Hi, my name is Shawn and I’m a mechanical pencil nerd…


By Shawn Robare

A couple weeks ago I shared my love for the vintage Mead Trapper Keeper folder system.  Well, writing that post reminded me that I also wanted to expose my slightly geekier side by talking a little bit about my nerdy mechanical pencil memories.  Though I’d hesitate to say that I enjoyed my time in elementary, middle and high school, I can say without a doubt that I loved “gearing up” for the new school year with all new supplies.  Of all this stuff, folders, figural erasers, writing instruments, and lunch boxes, my all time favorite school supply had to be mechanical pencils.

I was given my first “mechanical” pencil (using air quotes because these barely qualify) by my sister as a hand-me-down.  It was a strawberry-scented push pencil (I wrote about these a few years ago) that no longer had a berry scent and was missing some of the pencil tip nibs, so I had to stuff little wads of paper inside the barrel to get the pencil to work.  A little later on I remember getting my hands on a new one, Transformers branded that was light purple and covered in little Megatrons and Decepticon logos.  I was constantly losing the nibs though (they made great darts for my rubber-band slingshot), and had to make the leap to something a little more utilitarian for actual writing.  My mom bought me a package of Papermate Sharpwriters, those ugly yellow pencils where you’d twist the point to advance the lead inside…

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Though the bland “useful” design kept me from wanting to tear it apart and play with it, I never really liked these Sharpwriters because the tips aren’t tight (by design) and therefore they’re a little awkward to write with.  Well, even though I didn’t want to play with it, as you can see in the picture above, I do have a predilection for taking these kinds of things apart, though as a kid it was so that I could try and figure out a way to make it feel a little more solid.  I remember that I was supremely frustrated when I discovered that once you remove the tip, the pencil is basically dead.  These are ultimately the most disposable mechanical pencils anyway, but after breaking it trying to fix it I knew I was going to begging my mom for something better and studier.  So sometime during the 2nd grade I got my hands on my first Pentel Sharplet-2…

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This is truly where my mechanical pencil fetish began.  How can I adequately explain this discovery?  I think what really got me hooked on these Pentel pencils was the bright colors and the fact that they were built to be somewhat dismantled.  You could unscrew the tip to get to the lead-advancing mechanism inside, as well as remove the eraser cover to get at or replace both the erasers and lead.  It didn’t take me very long to find a couple colors I really liked that I could swap out the tips and eraser caps to make my own designer pencil creations.  In fact I seem to remember a bunch of kids in my class doing this and personalizing their pencils…

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These Sharplet-2′s were a revelation and a lot of fun, but as far as I know they were only available with two lead sizes, 0.5 and 0.7.  During elementary school 0.5 was what I loved because the lead was thin enough to always feel sharp and ready.  But by the time I got to middle and high school, I was yearning for something a little more versatile.  For one, the erasers were so thin that they’d wear out really quick and before I knew it all I had was the little aluminum eraser holder on the end.  Again, I’d have to wad up a piece of paper to keep the extra lead from falling out when the cap was off.  So by the time I entered the 5th grade I was upgrading yet again, this time to my favorite mechanical pencil, the Quicker Clicker!

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Though I’m certain there are “better” pencils on the market, once I received my first few quicker clickers I was done searching.  Design, color, customizability, multiple lead sizes, these suckers had it all.  Not only that, but for the first time I had access to pencils that had super cool translucent plastic barrels, and much wider, more useful erasers.  The overall design of the quicker clicker, with its lead advancing button right at your finger tip, better erasers, and availability in a 0.9 lead thickness made then super useful for drawing (which I had taken up around that time.)  Also, I always thought the eraser cap looked a whole heck of a lot like Megatron’s head, which reminded me of my old push-pencil, so these sort of felt like a good replacement.

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The 0.9 lead was a bit softer and would dull like a regular wooden pencil tip which made it really versatile for sketching and being able to vary the line width and contrast of the pencil work.  From 1987 until today, the Quicker Clickers have been my pencil of choice, with only a few road bumps along the way…

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I’m not sure when they changed, but sometime after the year 2000, Pentel decided to alter the design of the Quicker Clickers to add a rubberized grip around the front of the barrel (around the lead advance button), as well as changing out the tip a bit.  It’s not a huge deal, but part of me had become so accustomed to the feel of the non-rubberized grip that this addition actually affected my drawing for awhile.  Though I’m a pencil nerd, and this change did bug me, I tend to obsess a little over using the same pencil. I guess it’s sort of like ballplayers wearing the same jockstrap during a good season (or career if you’re Cal Ripken, Jr.), so when Pentel switched to the new design I never thought to stock up on some back-up pencils in the older style.  Well, in the ensuing years the value of vintage Quicker Clickers (without the rubber grip) has skyrocketed.  A 0.9 lead QC in the original solid red or brown can cost as much as $50 on eBay!  As for the more standard translucent 0.5 lead versions in blue and smoke are almost non-existent on the secondary market.  Apparently though, recently a few boxes of old overstock 0.5 translucent smoke pencils have made their way onto eBay and you can get a package for around $10 to $15.  It’s still much higher than a mechanical pencil should cost, but it’s a lot better than what the standard vintage pencil scalpers are asking.

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I couldn’t write about my favorite pencils without bringing up their constant companions, the Pentel Clic Erasers…

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As most pencil nerds will attest, the idea of using the included eraser on the pencils is sort of frowned upon.  The eraser is more of a last ditch, backup incase your eraser of choice is misplaced or used up.  Besides, though you could adjust the eraser on the Quicker Clickers as it wore down (by pulling out the eraser and the little metal clasp that surrounds it and then pulling it up and snapping it back in), it made the eraser unstable and a little fugly.  For me, the eraser of choice has always been the Pentel Clic because it was long and for all intents and purposes it’s the mechanical pencil of erasers.  The material of the eraser is great for drawing too, soft enough to not tear up the paper, yet sturdy enough to erase most pencil lines (unless you’re a heavy-handed penciler.)

So that’s my nerdly little secret obsession, 30 year old mechanical pencils.  Anyone out there also a closet pencil nerd?  If so, what’s your favorite brand, color or lead thickness?  Anyone ever drop some serious money to re-buy a pencil from your youth, or is that just me…?

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  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Nigel – That’s awesome that you were able to get those and still use them. Yeah, I’ve always been curious about drafting pencils (and pens) as I’ve heard they tend to be very high quality. To hear that they’ve lasted that long is giving me the urge to pick one up!

  • http://www.njwdesignedinburgh.com/ Nigel Wade

    Staedtler (if that is how it is spelt, I don’t have one handy) were my favourites and I still have s bunch of them I use that were handed down when my Dad died 28 years ago along with all his draughtsman stuff. All still work a treat :)

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Dwyer – Thanks man! I’ve heard tell of the 0.3 pencils, but I’ve never handed or used one. How fragile is the lead?

  • Dwyer Mc Kerr

    I too am a mechanical pencil enthusiast. My peers fetishize cars, IT tech and the like but give me a 0.3 Pentel and a #11 scalpel blade and I’m in tiny drawing heaven. Excellent article.

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Ashley – Hmm, I’d never heard of that kind! Interesting. Looking on Amazon it appears that you can still get pencils in this style, though I’m not sure if this was the brand you used back in the day: http://www.amazon.com/Pilot-Shaker-Mechanical-Pencil-black/dp/B0006FKBK8

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Pax – Oh man, I never got on the erasable pen train, though I was intrigued as a kid. I had very few high school classes that would let us use ink pens for some reason or another so I tended to never have one on me. I was always curious how those worked. These days I find I am a BiC pen man, but the medium tip Round-Stic kind of guy. As far as finding old store stock, I’m right there with you. You hit the nail on the head too, the whole disposable design of these kinds of things makes it maddening to try and find them after they’re done being produced…

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Jose – Thanks man! Yeah, as far as drawing goes, I know that traditionally a more standard, or one of the softer lead HB drawing pencil is probably best, but with the 0.9 lead you can get pretty close results, and as you stated they’re really convenient. I’m not a big fan of sharpening, mainly because I’ve had such bad experiences with pencils getting eaten up in the sharpener, and I hate cleaning up the shavings… ;)

  • http://www.cavalcadeofawesome.net/ Paxton Holley

    How funny, Shawn, I myself am sort of an erasable pen nerd. That’s all I would use from grade 6 through high school. And the end-all be-all of those was the original Bic Erasable. I enjoyed Scripto every once in a while, but the Scripto tended to glob up ink when you began to write and Bic didn’t. The Bic Erasable came in multiple colors and you could hook them onto the inner pocket of your Trapper Keeper. So awesome. I’ve actually been trying to track down the 80-90s version of the Bic Erasable for a long time. Bic has not made it for years. I even talked to the guy who invented the Bic erasable ink, but have not found any samples of these pens ANYWHERE. I guess it’s a symptom of the disposable nature of the pens. I’m hoping to luck upon a “lost store inventory” auction someday. I’ve had an eBay search for like 2 years and have never found one. The search continues. Pax

  • http://lifewithfandom.com Ashley

    I had a pencil when I was a kid that I begged my mom for. I loved mechanical pencils! The Pencil was a shaker pencil where you shake the lead out. I lost that pencil. I have never found one like it. I’m sure it was a failed gimic, but I loved that pencil and wish I could find one like it again! It was heavy!

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Brian – Yeah, that’s another reason I don’t like those Papermate Sharpwriters and their ilk, because the lead had a tendency to break inside the tip and you’d always have that loose quarter inch piece you had to eject. I have this problem more with 0.5 and 0.7 pencils, but the 0.9 tends to be a little too thick to break as easily…

  • http://jaglab.wordpress.com/ Jose Gonzales

    Excellent post! I’ve always been a fan of mechanical pencils, though not at that customizing level. Had various types during my school years, even those that had the “repeating” pencil tips you loaded like “legos” into the barrel (didn’t like those much). Even had the double pencil/pen combo. My favorites were heavy/thick barrel models, and I always hated when they broke or got lost. These days I’m coming back to the mechanical pencil thing for convenience. I still carry around real drawing pencils, small sharpeners, and erasers, but I’m seeing the convenience of mechanical pencils once again, and there’s a lot out there to pic from. This post was a great and informed trip to the past. Thanks!

  • http://meandyouandablognamedboo.blogspot.com/ Brian

    I use mechanical pencils with my day planner. I really like the one I’m using now by Bic with a .5 lead. It’s comfortable to hold, has a sharp point, and the lead doesn’t fall out of the pencil as with other brands (at least it hasn’t happened with this pencil yet).

  • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

    Dex – That’s a great point, about the character sheets. I did a lot of tabletop gaming in the 90s and I completely agree that mechanical pencils, particularly the 0.5 lead pencils were essential for filling them out and being able to cram in all the important attributes and abilities. Not to mention equipment lists! On a side note, though I never really played much AD&D (I was a TMNT and Other Strangeness guy), it would be impossible to have a character that didn’t have an unlimited bag of holding. Our characters carried so much stuff it was insane! My equipment list had equipment lists!

  • http://aeiouwhy.blogspot.com/ Dex (@Dex1138)

    I don’t remember the brand I used in school but it was similar to the Sharplet 2. I always used .5 because it was sharp. One of my friends had made a bound book of AD&D character sheets for each member of our gaming group. They were great but so much was crammed on to them, there wasn’t much space to write. But using the .5 made it easy to write tiny. I still won’t use anything other than .5 because it just feels wrong on the paper.