We get a LOT of questions about Blackwings in our shop. What’s the difference? Why are they so popular? What hardnesses are they? I like Blackwing ______, what should I try next? We’re here to help, with everything you want to know about Blackwings, but first, a little background on how they came to be:
The History of the Blackwing 602
The Blackwing 602 was originally manufactured by Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, which was founded in 1898 by John Eberhard Faber II (a descendant of the German family that founded Faber-Castell) in the NYC area. He was one of the founding fathers of the modern American pencil and his company went on to make many classics, including the Mongol pencil.
In 1934, they introduced the Blackwing 602, which borrowed the proprietary flat ferrule of an earlier drawing model, the Van Dyke and featured a core optimized for writing, with the inclusion of wax, which supposedly made the pencil smoother and faster to write with. Their motto was “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed”. This fancy writing pencil became popular with writers and illustrators, most famously being the favorite of John Steinbeck. The ferrule is what made it stand out, aesthetically—long and flat, with a clamp to hold the eraser itself and make it removable/replaceable.
Eberhard Faber fell victim to consolidation in the 1980s, when, ironically, it was bought out by A.W. Faber-Castell. Under the new Faber-Castell branding, Blackwings were still manufactured for a few years, until the stock of ferrule clips ran dry and the machine to make them was broken and never fixed.
Ever since, the Eberhard Faber Blackwing has become a hallmark of the hey day of the American pencil, with collections and fans paying between $40-$200 for them on the resale market.
In 2003, a California-based company, headed by Charles Berolzheimer (who comes from the Eagle Pencil Company/Cal Cedar family), the rights to the Blackwing name were acquired and Blackwing made a re-appearance on the market with a new, matte black finish and softer core (the Blackwing Matte, as we know it now). They were a hit, and under the brand name Palomino, new models were rolled out one by one (the Blackwing 602, the Blackwing Pearl and then the Blackwing Natural).
These days, the Blackwing is considered to be one of the finest pencils currently manufactured and the quarterly limited editions (Blackwing Volumes) have a strong following on the collectors market.
What’s the difference?
Blackwings notoriously don’t use the traditional grading scale, so here’s a breakdown of what to expect from each one:
Blackwing Natural “Extra Firm”: Feels like an HB or B*. Recommended for writing and general use. The best option for lefties.
Blackwing 602 “Firm”: Feels like a 2B*. Recommended for writing and general use. This is generally the best one to start with if you’re not sure which one to try.
Blackwing Pearl “Balanced”: Feels like a 3B*. Recommended for drawing or writing, if you’re into a softer pencil. The best option for use with crossword puzzles.
Blackwing Matte “Soft”: Feels like a 4B*. Recommended for drawing, can be a bit too smudgy and soft for general use.
*When compared to a General’s Semi-Hex #2, which we consider to be the benchmark standard for a #2/HB pencil.
In our shop, we often refer to the Blackwing pencils as the “gateway” to fancy pencils. Here’s a little guide to other options to try if you like Blackwings:
Tombow Mono 100 in HB
CWPE Camel Pencil
Apsara Absolute Pencil
General’s Test Scoring Pencil
Caran d’Ache Edelweiss Pencil in 3B
Mitsubishi 9800 Micro Graphite Pencil in 2B
Tombow KM KKS Pencil in 4B
Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencil in 4B
Have you ever wondered how the current Blackwings compare to the originals?
Tested with a 1950s era Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, our conclusion is that it fits somewhere between the Blackwing Natural and the Blackwing 602. It’s has more texture and isn’t as smooth as any of them, but feel-wise, it feels most like a 602, is dark like a 602 but has the point retention of a Natural and smudge-factor of a Natural.
Want to try out an original? They can be really expensive on the resale market, with prices varying depending on the era in which it was produced but often on eBay you can find ones that are already sharpened for much less.
A fun fact: Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602s rarely have their ferrules attached straight. In a box of a dozen, maybe two of them have their ferrules attached do the flat part is flush with the hex that has the branding on it. A far as finishing goes, the current Blackwing are superior and every pencil has a straight ferrule.