Blackwing 602

This is a Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil.  Blackwing?  Sounds like something out of Gothic horror or at least Batman.

No.  It’s an iconic writing instrument, the Mercedes-Benz of pencils.  Not the original Blackwing 602s, manufactured by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company.  [Those of us half a century or older remember Faber pencils in grade school.] Those gems, which went out of production in 1989, can fetch upwards of $40.00 per pencil on eBay.

Years later, the Blackwing 602 brand was acquired by California Cedar Products Company which started making them again under their Palomino division.  Purists still prefer the original Faber Blackwing 602s, but they are disappearing.  And who wants to pay $40.00 for a pencil?

The script on the barrel of the pencil says HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED.  There is something about the recipe of the 602’s graphite that gives the user a very smooth writing experience.  I test drove one and compared it with a number of other pencils last Christmas.  There is a difference.  All pencils are not created equal.

Other coolness factors:

  • The flat, square and replaceable ferrule-encased eraser gives one the added bonus of an expensive pencil not rolling off the table and breaking the lead. At $22.95 for a dozen through, this is a big deal.
  • Luminaries in many artistic fields have sworn by the Blackwing 602 for years. Writers (John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov); Composers & Arrangers  (Stephen Sondheim, Nelson Riddle, Johnny Mercer); Cartoonists (Chuck Jones).  It’s even shown up on Mad Men!  

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There is something wonderfully sensual about the experience of writing longhand, composing music, or sketching with a superior writing instrument.  You can try this famous pencil for yourself.  Be aware, these pencils are not easy to track down in most towns.  You won’t find them in Staples or Office Max, unless they’ve begun selling them.  They’re not carried in a lot of brick-and-mortar stores.  However, you can find them here for about $2/each, including shipping.  I never dreamed I’d consider a single pencil worth two bucks a piece but this one is.

Try it and see for yourself.

PS  Buy the Blackwing sharpener and sharpen your 602s by hand. Never sharpen a Blackwing 602 with an electric sharpener!  You’ll discover soon enough that not all sharpeners are designed well–well enough, that is, to get a long life out of your Blackwing 602.  Here you are.


Suggested Resources:

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants (David Rees)

Blackwing Pages: For Fans of the Genuine Blackwing 602


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Daniel Silva and the Writing Process

I’ve become a huge fan of novelist Daniel Silva over the past few years.  I’m currently enjoying The Confessor and have a pile of his other works queued up after it.

Silva has written fourteen novels and is about to release his fifteenth, The Fallen Angel, this summer.  All but the first three novels have centered around Israeli-born art restorer and Mossad alumnus, Gabriel Allon.  He is a compelling figure who helped assassinate the Black September terrorists responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games at Munich.  His son was killed and his wife maimed during a terrorist bombing.  Gabriel is a quiet and complex individual skillfully crafted by Silva.

You should read the books if you are at all interested in art, espionage and things European and Middle Eastern.  Themes like art theft, the Holocaust, the Vatican and radical Islam all loom large.  Gabriel Allon is an engaging character who lingers with you long after the book is closed.

I’m fascinated by the habits of writers and I’ve found some interesting details about Daniel Silva that might interest you:

  • When working on a novel—one a year—he begins work early in the morning and stops at 6:30 PM to watch the evening news.
  • He writes seven days a week and has a very hard time taking a day off when in the middle of a project.
  • He does not answer the phone or email when working.
  • His food of choice when writing is McVitie’s digestive biscuits.
  • He writes his novels first on legal pads using Paper Mate Mirado Black Warrior No. 2 pencils.  Pencils and pads don’t get viruses or crash, says Silva.  Later he commits them to digital form on his computer.
  • He writes sitting on the floor with his work sprawled out all over the room.  This, to the chagrin of his wife, MSNBC News correspondent Jamie Gangel, who designed a very nice workdesk that Silva doesn’t use.
  • Attire: Gray sweat pants, cotton socks from England, moccasins and a long-sleeved L.L. Bean shirt.  This does not vary.
  • He does not drink except for an occasional glass of wine at dinner.  He does this in order to stay clearheaded as he writes. “I don’t touch the stuff.”
  • He takes his work to bed with him and goes over what he’s written at day’s end to let the characters develop in his mind and subconscious as he sleeps.
  • The characters in the Gabriel Allon novels—Gabriel, Ari Shamron, Julian Isherwood, Chiara, Pope Paul VII, Monsignor Luigi Donati, etc.—are as real to him as a family member.  This is common with many writers.
  • He generally does not read novels when writing.  When not writing, he prefers the work of the great dead, Graham Greene being one of his favorites.
  • He knew from a child that he wanted to be a novelist.

Writers, what are some of your writing tips and habits?  Tell us.

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