The Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 has been a favorite among artists, designers and writers for many years. I have received many, many emails from users looking for them and wanting to know if they are still available. The Blackwing has been discussed in forums, and has been the subject of newspaper articles, most notably a Boston Globe article in December 2002. Buyers and sellers have been using eBay and The Pencil Pages classifieds to transact Blackwing deals, with prices exceeding $20.00 per pencil.
What is so special about this pencil that its devotees will accept no substitute and make them willing to spend $250.00 for a box of them? It has a sleek and unique design, and if you've ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan "Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed" is no exaggeration. It is also the last of a line of pencils featuring a distinctive rectangular ferrule with a unique, replaceable eraser. I am no artist, but I know that professionals rely on quality and consistency in the tools they use, and the Blackwing was one that could be relied upon.
The Blackwing was originally manufactured by Eberhard Faber. When Faber-Castell USA (F-C) bought Eberhard Faber (EF) in the 1980s, the pencil continued production with the E-F name, but some were also produced with the F-C name on them. Either way, the pencils were made with the same 4B lead formula. During the 1990s, the company was bought by Sanford Corp., one of the world's leading manufacturers of writing instruments of all kinds. Sanford is also the owner of the Paper*Mate and Berol brand names, as well as many others.
The Blackwing continued in production until 1998 and has not been made since. It was originally reported that production ceased because the machine used to make the unusual ferrule broke down and the company did not want to fix it. This is not the entire story. In June 2004 I met with personnel at the factory where the Blackwing was last made and got the real scoop.
It is true that the ferrule machine was broken, but it had been broken even before Sanford bought the company. A large stock of ferrules remained, and all Blackwing production drew parts from this stock. Those familiar with the Blackwing know of the small aluminum clip that secures the eraser in the ferrule. It was this small part that ran out of stock and prompted the discontinuation of Blackwing production.
There was another factor that influenced the company's decision to stop making this pencil. During the last years of production, the company made only about 1100 dozen Blackwings annually. The facility produces more pencils than that in a single hour! It was an economic decision based on low demand and the relatively high cost of repairs to the machinery that brought the end of the Blackwing.
What about substitutes? I have learned that the lead of the Eberhard Faber Microtomic 4B pencil was identical to the Blackwing's, and that the EF Contac 440 was nearly identical except that it has no wax in the formula. Unfortunately, neither of those pencils are still in production, but offer the possibility of additional old stock that can be sought. My original report had stated that the Turquoise 4B was equivalent to the Blackwing, but users have argued for years that they are not the same, no matter what anyone says. I now know that the Turquoise is not identical, but it is currently the closest match offered by Sanford. In my own personal test, I compared the Blackwing with the Turquoise and found them to be nearly indistinguishable, but as I stated above, I am not a 'professional user' and will defer judgement to those who are.
What about the future? I know many have contacted the company requesting that Blackwing production be resumed. I have even been asked by others to intervene somehow! There has been talk of circulating a petition to try to persuade the company to fix the machine. Well, I have bad news...that machine no longer exists. It was scrapped to make room for other equipment. There will never be another Blackwing 602 in its popular form. I suppose there is always a possibility that another pencil could be made with the same lead formula, but as far as I know the company has no such plan. Part of the Blackwing's allure was it's distinctive design, and the unique ferrule was an important part of that magic.
Pencil collectors and users have been scarfing up and hoarding Blackwings since about 2001, when stock supplies began running out. By December 2002, prices exceeded $250.00 per dozen in venues such as eBay, and this trend continues today in 2004. In today's marketplace, pencil companies are trimming their product lines, and some of your present favorites may one day disappear. Stock up now!
--UPDATE October 2008--
The Blackwing is still in demand, and commanding a high price. Recent sightings have found one dozen Blackwings selling for as high as $384 USD. Similar looking pencils such as the Van Dyke 601, which features the same eraser style, have also been on the rise.
By Doug Martin, Pencil Collector