareness and distribution for our two Blackwing pencil models, as well as our flagship Palomino and ForestChoice brands. This included introduction of a complementary range of high quality notebooks and sketchbooks. We’ve been pleased with the progress, as many of these three product ranges are now available in an increased variety of online and independent retail stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as growing international distribution in Europe, Australia and Asia.

Over the past two years, we’ve received numerous requests for new Blackwing items from fans as well as our dealers and distributors. Many want new color combinations for the casing and/or erasers and others have made suggestions for alternative graphite formulations. We’ve also considered numerous requests for custom imprint services on Blackwing pencils similar to the custom imprint options now available on our traditional Palomino HB eraser tipped pencils.

One of our key concerns in introducing any additional Blackwing pencils has been positioning the new pencil for use when it comes to differentiation of the graphite performance. In the tradition of the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencils, we’ve never published a specific hardness grade for our Blackwing models. When we launched our 602 model in 2011 we introduced the “firm and smooth” and “soft and smooth” descriptors to differentiate the new pencil from our original Palomino Blackwing in the black matte finish, which has a much softer, buttery feel loved by those doing a lot of sketching, music notation and other activities that require a dark mark. The “firm & smooth” 602 has been well received by those doing extended writing and note taking who want longer lasting performance between sharpening in a pencil that more closely replicates the original Blackwing 602 in performance, look and feel. Adding new grades and colors and keeping such graphite performance descriptors certainly foretells future taxonomy challenges and increases potential for confusion among consumers, so we’ve thought much about this before proceeding. In fact we’ve already had a few interesting suggestions from fans on coming up with our own Blackwing graphite grade scale to simplify things down the road.

Given that we already have a well-received graded graphite range in the Palomino brand, we’re not looking to replicate that by continuing to add a large variety of graphite grades in the Blackwing brand. In selecting a course of action for adding one additional grade we could have gone firmer than the “602” or even softer than the Blackwing, but we experimented with several options and looked at things within the context of our wider artist graphite range and decided to go for something in the middle to fit the broadest user base which offers about the same darkness of the 602, with a bit softer feel that still gives improved wear rates vs. the “soft & smooth” model. We’ve decided to call it our “balanced & smooth” formulation.

For the casing décor, we chose a completely new effect by adding a pearly luster finish to contrast with the flat matte black of the Blackwing and the gunmetal metallic look of the 602 model. White is our most requested color for lacquer finishes and we think it looks just great with this new finish style. Thus the combination of white lacquer and pearly finish lead us naturally to name this pencil the Blackwing Pearl. We chose a black imprint for a stronger contrast, which looks great with the black eraser combination. In fact, we think the Pearl will look great with all six of our available eraser colors, which allows for further personalization or “hacking” for those so inclined.

We can see the Pearl being popular for use in home office décor or used as great guest gifts in weddings and other special events, but also well received for a broad range of existing uses by our fans and new initiates. In reality, regardless of the many different uses of our Palomino or Blackwing pencils, the selection of any specific pencil is always a matter of personal preference. In that sense, we think there is plenty of opportunity for you to find the pencil that is “just right” for your individual taste or a specific need in different situations throughout our full Palomino family as it’s grown and adapted over the past two years. We hope you’ll try out the Pearl and continue to discover the great function, design and performance of our developing Palomino family of products that help you to express your creative spirit in new and exciting ways.

Hough’s American Woods: 141 Incense Cedar


This post initiates an extended project I’ve given long consideration to pursue on Timberlines. That is, writing more extensively on my long running interest in the study of natural history and in particular the history of early naturalists as well as the development of various scientific disciplines within the broad field of natural history.

One of the major influences in this hobby was my grandfather and namesake, Charles P. Berolzheimer, whose broad intellectual curiosity in the sciences, including botany, forestry, wood-machining among many other fields of study as well as my exposure to his extensive library which he developed over a lifetime of scholarship. Both during his lifetime and after his death in 1995 I was quite fortunate to receive from his collection a number of books which focused on the natural history topics I find most interesting. He was a unique individual, equally comfortable giving a technical speech on wood sciences in several languages, discussing art and enlightenment thinking or walking through the woods collecting and assembling his personal herbaria. He was particularly fond of trees and fungi. My access to this collection of books has spurred my own further research into these topics, sometimes in specific technical fields, but more generally focusing on the human side of the story of those individuals who advanced knowledge in particular areas of interest, the early field naturalists, discoverers, catalogers or researchers.

My first post in this series covers Hough’s American Woods. I’ve selected this work as a first post not so much due to Hough being an early pioneer of natural history study, though the scope of his work and focus on documenting physical wood samples of American tree species was indeed pioneering in many respects, but rather as this work strikes a bit closer to home for me with respect to the influences of my Grandfather and his interest in area relative to wood processing and treatment.

Hough’s work is a multivolume collection of wood cuts including the Transverse, Radial and Tangential section to show physical specimens exhibiting the natural character of woods, both native and introduced to North America, that he considered import to the study of forestry. The series in total includes 14 volumes and 350 individual species. Each volume includes both the section samples of 25 species as well as a bound pamphlet describing the individual species general and technical information as well as general information covering a range of topics from taxonomy, botanical identification of parts of trees and on the geographic area specific to each volume. The author, Romeyn B. Hough, personally supervised the selection of living tree samples of each species to assure accurate identification and production of the physical sections. The final 14th and final volume was published posthumously in 1928 with his daughter writing the pamphlet.

Given the broad geographic distribution of species extensive work required to identify, harvest and prepare these samples it’s not surprising the publication of this multi-volume work spanned from 1888 to his death in 1924. The specific care to assure proper drying, cutting and preservation of actual wood samples that would stand up without degrade now over 100 years later relates specifically to the technical study of wood chemistry and machining that my grandfather dedicated his own professional career to given our company’s role in supply of wood to the Pencil Industry. American Woods is certainly a labor of love, which in his first Volume Hough dedicated to his own father, who in addition to his influence in Hough’s study of nature he also credits the original suggestion of the pursuit of the body of work covered in this entire series, officially titled, The American Woods, Exhibited by Actual Specimens and with Copious Explanatory Text.

Naturally of all the possible woods in these volumes I’ve chosen to feature sample number 141, Libocedrus Decurrens, or California Incense Cedar. This species is included in Part VI (published in 1895) which covers specifically woods of trees found growing in the Pacific Slope of the U.S. (a scan from my personal collection is shown) (today the Genus Calocedrus has commonly replaced the original taxonomy Libocedrus). Incense cedar first began to be investigated for pencil production around 1906 by our family members at the Eagle Pencil Company and produced commercially into slats at their Hudson Lumber Company mill. For more information on Incense cedar in pencil slat production, read here.

Originally, this collection sold for $5 per volume. Today a complete set including the 14th Edition sells for tens of thousands. You can see all the wood cuts from Hough’s American Woods on line here.