Associated 600 Quality Pencils
I have found exactly no useful information about: the Associated 600. My folks found a big box of these pencils at a thrift store and gave them to me for my birthday--thanks! I'm guessing that the Associated 600's must be from the 60's or 70's based on the box labeling and eraser fossilization, but who knows. What I do know is that they are nice pencils.
The Associated 600 F is the model 625, and proclaims 'Bonded USA.' They are made with quality cedar wood, the paint is nice, the ferrules show good quality control, and leads are well centered. The craftsmanship is equal or better to similar vintage Ticonderoga's or Mirado's. My best guess is that the Associated 600 is an unbranded Berol product, but this is a gut instinct with no hard evidence.
My Associated 600's are F medium hardness. Normally I'm a soft lead kind of guy, but these F's are growing on me. The lead is very smooth--I think they're on par with the Richard Best Royal Scott pencils pencils that I like so well. On paper with some tooth to it (Canson Mixed Media 98lb), they write about as dark as an average #2. On smooth paper (Field Notes), they are extremely smooth but leave a lighter mark than I prefer. Of course, the plus side of this is that the point lasts much longer than soft pencils.
I really like the Associated 600 F's. If I had to do it again, they would be towards the top of my 'Jury Duty Pencil' list. The 600 is an incognito vintage pencil that occasionally show up on ebay at bargain prices. The 600 is a great pencil to take out into the field with you because they're cool and quality, but not collectible enough to worry about losing or damaging.
Eagle Writing 325
Here is another cool undiscovered pencil: the Eagle Writing 325. I was really curious about this pencil because it is a cousin to the Eagle Draughting 314, which has a bit of a cult following in the pencil community. The 314 Draughting was popular enough that General's pencils still makes a reproduction, but I had never heard of the 325 until I saw them for sale on brandnamepencils for $2. The Eagle Writing is a premium vintage pencil with a round body and thin lead. The 325 is an untipped #2 pencil, but you can tell that it is a damn nice one. The green paint is glossy and the logo is flawless silver foil--a classy pencil with some character.
Writing with the Eagle 325 is a treat. The lead is a pretty standard darkness for a #2, but it is a very smooth writer. Compared to a Palomino HB, the Eagle is noticeably smoother but lighter, and the point retention is excellent. I'm a big fan of round pencils, so the 325 is very comfortable. And I don't mind the lack of a built-in eraser; vintage erasers are normally useless anyways. I threw on a pink cap eraser and the 325 is an ideal writing machine. The Eagle Writing 325 offers a comfortable grip and long lasting smooth lead, just the trick for a long day of writing. This is officially a cool pencil.
Conte a Paris Alaska HB
Another treasure from Bob Truby is the Conte Alaska 1000. This is the nicest French pencil I've ever tried...made in the USA. The pencil reads '1000 Alaska Graphite Superieur Hb' on one side and 'Made in USA Conte a Paris HB' on the other. This is one of the nicest made yellow hex pencils I've ever seen. The paint is extremely smooth and the gold foil is extremely neat. Truby estimates that this pencil dates from the 40's, also speculates that the wood is red cedar, which was preferred before incense cedar became the norm.
The lead in the Conte is indeed superior, at least as smooth as the Eagle 325. The lead is about as dark as a USA Ticonderoga #2, but smoother. Point retention is average. The wood is excellent and has a sweet cedar aroma that most other pencils can only dream of... it even puts a Palomino to sham--the Alaska is a superlative pencil. My only complaint about the Alaska is that the hexagon body has very sharp corners. This gives you a very positive grip on the pencil, but for extended writing use becomes uncomfortable. All-in-all this is an excellent pencil, and especially suited to drawing and making lists rather than writing a novel. Fortunately, I have the Eagle Writing for that.