Reviving the Blackwing: Understanding the Traditional Blackwing Fan

Welcome back. I hope that you’re enjoying this series of posts as we explore our company’s journey to revive the Blackwing. (To catch up if you’re new see Post One and Post Two) As promised today is the day I’ll begin focusing on our growing understanding of the traditional “Blackwing” fan and their concerns and feedback as we’ve been going through our consumer evaluation process of initial Palomino Blackwing production.
Photo Courtesy: The Blackwing Pages

Right from the start it was clear that we had a core challenge to address in reviving the Blackwing: How to please the traditional fans with a product that honors the “original” while also developing a new Palomino Blackwing product that complements and extends our Palomino product range and can become economically successful. Ultimately, we developed and produced the product that has been distributed for these consumer evaluations. This product is in part based on my research on the internet of many, many posts about the Blackwing over the last several years. One interesting post related to designing the ideal pencil was Frankenpencil, originally published by Lisa Laughy on her Ninth Wave Designs blog and archived today in the community site. I also considered economic factors, design trends and perhaps a certain degree of personal preference in creating a product that I believe can ultimately be successful as well as share some consistent design elements with our Palomino product range. So far there has been a strong overall response to the Palomino Blackwing by our testing groups and those requesting preorders. We’ve had scores of e-mails from those ready to buy the product as is now regardless of future changes we may implement, the color of eraser, finish, etc. However, it’s clear from the feedback we are getting on our surveys, blogs and e-mails that many traditional Blackwing fans expect or have a strong preference essentially for almost an exact duplication of the original Blackwing down to the finest of details. Stephen’s Pencil Talk review posted over the weekend, shows the amazing level of detail some Blackwing fans are going to assess this new item. Even down to weighing differences in erasers on a scale and enlarging images of the imprint by 50x or more . I am not sure any wood cased pencil ever has had such a degree of public scrutiny by end consumers before being introduced. Pencil Talk raises the valid comment that our new pencil is not a clone of the original, but a modern interpretation. I think this is a fair representation given my stated intent to “honor the original while extending the Palomino range”.As good as our new item is the most unwavering Blackwing fans seem to consider it near heresy if we do not provide an exact match to the graphite writing and drawing performance of the original as well as the design and look of the finish, eraser color, etc. Thus some even feel this pencil fails to acheive the goal of “honoring the original”. Clearly the smooth writing and drawing graphite performance has always been the most important quality feature, but there are many strong emotional attachments also to the original’s lacquer finish, it’s pink eraser assembly and perhaps more importantly to the phrase “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed.” One or two even mention the painted band on the ferrule is preferred, though not all versions of the original had this feature. Most traditionalists are very happy that we revived the original classic ferrule and eraser design with the flat, removable eraser and believe we’ve improved on the original in this area.My next post will begin to address the specific feedback on product featuers and performance, starting with Graphite Performance, and moving on in successive topics daily this week. In the meantime we’ve now also set up a new Palomino Blackwing page on to serve as a central point for information on this pencil including updates on product availability.

10 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    I had forgotten about the Frankenpencil post! In the pre-review on Pencil Revolution, I likened the finish to the old/USA Dixon Black in matte, which was meant as a compliment. 9th Wave lists that as the preferred finish of the perfect pencil.

    Very excited to hear that the production models are on the way! 🙂

  2. Sean
    Sean says:

    As a Blackwing fan, I would mention that the reaction to the Palomino Blackwing depended a great deal on discovering the intent behind making it, which until now was not forthcoming. That's why I didn't go into too much detail on my initial impressions; you can't know if the pencil succeeds or fails when you don't know what the goals are/were to begin with. Presumably, invoking the Blackwing name means a connection to the original, but to what extent? (This is something we're all beginning to understand now). But, imagine if the samples went out with the motto: "The Palomino Blackwing: A New Take on a Classic" Well, then, that clarifies a great deal at the onset.

    It reminds me of when I went to a jazz club with a sax-playing friend of mine years ago, to go see this great young tenor player. Listening to him, I said "damn if he doesn't sound *just* like Coltrane", to which my friend replied "Yeah, but we already have one" (and by extension, implying we don't *need* a carbon copy).

    So, I suppose I'll be adopting a similar perspective with the Palomino Blackwing: it's not meant as a replacement, but rather, a classic re-interpreted.

  3. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    Thank you for the mention.

    I have to agree with Sean – if there was an intent or goal for this pencil to be a new "interpretation" and not just a new "edition", that was not previously revealed to the public, nor do I think it could easily have been inferred.

    The reuse of the Blackwing name, the claiming of the expired Blackwing trademark, the exacting recreation of the Blackwing's signature ferrule – all suggest a stronger relationship to the original than we're now learning to be the case.

    Also, it is 'Stephen', not 'Stephan'.

    Looking forward to reading more.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I just cannot wait to be able to order them. I hope we'll be able to order in bulk! And I think the design is wonderful, as is the white eraser.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I was a long-time user of the original Blackwing. It was a great pencil, EXCEPT for the crummy eraser, which was often as hard as a rock, even when the pencils were new out of the box. So I applaud your decision to use a vinyl eraser–it is a big improvement to the original.
    Good luck,
    Don Jacobson

  6. Andy W.
    Andy W. says:

    Well said, everyone! I want to reiterate that knowing the intent *is* very important, and although I'm not adverse to a few changes here and there, I want to see consistency with the Palomino and the Blackwing. For example, one of my favorite things about the Palomino is the lustrous paint job on the barrel. So if the new Blackwings are matte black, how is that consistent with either the Palomino OR the Blackwing?

    In any case, I'm happy to see you verbalize your research over the past few weeks. I'm looking forward to their release.

  7. WoodChuck
    WoodChuck says:

    Stephen –
    Thanks for the spelling correction. Fixed now. Sorry about that.

    I understand that if I had been more clear about my design intent going in as you and Sean seem to suggest, this might have changed some aspects of assessments or judgements. However, as previously noted elsewhere I purposely limited my commenting and input going in as I was seeking an open evaluation process without undue influence that might just support my own conclusions.

    My basic inquiry in the questionaire sent out with the pencils was essentially "Does the pencil reasonably capture the essense of the original Blackwing while complementing the Palomino product range and quality?" A couple posts last week gave perhaps some further indications prior to your review Saturday. at least prioer to your review

    Please understand that I am not complaining in anyway about the comparisons being made. I actually solicited them and appreciate how much I am learning here. Just a little suprised at the depth to which every last detail of the original has a strong emotional connection from the dedicated fan.

    In the end we must recognize of course that this is a self-selecting audience of real enthusiasts that we are primarily hearing from. Ultimately the new Blackwing needs to find a much broader audience than the original at the time of it's demise to become a commercial success. How we take this feedback and move on from here given certain decisions already made that will affect the timing and availability of any successive improved version will be our challenge.

  8. Robert M.
    Robert M. says:

    I agree with Sean and Stephen, and would add that the lack of communication regarding the company's goals when they are already established and the product is so far along the development pipeline brings with it a pretty foul taste…at best being well-intended but disingenuous, at worst being a cheap marketing stunt. There are a few too many mixed messages at this time though to be certain what exactly is going on.

  9. Michael Leddy
    Michael Leddy says:

    I'm puzzled. If the pencils are already on their way from Japan, and if "certain decisions" have already been made, what was the point of seeking detailed feedback? In what ways will the production pencils differ from the pre-production pencils?

    Also: it's not really a "self-selecting audience" that's in question. You're hearing from people whom you selected, to whom you sent the pencils!

  10. WoodChuck
    WoodChuck says:

    I apologize for any miscommunication. It was clearly a mistake to refer to the Palomino Blackwing samples as “pre-production” as opposed to what would in hindsight be more appropriately termed “initial production” or 1st edition” product. My intention was never to mislead our customers or develop any sort of cheap marketing stunt. I asked for and received honest feedback from potential consumers of our new product for the purpose of making real business decisions about whether to release the product we have in hand at this point or not and to scrap all or most production which would further delay the launch and add dramatic cost. I beleive my future posts addressing the business realities of minimum efficient runs, even for initial product testing purposes, as well as other factors in our decision will clarify the situation as we go forward.

    The group that reviewed the pencils did a great job of communicating how the product could be improved and I absolutely intend to use their feedback when making design revisions for future production.

    Regarding my comment on a self-selecting audience, I meant this only to refer to the audience that actively engages in reviewing and commenting about pencils on blogs. This is only a subsection of potential consumers for the Palomino Blackwing and also of those who have reviewed and provided feedback on our new pencil. This on-line group consists of those we could identify as being most knowledgeable about the original Blackwing but is not fully representative of all the feedback we are getting from all prospective customers. The facts are we have a great deal of added positive input coming in and increasing requests for pre-orders on the product “as is” today. This is one of the factors that lead to our decision late last week to move forward with what we have today and to utilize the consumer feedback for potential production of a more “classic” version in the future. This we just don’t know yet.

    I am certainly sorry if my methods have offended anyone. I hope you will all continue to support our company on this evolving Blackwing migration and consider us wise navigators for this brand.

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