Pencil Review: Palomino hb
A couple years ago, I started hearing the crazy stories about the old Blackbird pencils selling for $20, $20, $40 and more for a single pencil, and about the pencil company that was determined to bring the brand back. That company was California Cedar, and they soon offered several pencils under the “Blackwing” brand.
Why California Cedar? Apparently, as the stock of the old Blackwing dwindled, artists and writers in search of a replacement noticed that the closest thing to the Blackwing’s legendary smoothness and darkness was California Cedar’s “Palomino” line of drawing pencils, particularly the middle-of-the-scale HB.
I’ve never used the vintage Blackwings, so I don’t know first-hand how they compare, but I do know that the Palomino HB is an excellent pencil. Although intended as an artist’s tool (or maybe because of that), the Palomino HB is a great writing pencil, putting down a smooth, crisp, and dark line with minimal pressure.
Slightly shorter than most desk pencils, the Palomino line is clad in really beautiful orange lacquer that feels smooth and cool in the hand. The ones I have are from a recent design refresh — the older design had a metal cap, where these have a black lacquered tip, offset from the body with a white band. (They are also available in blue with a blue top, or with erasers, and there appear to be several special editions in the line, like the gold-lacquered Kum collaboration.)
The only downside, appearance-wise, is the barcode printed on the facet offset the logo. It’s practical — drawing pencils are often sold individually so artists can pick and choose the grades they want, and barcode stickers often leave bits of paper and sticky glue residue — but it’s not very attractive.
But I can live with the slight aesthetic blemish in an pencil that writes this well. As noted above, the Palomino HB writes beautifully — dark and just enough “skritch” to let you feel it. I don’t tend to like the waxy smoothness of the Palomino Blackwings on smoother papers like the Rhodia pad, but the HB I really enjoy using. There’s a trade-off for that soft, buttery line though — the point lays down a lot of lead and blunts pretty quick, even on the slick Rhodia paper. I got a page-and-a-quarter of this review written before resharpening, and that was me consciously going as long as I could stand it before I absolutely had to resharpen.
Frequent sharpenings aside, this is a fantastic pencil and is one of the ones I reach for over and over. If this is what the classic Blackwings were like, well… no wonder everyone loved them.