Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024470, Tue, 13 Aug 2013 12:01:22 -0400

-- VN’s favorite pencil ...


AUGUST 12, 2013 11:23 AM
An ode to the Blackwing 602, Vladimir Nabokov’s favorite pencil

Forget your yellow-barreled smudgey number twos, your multi-colored refillable mechanical instruments: Scribbling addicts around the world are obsessed with the sleek, smooth-writing Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

Since the pencil’s introduction in the 1930s, the Blackwing has developed a cult following of artists, writers, and designers. Vladimir Nabokov preferred Blackwings for sketching out his novels on index cards, Truman Capote kept boxes of them on his nightstand, and John Steinbeck once declared the the pencil “the best I have ever had.” (He used some 300 of them to complete “East of Eden.”) The pencils have appeared on “Mad Men” and in the hands of the likes of Quincy Jones and Stephen Sondheim.

Eberhard Faber discontinued production of the Blackwing in 1998, thanks to low demand and the realtively high cost to the machinery. Pencil addicts scooped up the remaining stock, leading to a spike in the price of the pencil. Vintage Blackwings, which were originally sold for 50 cents each, now easily fetch $50 a pop on eBay.

In honor of the Blackwing’s 80th birthday, The Hollywood Reporter’s Seth Abramovitch spoke to several tinseltown bigwigs about the inevitable decline of the favored pencil, which it ranks as “among the most fetishized writing instruments of all time.”

“Of all tools, a great pencil is meant to be used, and in the using disappears inch by inch from the stocks of old utensil drawers, estate sales, and retired artists everywhere,” animator Jenny Lerew, who writes about her love of the pencil on her blog The Blackwing Experience, said. “It’s a bittersweet conundrum. A lot of elegance and history will disappear with that last silver stub.”

Tim Hodge, who works at Cartoon Network, spoke to the magazine about his horror at learning of the discontinuation. “I had some stubs in my drawer,” Hodge said. “And was trying to gather them all together and see what I had left, like cigarette butts for a last smoke.”

What inspires such slavish dedication to a writing tool? Pencil collector Doug Martin argues that part of the reason is ease of writing—the Blackwing’s famous slogan is “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed”—but also that the pencil became one that artists knew they could trust. “Professionals rely on quality and consistency in the tools they use, and the Blackwing was one that could be relied upon,” Martin wrote on Pencil Pages.

But, of course, the Blackwing’s status came from more than a reputation as a trusty workhorse. There is a glamor to the Blackwing passed down from its past enthusiasts. When a cult object becomes widely known as such, it moves surely into the mainstream. Shot through Abramovitch’s piece is the acknowledgement that the pedigree that popularized the Blackwing is also responsible how swiftly the remaining stock is disappearing.

In its 80 years, the Blackwing has become a talisman of creative success. What writer wouldn’t try using the same tool Nabakov used to adapt “Lolita” to the screen, just to see if some of the magic would rub off? Logically, there’s no more wizardry to a Blackwing than there is to any other writing utensil. But writers aren’t always logical people—just ask Woody Allen about his Olympia typewriter. Some of us are people of discipline and method, some of ritual and superstition. Many are both. Perhaps there's nothing special about the Blackwing, at least for those of us used to the toothy grip of a No. 2 on a swath of stationary paper, or the sure and steady clicking of a Dell keyboard. But then again, it didn't take long after reading Abramovitch’s article before I was seeking out a Blackwing of my own.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/