I should start off by saying that, to the best of my knowledge*, this is the first Blackwing 602.

[*N.B. See this post for an updated opinion on the ordering.]

The Ferrule

Pencil-makers have for centuries painted the tips of their pencils and ferrules with various bands and caps of color as a means to both identify the brand, as well as differentiate between products within the brand. This Blackwing—from the 1930s—has a black, elongated ferrule with a single, bright-yellow band painted at the base. I have seen this yellow stripe on the Eberhard Faber Van Dyke as well from the same time period, but it didn’t seem to last very long.

It was replaced by a brass-colored stripe, which was the base color of the ferrule and the rest of it was painted black. Here are the first four Blackwings in order:

The Barrel

To my eyes, the paint on this hexagonal barrel isn’t simply black—it seems like a very, very deep blue (the ferrule, however, appears to be black). I have always thought the name “Blackwing” referred to how the pencil writes, not how the pencil looks. Perhaps this pencil’s age—close to 80 years—contributes to the darkness of its patina. Here is the first version as compared to a much later model:

The lacquer seems to be a little bit thicker than that found on later versions, and the edges feel a little less sharp than those of a Van Dyke from the same time period. A 1949 article in Scientific American Popular Science magazine about the Eberhard Faber factory stated that, depending on type, pencils received between 5 and 15 coats of lacquer. It’s plausible then that the Blackwing 602 was one of the products given a few extra trips through the lacquer bath.

Though I feel pretty confident that the first two pencils in the above picture are the first two versions, I’m starting to wonder about the order. I may have artificially inflated this pencil’s status simply because of its rarity—that alone doesn’t mean it was the first version. The first pencil has an all-black ferrule with a painted yellow band. The ferrule for the second pencil may have been painted by dipping it in two steps—a more time-consuming process that likely required other machinery, or at least a second set-up. Couldn’t the yellow band have been painted as an attempt to emulate the look of the non-painted, brass-colored band? This way, the ferrules could all have been painted black in just one step, then the yellow band could have been applied afterward.

Pencils 3 through 6 have a black painted band.  In terms of design evolution, wouldn’t it seem that the ferrules with a painted band should be grouped together? In other words, it seems strange to go from painting the band, to not painting the band, then back to painting the band, vis-à-vis the factory workflow and machinery involved. I’ll take a look at some period Van Dykes for comparison.

Until then, any ideas?