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Grab a pencil and help preserve penmanship

My daughter is an elementary school teacher and a very good teacher, I am told. This week’s column gives me an opportunity to tell her what I want for Christmas: A dozen Blackwing pencils that will cost her $19.95, plus shipping.

If she is feeling especially generous, she could also spring for a “long point sharpener” for $7.20 more.

As a journalist and a longtime “pencil pusher,” I discovered the Blackwing a number of years ago when several were given to me by an old friend

Taking notes has been part of my business for almost five decades. While I have several inexpensive fountain pens, it’s not an affectation. The Blackwing has been described as an “unpretentious, down-to-earth, ergonomically perfect instrument.”

A stationery store’s promotional material carried a history of quality pencils: About 1565, an English shepherd discovered the world’s first deposit of naturally occurring graphite. The shepherds began using large pieces of graphite to mark their sheep. And initially they thought it was lead, so as they came to buying this graphite in wood to make it more usable, so it wouldn’t crumble. They mistakenly called it lead.

Aside from the “No. 2 lead pencil” every elementary student has encountered for years, the lowly pencil has almost disappeared, a victim of technology.

I incorrectly assumed the pricey Blackwing was a victim of personal computers, smart phones, iPads, apps and the “cloud.”

Several publications have since indicated the demise of this basic writing instrument was premature.

Blackwing, once coveted by writers like John Steinbeck, surfaced in the 1930s, when introduced by Eberhard Faber. The patented design included a flattened rectangular ferrule – the part that holds the unusual flat eraser.

It was a smooth-writing instrument, which apparently inspired the promotional slogan, “Half the pressure, twice the speed.”

It sold well for decades. However, between the sale of one company and the acquisition of the pencil by another manufacturer, in 1998 the Blackwing was discontinued. With the production line closed, people began hoarding them, or so the story goes.

California Cedar Products Co. of Stockton decided two years ago to resurrect another out-of-production pencil called the Palomino Blackwing. The pencil nuts made more noise than a Tea Party confab, creating a flurry of publicity, and inspired articles in some major publications.

In Stockton, California Cedar CEO Charles Berolzheimer took note of the free publicity and, once he learned that there were no legal hurdles to taking over the name and look of the original pencil (model 602), decided to reissue the Blackwing. The company’s primary business is supplying to the pencil industry.

“This is an old, old design,” Berolzheimer told The Sacramento Bee during a recent interview.

The sixth-generation pencil maker said he sent out the first reissue prototypes to well-known pencil buffs, and asked for their comments. The testers said the shape and the lead needed tweaking. He followed their advice — re-introducing the Blackwing pencil, both in its original form for devotees, writers and everyday users, as well as a modified version with a slightly softer lead for artists — and established a website, Pencils.com.

Longhand is a symbol of personality, even more so in an era of uniform emails and texting. I still like using a pencil and detest texting.

Give a kid a good pencil and help preserve penmanship.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.