Berol Black Warrior: Better than a Blackwing?

The Berol is really a best-of-both-worlds kind of pencil.  It’s distinctive and cool yet comparatively inexpensive and available.  It writes almost as smooth as a Blackwing and holds it’s point almost as well as a #2 Ticonderoga.  What more can you ask for?  

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Yellow pencils are nerdy.  There, I said it.  Fortunately, I've never let nerdiness get in my way--I love a nice Ticonderoga or Mongol.  Can a pencil really be mainstream cool anymore?  I don't know, but if it was it would almost certainly be painted black--everything looks cooler in black.  You've probably heard of Blackwing pencils (arguably the coolest pencil EVER), but also near the top of the pencil pecking order is the Black Warrior.

I first read about the Black Warrior pencils in Stephen King novels.  In Misery, the main character writes with Berol Black Warriors after his captor chops his foot with an axe.  King also alludes to Black Warriors in The Dark Half--I have heard rumors that King wrote several novels with the BW's before moving to fountain pen and then typewriter.  It's hard to tell who actually wrote with what back in the day, but Truman Capote and other famous writers liked and reference the Black Warrior.  In television, I even noticed the crime boss Stringer Bell from The Wire writing with Black Warrior pencils...
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You can still purchase new Black Warriors, but they're outsourced to Mexico and just aren't as good as vintage ones.  I haven't found the definitive start date for the Black Warrior, but I'm guessing they rolled out in the 50's under the Eagle brand.  In the late 60's, Eagle changed its name to Berol.  By the mid 90's, Berol was purchased by Sanford and eventually lumped into Papermate.  I ordered a box of the current PaperMate version by mistake and they are a totally different and inferior product.  If you're looking for the best Black Warrior experience, make sure you either get Eagles or Berols.

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This is sacrilegious, but I think the Berol/Eagle Black Warrior is even nicer than a Faber Blackwing for day-to-day carry.  First of all, it's still a really cool vintage pencil but you can get at least dozen Black Warriors for the price of one Blackwing.  The Warrior is a really nice pencil in its own right.  When you pick one up, the round barrel and glossy black paint make it feel special in your hand.  You can tell that it’s a premium quality pencil right away.  It's not quite as buttery smooth as the Blackwing, but to my eyes it puts down just as nice of a mark and the point lasts MUCH longer.  

To verify this, I had a pencil contest.  I wrote the same paragraph four times with the Berol BW #1, Eberhard Faber Blackwing, PaperMate BW #2, and a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 for reference.  I sharpened each of them with a KUM long point and tried to write as consistently as possible, but I admit it's not as scientific as I would like.  Even taking this into account, I found the results surprising.

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Berol Black Warrior #1: Very smooth, with an oily or greasy consistency as opposed to fine powdery feel. It leaves a very nice black mark.  The wood is quality cedar, and it sharpens very nicely.  The point lasted almost as well as the Dixon #2 pencil.  The Berol writes a lot like the Blackwing but trades a little bit of smoothness for a more durable point. My box is pretty modern judging from the bar code, but still damn nice.

Eberhard Faber Blackwing: This is a legendary pencil and writing with one feels like a special occasion.  Easily the smoothest of the bunch, it also left a very nice dark mark.  I was a little disappointed at how fast the point wore down compared to the Black Warrior--I almost wanted to sharpen it again to finish the paragraph.  

PaperMate Black Warrior #2: These are the current production made-in-Mexico pencils.  The paint is matte, they feel cheap (they are cheap), the wood isn’t cedar or nice, and a third out of the box wouldn’t sharpen.  Surprisingly, this pencil was the softest of the ones I tested.  It’s mark was as black or blacker as the previous two, but it felt much grittier than the Ticonderoga and its point wore down the fastest.  I’ve never experienced such a gritty soft lead before, and don’t have much good to say about them.

Dixon Ticonderoga #2 (USA Made): I included a #2 Ticonderoga in the test since many people have tried them.  Its writing is noticeably less black than the the other pencils, and the Berol and Blackwing were both much smoother writers than the Ticonderoga.  The Dixon’s point lasted the best out of all of the pencils, but the Berol BW came in a close 2nd in this regard.

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After testing out these pencils, I decided there’s really no comparison between the PaperMate and Berol pencils.  I learned that I might as well give away the PaperMates, but I came away even more impressed with the vintage Black Warrior’s.  I wish I had some Eagle BW’s to try, but I have a hard time imagining they can be much better than vintage Berol brand.  The Berol is really a best-of-both-worlds kind of pencil.  It’s distinctive and cool yet comparatively inexpensive and available.  It writes almost as smooth as a Blackwing and holds it’s point almost as well as a #2 Ticonderoga.  What more can you ask for?  

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