Vintage copy pencils are magic (albeit oftentimes poisonous magic). You take an ordinary looking and behaving pencil and dip it in water and purple, turquoise or blue ink comes out. The Sanford NoBlot is probably the most well known pencil in this category but there were dozens of others made by various pencil companies. The Israeli pencil manufacturer “Jerusalem Pencils” had a copy pencil by the worldly and sophisticated name of “Park Avenue” (very Israel in the ’70s and 80’s). Of the local vintage pencils available in Israel it’s not the easiest pencil to find, although it’s also not the hardest.
Not the prettiest pencil, but not too shabby.
When dry the Park Avenue writes like an F grade pencil, with a bit of a purplish hue. It’s not as hard and light as an H grade pencil, yet it is lighter and harder than an HB. It erases well when dry, and doesn’t smudge.
When wet the pencil lines turn purple, and so much more bold. You can either dip the pencil tip in water, write dry on wet, or for more gentle effects use a wet brush over the dry lines. Just don’t be tempted to lick the pencil tip or chew on it, as there’s a good chance that the lead is poisonous.
The Park Avenue is a deep royal blue pencil with a yellow imprint on it. Apart from the Jerusalem Pencils logo and the 999, I counted four different fonts printed on the barrel of what was meant to be a utilitarian office workhorse. This is in line with many vintage pencils, and this over-design, pride and attention to detail is why I like them so much.
The Retro 51 System is what piqued my interest in Retro’s Tornado rollerballs again. It is such a handsome, well designed pen. There are surprisingly few black Retro 51 limited/open numbered editions, which is in some ways not surprising. The company’s aesthetic leans towards the colourful or the metallic, not so much the “dark/stealth/tactical” side of the pen world.
I haven’t reviewed the Retro 51 System so far because it was such a huge hit when it came out, there were half a dozen reviews of it practically from day one. What did I have to add to the conversation? Plus, there was some confusion after the first 300 pens ran out and Mike Dudek put up another 300 pens for sale: people thought it was a very small limited edition, while it was always sold as a numbered, open edition. I didn’t want to take part in the drama, and I think that this pen is iconic enough to warrant discussion outside the hardcore Retro 51 collectors’ circles. Dudek and Retro 51 took a concept that could have been a “Smithsonian gift shop pen” idea, and turned it into a little work of art.
The Retro 51 System isn’t cheesy, though it certainly could have been. Retro do design cheesy pens at times (its part of their design aesthetic), and the solar system has been over-productized for the past 50 years. Yet there’s something about the care put into creating this pen, from the choice to put Pluto on the map but to the side, to the choice to leave the texture to the “dark matter” stripes and let the planet designs speak for themselves, that makes it a utilitarian work of art. This pen was clearly designed be people who love everything about space and the solar system, and also everything about pens. It doesn’t glow in the dark, because it doesn’t need to. It has a classic, classy look that will also wear well with time.
One of the favourite things about this pen is the finial/top disc: it’s clear orange, a representation of the sun. It glows bright against the black background of this pen’s hardware, and really makes the pen pop – to whoever is writing with it.
Around the time I got this pen the Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 (Parker style) refill started appearing on the market. I was looking for a replacement to the Schmidt refill, and I had yet to meet my favourite Ohto Flash Dry refill, so a Uni-ball refill that made Brad Dowdy happy seemed like a good one to try. The Uni-ball SXR Jetstream SXR-600 in 0.5 is a Jetstream hybrid gel-ballpoint refill, one that lays very thin, neat, relatively dark lines. It’s probably the best ballpoint refill that you can get these days, and it is waterproof, fade proof and resistant to all kinds of fraud. It is not, however, fully a gel ink refill, nor does it remotely feel one, despite what the marketing says. It’s a best-in-class ballpoint refill, which most people will want to buy in 0.7 I think, as the 0.5 refill lays down a really fine line. If you’re looking for a replacement refill for Retro 51s, something that’s less messy and lays down a clean, fine line, the Uni-ball Jetream SXR-600 is probably the pen for you.
Continuing the theme of “vintage pencils are awesome” today I’m using the Eberhard Faber Colorbrite red violet 2154 (which proudly notes that it’s both “woodclinched” and made in the USA). I counted 5 different fonts on this pencil, not including the 2154.
The fonts are my favourite thing on this pencil, although the end cap is elegant too and the colour is really unique and vibrant.
Go have fun with some pencils and listen to the birds for a while. They sing some hope into these dark times.
I’m using my pens to cheer me up a little, as we get ready for even more serious movement restrictions, and as the political and economical situation here go haywire. This was written using a Pelikan M805 Ocean Swirl with a fine nib and Sailor Peacock ink. The lighting situation at my desk doesn’t do this ink justice – it’s beautiful.
I managed to squeeze in a 4k run this morning. As I avoided people, I couldn’t run further than that, but I’m glad that I did. The weather is perfect for runs right now, and I really miss my running, but today’s run looks to be the last I’ll be able to go on for a while. I usually run along the waterfront, but so does everyone else, so I ran in parallel streets. This is a temporary goodbye to the sea, and I hope that it’s not a long one:
Stay healthy and safe, and look for the little things and little moments to keep you happy.
This isn’t a review. It’s just to say that coloured pencils and vintage drafting coloured pencils in particular can be used to “spice up” your everyday notes. Also, vintage pencils are often stunningly beautiful, especially the Eagle ones.
Look at that beauty! The “dragee” box is also vintage, as are the market credit coins, so much more elegant than today’s cards and digital payments (if more unwieldy).
Here’s a writing sample and a quick update for today:
“Also ideal for marking blue prints” indeed. Who doesn’t need one of those?
The Retro 51 Buzz bee rescue tornado is probably the Retro 51 I eyed the most before buying. I loved the honeycomb design, but not so much the bees, and when it came out I still hadn’t found a replacement for the Schmidt refill. I solved the refill issue with the Ohto FlashDry, and once Retro51 announced that they’re closing, I decided to finally buy this pen.
The Buzz pen is part of Retro 51’s rescue series, which means that there’s a small donation given to NW Honey Bee Habitat Restoration for every pen sold. It comes in a beautiful pen tube (which makes it, like all Retro 51s, a great gift pen to give), and is a very well designed pen.
The pen itself features an acid-etched honeycomb texture with printed honeybees and brushed copper hardware. Some of the honeycombs are filled, and the bees… Well, I think that they come off as a little bit tacky in photos, but they somehow “work” in person. They blend in better with the rest of the design, and actually help tone down its shininess.
The best thing about this pen is the honeycomb etching on it. It glows and really makes the pen pop, with the added benefit of making the Retro 51 Buzz easy and nice to grip.
Look at that glow:
The only nit-picky thing I didn’t like is the finish level. The filled honeycombs aren’t always painted within the lines. If that’s on purpose, I find that it detracts from the pen, and doesn’t add anything. If it’s not, it’s a shame:
I still love this pen, and I’m so glad that I bought it while it’s still to be had. The Retro 51 Buzz is not only a beautiful and well designed pen, it’s a pen that only Retro 51 could have designed.