Reviving the Blackwing: February Update

It’s been almost three full months since my November update so I thought it was about time to bring our fans up to date with a number of interesting and exciting developments with our Palomino Blackwing pencil as well as other Palomino and Pencils.com news.

We’ve made steady progress and have sold through a little under one-half of our initial production run of the Palomino Blackwing to date. One interesting statistic is that we’ve now had purchases from customers in at least 27 countries. We’re very encouraged by the many great responses that we get back from our customers about the smooth and dark writing and drawing performance. We’ve even had positive feedback from Eberhard (Tim) Faber IV who likes our pencil very much and stated that he was happy to learn of the revival of the Blackwing brand which he considered to be one of his favorite products in the entire Eberhard Faber range which he sold to Faber-Castell USA back in the mid to late 1980s.

We’ve been very fortunate to recieve continued publicity through various blog reviews and other print media, most recently a very nice post at Gear Patrol. This was suprisingly well timed with the launch of our current February Palomino Stampede Month Promotion. If you haven’t checked out our special Month long savings and our Weekly Just Because offers we’ve got some interesting deals on Palomino and Palomino Blackwing items this month, plus a drawing contest with a variety of great prizes.
Also we’ve now completed our planning process for our next production run. This included evaluation of what changes and further product range addditions we will be making for the Palomino and Palomino Blackwing products for 2011. Relative to potential changes in the Palomino Blackwing the most common feedback we’ve had to date has been that for those people who are doing more writing vs. sketching, drawing or music notation they would prefer a bit harder graphite grade than presently used. This is also a somewhat common response from fans of the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 product, a topic I covered in an earlier post.

Given lots of postive feedback also from those who really like the new Blackwing’s softer, richer core and stylish black finish, we’ve frankly been in a bit of a conundrum as to how to proceed. Given the added preference from traditional fans of old Eberhard Faber 602s for a finish and styling of the “original” design we’ve now come to a resolution we think will be a great solution for Blackwing fans old and new. The new Palomino Blackwing 602 Classic model!

The “602 Classic” will revive a replica styling of the original Blackwing graphite grey finish as shown above complete with the pink eraser and “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” slogan. The new pencil will also feature a graphite core that will be closer to our Palomino HB performance providing for improved wear rates for those doing extensive writing. Of course, we will continue to offer the existing Palomino Blackwing with the same graphite core and finish characteristics and only a couple minor finish changes. Thus the dark matt black finish of the Palomino Blackwing will corresond to the rich, smooth and dark performance of the current pencil and the lighter grey finish of the “602 Classic” to a smooth writing somewhat lighter mark more closely matching the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

However, you’ll have to hold on to your Palominos here as with our lead times for production of our specialized ferrule and eraser set along with our need to work down our current stock a bit further it will be a few more months before the 602 Classic is available for sale. Beyond this new product extension we are also now working on completing retail packaging for these and other Palomino pencils in our range. Furthermore we expect to add a few more exciting complementary products for both brands later this year.

Finally, for those looking for even a darker, softer core than our existing Palomino Blackwing and Palomino 2B items we have just introduced our Palomino 4B and 6B pencils to extend the range. We also have announced plans for introducing Palomino Quality private label customized pencils (i.e. Japanese produced high quality). I’ll be sharing more on this exciting new project in a later post as we get further along the development path for this program.

Re-Creating a Lead Legend

Our hometown paper The Stockton Record published a front page article this morning titled Re-Creating a Lead Legend. The article includes an interview with me as well as comments from Doug Martin of the American Pencil Collectors Society and John Gamber of Pencil Revolution blog.

Palomino Blackwing: Special Edition Gift Set

I am pleased to announce that we have received just in time for the holidays our new Palomino Blackwing Special Edition Gift Set, now available exclusively on Pencils.com. This is a beautiful new desktop set which includes a gorgeous natural wood grain box with the Palomino Blackwing brand embossed in a black leather trim, 24 Palomino Blackwing pencils and one of our KUM-Palomino Long Point sharpeners. At this point we have had just 200 of these box sets produced for the 2010 Holidays. 50 of these have been pre-reserved for our own internal company gift needs. This means there are just 150 sets available for sale in this Special Edition. At our normal Pencils.com margins this product represents a $130 value, however we have elected to offer this price at a price just under $100 per set in support of our loyal Palomino Blackwing fans.The box itself is an absolute gem produced in the Alsace Region of France featuring true artisan craftsmanship in the integration of the arts of woodworking and the production of fine quality CUIR de TERRE leather by our supplier Atelier de la Forêt. The Alsace is known as a land of winemakers & tanners and for the Vosages foothills, rivers and forests. The region is known for its environmentally friendly and sustainable method of selective harvest of the forest down to the individual tree level and for it’s craft woodworking. In former times the Alsace had a thriving tanning industry and today the names of streets, neighborhoods, families and business bear witness to this rich past. The family business owners of Atelier de la Forêt, located near the village of Zittersheim, continue these long held traditions of fine quality craftsmanship.The wood species used in this box is Sorbus Torminalis and is known commonly as the Wild Service Tree. Not knowing much about this particular species I took some time recently to investigate. Amazingly I found the interesting blog, Rowans, Whitbeams & Service Trees, maintained by Dr. Patrick Roper in the UK. Patrick is apparently a specialist in this group of trees and posts specifically about their history, use and preservation. One of the most interesting uses has been that of fermenting the berry’s for various beers as a substitute for hops and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages alike. The tree was even known to Martin Luther for these qualities. The blog also provided this helpful link addressing the the genetic conservation and use of this species.The leather trim on this box is just one fine example of the beautiful leather desk accessories produced by Atelier de la Foret and it is my hope we can collaborate on further special editions within the Palomino and Palomino Blackwing family of products in the future. The company’s marketing literature on their fine leather work is as poetic as the words that can be written with the Palomino Blackwings themselves.

Selecting a great leather is like choosing a great wine… The CUIR de TERRE leather comes from the finest calf-skin and it is transformed by formulae written down in notebooks and loving guarded, in a place, a land, a knowledge that has been passed down in secret, within the family. … the skins delicately catch the light for the pleasure of sight and touch, reminiscent of a sturdy old Armagnac or an aged Port.With this beautiful new gift set we bring together a truly global combination of fine quality craftsmanship of several companies, high quality raw materials and several countries.. The Blackwing pencils start with our superior quality Japanese produced graphite core so paramount to the writing pleasure are then incased in our Genuine Incense Cedar wood from the forests of California, transformed into high quality wood slats in our Tianjin, China factory before final pencil production by our Japanese woodworking and finishing partners. These are paired with the finest German produced carbon steel blade hand sharpeners from KUM. All packaged lovingly in a true work of art from France.

Reviving the Blackwing: November Update

Unfortunately, I’ve been rather quiet lately on our progress with the Palomino Blackwing. Now that I’ve had a chance to catch up following my recent international travels I felt today would be a good time for a quick update on our progress for our fans.

We’ve had the new Palomino Blackwing pencil available to customers now at Pencils.com for just over 45 days now. I have been quite pleased with the positive response and we have certainly benefited from some helpful press exposure, including Alex Beam’s Boston Globe video post “Better than an iPad?” and others. October was a busy month as we needed to step up our back office operations to support packing and shipping pencils at a new higher rate that started of with a bang when we received 300 orders alone on the very first day of sales on October 1st and another 150 or so over the next 3 days or so. To date we have sold through approximately one-quarter of our initial production run (nearly our full volume of 2 air express shipments) to over 1000 different customers. I feel like we are making good intial progress with the challenges of initial fulfilment . I want to thank each of our customers for being so patient and appreciative. Our overseas shipment should be arriving within the next 2 weeks after allowing for customs clearance so we hope to be able to add our new Palomino orange end dip 4B and 6B pencils to our sales offerings early in December.

We have been making some slow progress towards finalizing the design and production details on the retail packaging schemes for Palomino Blackwing and the rest of the Palomino pencil range. Part of this has been tied to assessing what final design changes may be made if any to the future production of the pencils. Other aspects have been tied to vendor and materials evaluation. We continue to plan availability of retail packaging for early 2011.

I have just completed a recent trip to China and Japan and hope to offer some more interesting and detailed posts down the road on various aspects of that trip to supplement the initial post on our visit to Beijing FILA Dixon pencil operations. While in Japan we visited many of our pencil slat customers but also had several meetings with the companies involved in the production of the Palomino Blackwing. This included visits to each of the graphite lead production, wood working and finishing subcontractor operations. At these meetings we reviewed a number of technical issues related to product design changes now under consideration as well as to production planning concerns. We currently expect our next production run will occur sometime around February or March 2011 depending on sales trends and lead time issues. A few more details are still being worked out and then I’ll be covering more on that topic in a future post once we finalize all our decisions within the next month.

Finally, tomorrow we will launching sales of our Palomino Blackwing Special Edition Gift Set which will be fully described in a separate post, but will include 24 Palomino Blackwings and a Palomino-KUM long point sharpener in a beatiful natural wood grain and leather trimmed box with the Palomino Blackwing logo embossed in the leather. This is a limited run of just 200 boxes of which just 150 will be offered for sale. The video accompanying this post shows the presentation of one of these gift sets to our Palomino Blackwing finishing subcontractor. His wife came in right after this and liked it so much she said she may have to take it from him, remove the pencils and use it for her sewing supplies.

Reviving the Blackwing: First Day Sales Update

First of all I want to express my personal appreciation to all of you who have shown interest in the new Palomino Blackwing thus far and are now supporting us with your orders on our first day of this new product sales on Pencils.com. We also received a nice bit of publicity today from the Boston Globe, in the multiple forms of an article as well as a video post from Globe Columnist Alex Beam.

The sweet music to our ears is that we are well ahead of the inital projections I had made for the opening 24-48 hours. At this point we essentially met my initial forecast for that period within the first 12 hours of sales. Our small Pencils.com team in our home office is busy focusing on completing and shipping as many of these orders as we can accomplish today since we want to do our best to maintain our normally high standard of prompt shipments. I appreciate the patience of some of you who will have to wait until Monday or Tuesday for our shipments to go out as we just won’t be able to get all the orders out today.

I need to especially thank our core Pencils.com team Paula, Dave, Joey and Philip for all thier hard work in preparing for the Palomino Blackwing launch. As well as Vincent for his assistance on the supply side with both our Japanese producer and our sales agent team in Tokyo. Without this groups dedicated and collective commitment we would never have been able to experience such a strong initial launch today.

I fully expect the initial rush of orders to taper off after a day or so. However, it’s clear we’ll be needing to make an additional expedited airshipment from the balance of our intial production run presently being completed in Japan. Otherwise we will not make it through the approximate 45-60 days from now we’ll have to wait for the main portion of the shipment to come over the water as we’re probably 2-3 weeks away from a ship date from Japan on the balance of the production. Should we end up short of product for a few days to a week we will be notifying any of those with backorders of a projected ship date. Note that we have limited order sizes through the initial lauch period to try to spread around what we have to as many new customers as possible.

Thanks again for everyone’s support. I very much hope you enjoy your new Palomino Blackwings and this day will become a bellwether of good things to come for the future of the the Blackwing.

German Pencil Wars

There is an interesting story today in the Wall Street Journal about the “pencil wars” between two historic German companys in our industry. Who’s the oldest? Who’s the best? Who’s the most innovative? Interviews of Count Anton (Toni) Faber-Castel and Axel Marx current MD from Staedtler. I wrote a related post a few years ago about all the pencil company’s vying for the title of having produced the biggest pencil in the world. All in good fun.

It’s nice to see some mainstream press coverage on the pencil business. Coincidentally, I was just interviewed yesterday by a writer from the Boston Globe who is working on a story about our relaunch of the Blackwing pencil.

Reviving the Blackwing: Sales Launch Update

Rather than continuing on schedule with previously planned posts about our design and development process I thought I’d respond to all the inquiries we’re getting about when we’ll actually begin taking orders for the new Palomino Blackwing.

As previously announced, last week we received the expedited air shipment of the first part of our initial production run. Unfortunately final packaging has not yet been completed. Due to customer requests for the new Blacking pencils we have decided to launch without final packaging. Customers who wish to purchase the Palomino Blackwing pencils immediately will receive them in a black gift box (see top photo). We expect to put these up on the site for sale sometime next week pending some other final details we are working through at the moment. We will also offer bulk volumes in our standard one gross quantity boxes (144 pencils). Availability of the Blackwing packaged in our traditional banded dozens format should follow within another two weeks thereafter.We expect to be able to offer the Palomino Blackwing pencils in the final 12 count package by the end of November once the balance of the initial run pencils arrive from Japan. The image here shows the latest mockup for this box which has taken into account feedback we received from many of our questionnaire respondents to go with more of a typographical treatment in our package design. We think this is tastefully reminiscent of the classic Blackwing package, not a copy by any means, but fresh and updated to complement the style of the new Palomino Blackwing. We are also in the process of designing new retail packs for the balance of the Palomino product range. This should allow us to begin focusing on some retail placement for both the new Blackwing and broader Palomino product range in early 2011.Additionally we have just worked out details to produce a limited run of high quality wood box desktop sets especially designed to include 24 Blackwing pencils and a Palomino-KUM long point sharpener. These should be available mid to late November. . . just in time for Christmas.Finally, we are still also working through a few final costing and pricing analysis details so will not provide pricing on these new items until we go live with sales next week.

Reviving the Blackwing: Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed

Photo Courtesy: The Blackwing Pages

Honestly, there was indeed a debate about whether to include this phrase long associated with the Blackwing on our new pencil. Many Blackwing fans seem to feel quite strongly that this slogan should have been used and do associate this slogan directly with the pencils smooth writing performance. One person even referred to our new Palomino Blackwing version using the phrase “One Quarter the Pressure, Twice the Speed” to indicate that, in his opinion, it was smoother than the original.

I have nothing against a good marketing and promotional slogan and I certainly recognized beforehand that “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is loved and well respected. However, I’ll admit I never really understood the logic of this slogan from a purely technical standpoint. Increasing downward writing pressure quite obviously increases friction and thus would slow down the gliding of the pencil across the paper with a given amount of lateral force. The inverse is true as well, reducing pressure increases speed. Thus when applied to downward writing forces this slogan is essentially true regardless of the quality of the graphite and how smooth it is in relation to the graphite cores of other pencils. Alternatively, looking at varying degrees of lateral pressure being applied with a fixed amount of downward force, as smoothness increases the same lateral force certainly would increase speed and I can see the logic that reduced lateral pressure might maintain the same speed, but not necessarily double it. Who can write or draw legibly twice as fast anyway? So it did not strike me as a particularly appropriate slogan when evaluated purely from an scientific, literal standpoint to represent comparative performance advantage versus other pencils or even just smoothness in general.
There are indeed testing devices to measure lead wear rates and lay down samples on pencils as well as ink flow rate on pens. I’ve checked with our lead supplier and there is however no current instrument they use to technically measure smoothness under controlled circumstances, just the experience of their trained staff. Presumably if a proper technical definition of smoothness was determined this could perhaps be evaluated by designing appropriate scientific method and test equipment to statistically measure and demonstrate smoothness performance. (Note: Our CalCedar Research department once developed equipment and conducted a set of studies to scientifically and objectively measure the different forces required to sharpen pencils made of different wood species with different sharpening tools. Being a specialist in wood processing technology and supplier of wood to the pencil industry this makes some sense for us to have pursued this, however we are not a specialist producer of our own graphite cores and have not really considered such tests in developing our new Palomino Blackwing pencil. Remember Adam Smith’s Invisible hand.)
Obviously this is a very theoretical discussion for what really ultimately has more to do with consumer perceptions. I doubt Eberhard Faber ever conducted any studies to scientifically measure and demonstrate smoothness before coining the slogan. Looking up the word “smooth” in the dictionary yields several appropriate synonyms which have been applied to the Blackwing Pencil at times “soft”, “silky”, “velvety” and “effortless” being among the most common. From the concept being portrayed that the Blackwing pencil is more effortless to write with, then the idea that reducing pressure corresponds to a dramatically increased speed may be interpreted that the pencil has characteristics that defy natural forces thus imparting a super-natural type quality. Perhaps this is closer to the originally intended meaning and interpretation for this phrase than my more literal view expressed above, it’s certainly a romantic one. In any event I have no idea who to credit for the inspiration and genesis of the “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” slogan. Perhaps it was simply the Mad Men. Who knows?
From a trademark perspective it does not appear that Eberhard Faber ever took action that we could find to protect this phrase. During our cursory evaluation of this topic with counsel we came to no conclusive answer whether it would be worth the effort and expense and if it would ultimately successful in being granted a trademark. Certainly we could have used it without taking such steps but for this and other reasons chose not to.
We did consider alternate slogans that I felt would more directly reflect the Blackwing’s smooth writing performance and would also improve linkage with some of the existing “slogans” related to the Palomino’s performance. (e.g. Ride the Palomino, the smoothest ride around. Or alternately, Smooooth…!, which came from one of our fans in an animation about the Palomino). We’ve also since had several suggestions including some of my favorites: Fast as Light, Dark as Night and Back in Black. Ultimately we rejected printing any slogan as a matter of the economics of dual side printing, and a desire not to offend those who may not like a changed slogan and also consideration for trademark concerns.
As we look ahead to future production the decision of whether to use the “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” slogan is currently under re-evaluation though perhaps alternately we should just hold a proper contest for a great new slogan unique to the new Palomino Blackwing and a new generation of pencil fans. Once concept now under consideration is to produce a separate SKU as a classic reproduction version, though when or whether we could support multiple Blackwing items in the line over time really has to be seen with how sales go as we move through the fall. We are now working on last few details before putting up the new Palomino Blackwing for sale on Pencils.com.

Reviving the Blackwing: Eraser Performance and Design

Ultimately, as we all now understand the story, the breakdown of the specialized ferrule production equipment and the costs to repair or replace the machine factored in the decision by Newell Rubbermaid (Sanford) to discontinue the Blackwing. The economic return did not seem to cover the cost of restarting production given the limited sales for the product and the company’s primary focus on mass market products. Of course, I also doubt anyone ever expected pencil aficionados would eventually be willing to pay from $20 to $40 each for these pencils down the road either. It’s an interesting speculation to consider if armed with such knowledge what new pricing they might have been sufficient to justify the repair or replacement of the machine and continue the product at that time. Who knows if anyone performed such an analysis or just looked at the unit volume and decided to call it quits?

Bringing back the classic ferrule with its flat rectangular, extendable eraser was a key factor for me in deciding to move forward with the Palomino Blackwing. As some fans have noted the Palomino, Mitsubishi Hi-Uni, Tombow Mono, or Staedtler Lumograph brands each have specific grades that compare rather closely to the original 602 performance. Therefore at least to me, without this classic ferrule and eraser design included there could be no return for the Blackwing brand. Finding a vendor that would agree to reproduce the functional eraser assembly to our desired quality standard while protecting our tooling investment and not allowing reproduction for other pencil manufacturers was important to me. Another key decision factor was to obtain a reasonable economic cost relative to standard tipping, even though it was clearly always going to be much more expensive per pencil than regular erasers. Important considerations became the tooling costs investment to be able to produce the assembly components as well as the appropriate minimum order volumes for a given unit cost. Discussions and investigations on this actually took place over a period of a year or more. We did commit however to the tooling cost early on to produce the ferrule (well over a year ago) just so that we could begin to produce some test samples. At one point after we had paid for the tooling we we’re told we would have to move our original target minimum order size for our first order from 50,000 as originally quoted to 500,000 pieces if we wanted to keep the price unchanged. This just about killed the whole project and created long delays as we assessed whether to proceed or not, considered alternate options and negotiated further. By the standards of most commodity oriented good quality, high volume cedar pencils (e.g. Ticonderoga or Mirado) selling at or around $0.20 to $0.25 each 500,000 pieces is not a very high production figure at all. However, for a niche, high quality item we expected would ultimately have a retail price point, somewhere between $1.50 to $2.00 per pencil, this could be a significant initial inventory investment just for these assemblies, depending on ultimate acceptance of the product. This also raised concerns such as eraser life if initial sell through was not very good. In the end we were able to settle on an initial production run of 100,000 ferrule/eraser assemblies and this coincides with the number of pencils we are producing in this first run for the Palomino Blackwing. Feedback on the eraser assembly and performance overall has been positive overall. Several reviewers have noted the exceptional care with which the ferrules and erasers are glued, rather than crimped on to the pencil mechanically, and that the flat side of the ferrule/eraser set is oriented so that the imprint is face up. This is not the case with the original Blackwing which has random application angles. In reality the end of each pencil is actually machined down slightly before attaching the eraser assembly vs. standard eraser tipping which more commonly slightly crushes the wood before attatching and crimping on the ferrule and eraser.

The Palomino Blackwing erasers are about 25% larger in total cubic volume and 15% wider than those of the original, providing improved eraser surface area. They are also produced with improved materials than the natural rubber/pumice composite materials used in the original Blackwing’s erasers. Here I’d like to add a technical note as there have been several comments on blogs referring to the Palomino Blackwing’s eraser as a vinyl eraser. This is not the case and is an inaccurate assumption on the part of those individuals. While vinyl based materials did become more prevalent for art and pencil top eraser use as a replacement for traditional natural rubber based composites, vinyl erasers are actually currently in declining use by the industry. Our erasers are produced using Thermoplastic elastomere (TPE). Thus they are more appropriately called polymer erasers vs. vinyl erasers which are produced using PVC material. The change to TPE from PVC was initiated by the industry to eliminate chloride from the production process and finished product. The vinyl erasers that are most commonly used today are larger hand held block eraser formats. Most pencil top erasers from major brand manufacturers and all those we use in our California Republic product ranges are polymer erasers, even if they are other colors such as more traditional red or pink. For an interesting history of the eraser and technical information about the different materials used over time Staedtler has a very useful resource guide, here.We did get some feedback that with our darker lead mark than the original Blackwing, erasing with our new eraser still leaves a slight trace of a smudge, or “ghosting”. This is another issue we are re-evaluating for future production and are now told by our supplier there is an opportunity to improve on this versus the current eraser we are using in the Palomino Blackwing. However, we have not had a chance to evaluate cost differences or do any actual testing. The current eraser is the same quality as that used on our Palomino HB pencils.Finally, some traditional fans do seem to prefer the old pink eraser color versus the white version which we selected. Others have suggested black would be very nice as well. Color of the eraser specifically is not really a factor in it’s performance though it seems to be a common misconception that a white eraser works better than a red or pink eraser. It all comes down to materials. Performance differences with the original Blackwing certainly have something also to do with the age of these older pencils and the effects of oxidation and exposure to light. At this point I cannot indicate if there will be an eraser color change down the road as this is dependent upon what future cosmetic design changes we might implement for the pencil overall as well.

Reviving the Blackwing: Lacquer Finish & Imprint

This feature set was considered the fourth most important across our six features ranked by our test groups.

Here there is a clear allegiance among traditional Blackwing fans to the historic charcoal or graphite gray gloss finish and imprinting information on the pencil to more closely match that of the original product. Many participants readily admitted technical and overall usage performance is the most important factor, but given a preference they’d go with a finish treatment close to the original 602. Some commented that the Blackwing font itself is different than the original. We did initially try to match exactly the original Blackwing font. During our detailed research on this topic we could not find an exact match, but we learned that it was a variation of a very old German font, which makes sense given the heritage of Eberhard Faber. We selected a more updated font that matched as close as possible without going to more expensive and time consuming efforts to have a designer create an exact match. Additionally, there have been quite a few suggestions to increase the size of the Blackwing name relative to Palomino to make it more characteristic of our treatment of the Palomino brand relative to California Republic brand on our Palomino pencils. The relative font size is a valid point and probably will be corrected in future production pending assessment of some related technical and marketing factors as we consider potential redesign.My personal view in designing the new Palomino Blackwing pencil has been that a product named Blackwing logically should be finished in black. As mentioned in an earlier post I generally agreed with finish recommendations suggested in that Frankenpencil post and this to some extent guided thinking on this design, though admittedly Lisa was not talking about a new Blackwing pencil, but her ideal “Frankenpencil”. In any event it seemed there was quite a lot of interesting and supportive discussion around this post and with some of these design characteristics so it seemed appropriate to incorporate some of these into our design. The addition of the gold band was simply to keep some added Palomino brand family connection in our pencil range design. Some people have commented they feel the gold band is too much of a departure from the original.
Top: Glossy finish version Botttom: Matt finish version
So having decided on a black finish our next choice was whether to go with a higher gloss look more typical of our standard Palominos or alternately a matt finish to provide some further differentiation for this new unique product within our existing Palomino range. The first test samples of each looked excellent and very reflective of our Palomino quality regardless of glossy or matt finish. Ultimately, I chose the matt finish as I wanted some added distinctiveness for the Blackwing vs. the standard Palomino graphite range and some differentiation from the Tombow Mono which is already finished in glossy black. (Despite this we still received a couple comments comparing our new pencil to the Tombow Mono finish which I’ve shown side by side in a photo here.)
Unfortunately, once the initial production began and we later received a couple hundred samples we noticed some very faint foil speckling occurred during imprinting and these tiny foil flakes had been sealed in when the sealer coat was applied. This covering quote was originally intended to protect the foil imprint and band from any further wear from continuous handling during use as is occasionally noted with respect to many pencils. It’s not a process we do with our existing Palomino products and probably should be eliminated for future production. Though we felt the pencils looked very good overall we were not fully satisfied with this characteristic as compared to the samples we approved before initial production. I actually stopped eraser tipping production on the balance of the pencils, but by this time all of the initial production pencils had been imprinted and sealed. My concern was do we release “as is” or not and it was at this time I determined to do a consumer sampling and evaluation to get a gauge on this issue. Among our options was scrapping the initial production and going back to design table before actually launching the product as well as evaluating other potential fixes. I determined this process would be a good opportunity to get broader evaluation of the product for ideas we could incorporate if we ended up doing a complete re-start or to be used for future design modifications if we ended up launching “as is”. After three weeks of feedback, we have now determined to proceed with the launch of the product “as is”. There were several decision factors, the first and most important being the overall positive response we’re now seeing to the Blackwing Palomino when considered across all of our evaluation groups. Despite a clear preference by many traditional fans for a more classic design and some indications the finish quality is just not quite up to par with Palomino, it appears we have developing demand now with people pressing us for pre-orders regardless of finishing characteristics and we learned that these characteristics consistently did not rate as highly on the scale of importance vs. other product features. Another major factor was that we subsequently determined that going back to the drawing board on design would result in a more extensive production and launch delay than originally anticipated, probably until mid to late 1st quarter 2011. This relates to scheduling issues with our subcontractor as well as to allowing adequate time to address the redesign process, including potential fine tuning of the graphite core formulation. Of course the cost of scrapping or reworking any of these pencils into other products from the initial run if possible was also a relevant decision factor, but not the first priority. I was fully prepared to scrap if I felt this was absolutely the best decision going forward and I’ll stress that our final decision was not self-evident at the point we began the evaluation process.As previously mentioned we are now moving forward with expediting market availability of the new Palomino Blackwing from our initial run. We expect to have more definitive information next week on pricing and order availability. In the meantime we also have a breif update to our Coming Soon page.