In a recent post, I featured a pencil that I believed to be the first Blackwing 602. A few days later, I added a parenthetical question mark to the title as well as a post script; I’m wondering if I’ve got the order correct. Here are the first three pencils:

Though not equally placed, the imprint is identical on the first three Blackwings, so the ferrules are the only differences in design.

The band on the first ferrule is the color of the natural undercoat, the rest is painted black. How was this done? Perhaps they were dipped twice, each time leaving the band unpainted. If that’s the case then it seems it would have been a two-step process, which was likely labor-intensive. The only other idea I can think of was that the ferrules were fitted onto a long string with fabric loops, which masked the banded area. Perhaps they were airbrushed? The edges of the band don’t look like they are the result of dipping the ferrule. Whatever the process, and for the sake of argument, let’s presume it required a little extra time and effort.

If that is correct, then suppose someone thought this more laborious process (whatever the process was) for painting the ferrules was ineffecient. Instead, they began to paint the ferrules completely black in one step (which is easier), then painted the yellow band (further down the production line) to emulate the color scheme of the previous version.

If some version of this speculation is true, then I’ve got it backwards in the previous post. Instead, they should be ordered as they are pictured above.Supporting Evidence

Here are two Van Dyke pencils with the same undercoat band. These pencils likely pre-date the Blackwing (the Van Dyke in general is an older pencil). Looking closely at the ferrule, notice the arrow that has been stamped-out of the metal, which indicates the eraser can be adjusted. The other side says “CLAMP” followed by its patent number the date of the patent, MAR 29, 1921:

There is even an instruction imprinted on the reverse of the barrel:

In fact, so much emphasis was placed on this design-feature that the packaging even had a cardboard tongue in the shape of the eraser: it slips through the top when you open the box, mimicking its removal from the ferrule:

Neither of these things appear on the Blackwing or its packaging. Could it be then that this Van Dyke represents an older version of the ferrule, and that once the idea caught on, it was no longer necessary to cut out the arrow and include the patent number on the ferrule itself? If this is true, then the undercoat band would be the older ferrule, not the one with the yellow-painted band.

There are also Van Dykes that have the yellow-painted band (see below) and I’m starting to think that they (as well as the yellow-painted Blackwings) may have been an intermediate step until the color scheme changed:

As you can see, the ferrule has no information stamped on it (same on the reverse), and the arrow is missing as well. Also, the color of the painted band is identical to that found on the barrel, which makes sense from a design perspective for this pencil, but seemingly less-so when it comes to the Blackwing:

Another possibility is that once the Blackwing came into production, there was just a surfeit of undercoat-banded ferrules, which were to be used up whether they were for Van Dykes or Blackwings. In other words, the choices for the elongated ferrule’s design and color were made independent of the pencils for which they were used. Both lines were subject to the changes in design until one was settled upon—which complemented both pencils—rather than having to produce two different kinds.

The ironic thing about consulting printed catalogs (should they be found some day) or advertisements, is that they would not have photographs; the pencils would be drawn and/or painted. So an illustrated Blackwing with a yellow band on a black ferrule wouldn’t tell you if it’s the undercoat version or the painted version. Take for example these score-keeping cards from Eberhard Faber. Notice that the Mongol pictured here also has an undercoat-type band, and that the drawing of the Blackwing has a blue band!

The following is a summary of my imagined history of the early Blackwing 602. My reasoning is based on the idea that the fewer steps it takes to manufacture and decorate the ferrule, the better (in terms of cost).

  1. The Van Dyke is fitted with the elongated ferrule in the early 1920s (this date is based on patent applications). To further showcase this innovation, an arrow is punched out of the ferrule and the reverse has a patent indication to warn would-be infringers. The color scheme is a brass-colored undercoat, covered in black paint except for the band at the neck. An instruction is stamped on the barrel as well.
  2. Some time passes and the arrows on the ferrules are no longer stamped-out on the Van Dyke, but one side still has the patent number. This may save some time and money, especially if they are manufactured elsewhere. Changes in ferrule design, therefore, could be influenced by the remaining amount of one particular style, and the subsequent need to order new stocks—the perfect time to revisit design ideas.
  3. The Blackwing comes along in the mid-1930s and receives the same ferrule—no stamp, no patent number, but the same color scheme. The Van Dyke also drops the patent number stamped on the ferrule.
  4. More time passes and the more laborious process of painting the undercoated ferrules is replaced by painting the entire ferrule black. The bands are now painted yellow on both the Blackwing and Van Dyke.
  5. Eventually, the color scheme is reversed: a brass-colored ferrule with a single black painted stripe. This style is adopted for both the Van Dyke 601 and Blackwing 602, as well as the new Microtomic 603 (which eventually becomes a silver-colored ferrule).

This is going to be a haunting question and I’m not sure how it can be definitively settled based solely on the design of the pencils. I doubt there is anyone around with a living memory of these changes, but there must be records somewhere; catalogs would do the trick. I’m open to any and all suggestions, especially if you happen to know more about this particular back-story.