The Best Day: The Poet and a Pencil

This road trip to Amherst, Massachusetts was a long time coming. A friend and I had been wanting to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum and Homestead since early 2020. We made a vow that winter to hit the road in the spring of 2020, but the world had other plans. Covid hit and we were all stopped in our tracks. “Well, we’ll go in the summer,” we naively thought.

A White Oak, reportedly planted by Emily’s grandfather, still stands on the property.

The pandemic dragged on, the Homestead remained closed, and our plans for that road trip gathered more dust. Our hopes soared when restrictions eased (“Hope is the thing with feathers…”), but then an extensive renovation project on the home began in February 2021 and lasted for about 18 months. A worthy endeavor, to be sure, but yet another lesson in patience.

The museum reopened in August 2022 and on October 22nd, we finally hit the road for Amherst, MA. What an absolutely gorgeous fall day it was—surprisingly warm and sunny and ablaze in autumnal colors. A real stunner of a day.

We arrived well before our 12 pm tour reservation so we took the opportunity to walk the grounds, guided by a self-paced audio tour. This selection from the audio tour talks about the well-worn path between the Homestead and The Evergreens, the home of Emily’s brother, Austin, and his wife and Emily’s dear friend, Sue Gilbert Dickinson:

The path between the Homestead and The Evergreens was a physical connection for the family. Emily once described it as “just wide enough for two who love.” It was flanked by trim lawn and carefully placed trees for shade and floral interest. 

To see her brother and “Sister Sue,” as she called her sister-in-law, Emily didn’t need to go out onto the street. Her niece remembered her grandfather walking over with a lantern to guide Aunt Emily home after dark. When Emily arrived back at the Homestead, she set a light in her west bedroom window that was answered by one from Sue’s on the east side of the Evergreens.

Over this path, too, went poems. Emily shared many of her poems with the family next door, especially Susan. 

Then—Noon! The tour! At last!!

A few glimpses…

Emily’s conservatory
In the study
Prop books and documents from “Dickinson,” the Apple TV+ series

Finally, finally, finally, we stepped into the room I’ve been wanting to see for almost three years—Emily’s bedroom.

Replicas of Emily dress and diminutive desk
The actual bed in which Emily slept and died

I don’t really recall details of the tour guide’s spiel. I just stood there and absorbed the energy of the space—imagining the days when both the fireplace and Emily’s brain were ablaze. A perfectly ordinary yet very sacred space—I could feel that in my heart.

A short walk from the Homestead is The West Cemetery, where Emily, her sister Lavinia, and parents lie.

“Called back” at 56.

Before we left the graveyard, I placed the stub of my Musgrave 600 News pencil (a very simple pencil that’s become a favorite) on top of Emily’s gravestone.

A pencil left in gratitude—for the poems that remain a mystery and the ones I’ve grown to love.

Nature assigns the Sun —

That — is Astronomy

Nature cannot enact a Friend

That — is Astrology

This was the best day. Time away with a friend. Plenty of iced coffee and conversation. Problems temporarily forgotten. A pilgrimage. A poet.

At last.

Chicago Souvenirs


A couple of weeks ago, Fred and I took the Lakeshore Limited Amtrak train to Chicago for a few days of vacation. The train ride is a long one—about 13 hours going and 16 hours (because of delays) coming home. But it’s doable, and much cheaper than flying, so off we went.


Once we got settled in at the Palmer House (excellent hotel!!), we walked to the Willis Tower and purchased City Pass booklets which save you money on a number of attractions and give you access to the “fast lane” for getting into the more crowded venues. In just three days, we stepped out into the dizzying Sky Deck at the Willis Tower…


I’m not afraid of heights, but this was still a very weird sensation.

visited the Shedd Aquarium…


spent hours in the Art Institute of Chicago…


TILTED out over the city at the top of the John Hancock tower…


and went to a White Sox vs. NY Yankees game.

Our hotel was close to Millennium Park so we spent time there taking in the gardens and the public art, like Cloud Gate (“the Bean”) and this “Faces of Chicago” water fountain installation.


Water squirts out of this guy’s mouth every now and then. Mesmerizing.

We jammed a lot of stuff into three days and walked our heads off—about 10 miles per day. I actually lost weight on this vacation from all of the walking.

When I’m on vacation, I’m always on the lookout for souvenirs, but over the years that’s come to mean different things. With two dresser drawers stuffed with t-shirts, I really don’t need anymore, though it’s always tempting to add to that stash.

It will come as no surprise that I keep my eyes open for fun or interesting stationery-related items. Even though I have a whopping supply of pens, pencils, journals, ink, and paper at home, picking up a few new items while I’m in a different place feels okay. Why? Because these are things that you use and use up. So I did a little shopping.


Decent souvenir pencils were surprisingly hard to come by, but I finally found these in the gift shop at the top of the John Hancock Tower. They feature the name of the city, a Chicago-style hotdog, a tour boat ride, skyscrapers and Michigan Avenue in fun graphics and eye-catching colors. I picked up four for $2.00. (Otherwise, they were $0.99 each.)


Dick Blick was just a stone’s throw from our hotel so I had to explore ALL OF THE ART SUPPLIES there, even though I’m nothing more than a wannabe artist. Though I was tempted by so much—Rhodia and Leuchtturm notebooks, gel pens galore, colored pencils, notecards, and novelties, I purchased just a few simple items. These Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Graphite pencils were a “must buy.” I resisted the urge to buy the full-range of lead grades and picked up the two that I’m most likely to use for plain old writing and maybe a little sketching (still trying to get over my art fear). They feel really cool in hand and write beautifully. I also picked up an M+R brass bullet pencil sharpener, perfect for pocket carry. For under ten bucks, I came away with some interesting goodies that I’ll definitely use.


I’ve visited the Mont Blanc Boutique on Michigan Avenue in the past—to gawk at and handle the Limited Edition Jonathan Swift and Alfred Hitchcock fountain pens. This time I was on an ink quest. We walked block after city block to the Michigan Avenue location (with Fred mincing along in pain as his plantar fasciitis decided to flare up). I always feel like a sweaty under-dressed mess when I walk into the store, but despite this, have always been treated graciously by the salespeople. I took a quick glance at a few pens, but left with only the ink that I came for—Montblanc UNICEF 2017 Turquoise ink (50 mL, $39).


Are there are other turquoise inks that cost less? Of course. But it’s a color I enjoy and since I rarely get the chance to visit a Montblanc boutique, I decided to splurge a little.


Is this not perfect? (Art Institute of Chicago gift shop)

And then there’s the souvenir that I did not buy, though it tugged at my heart ever so strongly. God, I was tempted. It’s SO ME. But it was about $20 and I DO NOT NEED another journal (Fred kept reminding me of this) so I walked away. That was tough, and I may still try to track it down online. I probably should’ve just bought it. Ah, regrets.


So this is my little haul of Chicago souvenirs. All usable. All carefully selected. All easy to pack and transport.

And of course I kept the Palmer House disposable pen from our room.

You’d do the same, right?!






Pencils and Postcards

Postcard with pencil

This weekend, our ornate downtown theatre (circa 1928) held an Antiquefest. What a great setting for vendors to set up their booths stuffed with antiques. Fred and I volunteered at the event so I made the rounds of the various rooms several times and did some browsing while directing people to the bathrooms and coffee. I was on the lookout for pens but only saw a few that were in exceptionally sad shape. No luck there.

But amongst the furniture, furs, jewelry, linens, and books, I spied a box of carefully categorized vintage postcards and started leafing through them. I skipped to the “New York” section, thinking that there might be some familiar attractions. It didn’t take long before I selected the card shown above. $1.00. Sold.

Made in Germany

I should note that I’m not a collector of postcards, but this one tugged at me. It’s from a time when postcards were little works of art, not kitschy souvenirs. This one was made in Germany, then sold here in New York, out in the Finger Lakes region, a prime location for vacation and relaxation.


On the front, the writer has scribbled, in pencil, “This is the boat we did not take.” I hear frustration in that single line. This vacation, it seems, has hit a snag.

Penciled message

“We cannot go across the lake. Boats have not been running for some time. We are at NY Central station Watkins waiting for a train to Geneva. Have walked about forty-eleven miles.” T. (or F?)

More frustration. The need for Plan B. We’ve all had vacations like this.

“Have walked about forty-eleven miles.” What an interesting phrase. A quick Google search turned up a number of references all explaining that this means “innumerable” or “a large amount.” Why have we stopped saying this?!


Addressed to Miss Hatty Harding of Waverly, NY, this penciled postcard was written and  posted in September 1910. This postcard—my postcard—is 106 years old, and still perfectly legible. No fading, no smearing, no discoloration.

That’s impressive for forty-eleven years.


For a modern take on the same subject, check out The Purl Bug’s postcard/pencil experiment HERE.

I recently picked up this giant box of postcards. Once I start sending them out, I’m going to write exclusively in pencil. Will my messages survive until Antiquefest 2122? Could be.





Perfect Pair: The Write Notepads & Co. Jumbo Pencils and the Classroom Friendly Large-Hole Sharpener

Write Notepads & Co. pencils

Right before Christmas, I ordered the full slate of pencils from Write Notepads & Co., as well as a couple of notebooks. After my visit to their headquarters last summer, I’ve become an even bigger fan than I already was. The jumbo pencils really intrigued me, but there was a problem—how to sharpen them?

Classroom Friendly Sharpeners

So while I sharpened and used the other pencils—the maroon hex and the natural round—the jumbo pencils sat unused. Then, about a month ago, I noticed someone mention a large-hole sharpener available from Classroom Friendly Supplies. WHAT??!! Since I’ve yet to tackle “artisanal pencil sharpening” (by hand, via knife + bandaids), I knew that I’d have to get my hands on this sharpener. I should also add that I have the regular version of the Classroom Friendly Sharpener and use it almost daily. (Actually, I have THREE—one for home, one for work, and one for back-up.)

Jumbo pencils and Large-Hole Sharpener

Where the regular sharpeners are metal and available in handful of colors, the large-hole sharpener is plastic and available only in a black and white version. No worries, though, it sharpens like a champ, and doesn’t leave “bite marks” on the pencils like the regular sharpener does.

Large-hole sharpener and jumbo pencil

Most importantly, it sharpens the Write Notepads & Co. jumbo pencils perfectly. These beefy, smooth, dark, and “made in America” pencils are now right up there among my favorites—the Palomino Blackwing Pearl and the Musgrave Test Scoring pencil.

Write Notepads Jumbo Pencils

I should mention that all of the Write Notepads & Co. pencils are “left-handed” pencils. When I first heard this I thought, “What?? How can a pencil be right or left handed?” Well, here’s the thing—branding on the pencils is printed in such a way that it appears right side up when held in the left hand, and upside down when held in the right. I’d never considered this before, undoubtedly because I’m right handed so the issue just never occurred to me. Chris Rothe—one of the founding brothers— is left handed, so this bit of whimsy makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t left handed writers have pencil branding oriented for them?

Write Notepad & Co. jumbo pencils

When I hold one of these over-sized pencils, memories of elementary school, hot lunch, hissing radiators, recess, and learning to read and write all come flooding back to me. They conjure up thoughts of simpler times and simpler tools. They are the “comfort food” of pencils.

Jumbo pencil cores

Wonderfully smooth, thickly painted, and perfectly branded, this is the pencil that I’m reaching for when I’m making lists, balancing my checkbook, and jotting down groceries. How can you resist a pencil that says, “THIS IS A GENUINE WRITE NOTEPADS & CO PRODUCT-TO COUNTERFEIT IS DEATH.” The cores are centered and sharpen without issue. Point retention is very good. I rotate my pencil a bit as I write and find that I can go for quite awhile without re-sharpening (and that’s one of my quirks—the need for a pretty decent point at all times.)

Ferrules and erasers

The gold ferrules are gorgeous and do a fantastic job anchoring the equally girthy erasers. When erasing, the bits left behind are strand-like, not “crumby,” and erasing is quite clean with just a faint ghost of the erased word visible.

Hex pencils
Long point from regular sharpener (top) vs. short point from Long-Hole sharpener (bottom)

The Classroom Friendly Large-Hole Sharpener can also be used to sharpen regular size pencils, but the resulting point is shorter and more conical than the long point you get from the regular sharpener, as you can see in the photo above. But if you want a Classroom Friendly Sharpener that doesn’t put bite-marks on your pencils, the Large-Hole Sharpener is the one to go with, despite the somewhat stunted point.

Write Notepads & Co. Jumbo pencils

The Write Notepads & Co. Jumbo pencils and the Classroom Friendly Large-Hole Sharpener really are the perfect pair. They go together like gin and tonic, bacon and eggs, Thelma and Louise. If you have one, you gotta have the other.

2014 Wrap-Up: The Feelings

Simple tree
Simple tree

I had planned to get a post up last week, but then I caught a cold (unexpected) and Christmas arrived (expected). One thing was fun, the other not so much. Slowly coming out of my sinus miseries and low-key Christmas celebrations to think about getting things back to normal. Well, normalish.

Baking cookies
Baking molasses cookies. Or as I call them, mole asses cookies.

I’m off from work for most of the week— just have to pop in on Friday for a little while— so every day feels like Saturday lately. Which is what I imagine heaven feels like.

Christmas colored Retro 51s
My festive Retro 51s

A couple of feelings routinely kick in this time of year, as one year ends and the other begins. The first is gratitude. Thanks for all of the good stuff and good people that I’ve encountered in the last year, much of it related to pens (and paper and ink and pencils) and the pen/pencil communities. These are the places where I feel most comfortable, where my introverted tendencies vanish, where I have a blast.

The Retrakt
Karas Kustoms Retrakt

Though not a complete list by any means, these are just some of the people and places who made 2014 a memorable year:

The Pen Addict with Brad and Myke (responsible for oh so many pen purchases and for an always entertaining commute)
The Erasable Podcast with Andy, Johnny, and Tim (Who would’ve thought I’d listen to a show about pencils? I do, and I love it.)
Anderson Pens (Oh, that chat! It’s like meeting with friends every time I tune in.)
SBREBrown & Gourmet Pens & the “I won’t be ignored” kitty (Great information with great humor. You guys rock.)

Pen, pencil, ink, notebook, and storage vendors
Anderson Pens
Dudek Modern Goods
Edison Pen Co.
Field Notes
The Goulet Pen Co.
Karas Kustoms
Nock Co.
Pen Chalet
The Pen Company
Retro 1951
Write Notepads & Co.

Thanks to some for supplying review items, to others for great customer service, and to all for great products and that extra-special personal touch.

My nib guy
Dan Smith @fpgeeks

Thanks for making less than stellar pens remarkable, quickly and affordably. Great work!

Tracy Lee

Thank you for understanding when I TAKE SO LONG TO REPLY. Your letters and cool envelopes are a source of delight in my mailbox. So glad we’re getting to know each other better while using our pens and inks.

Bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers
I won’t name names because I’ll leave someone out then feel bad, but you all entertain and educate me, amuse and enlighten. This is the BEST community.

Best hotel
The Sheraton at Tysons Corner for returning my “left behind” Akkerman ink after the DC Pen Show. Amazing customer service. So grateful.

Pencils at the ready
Pencil line-up

The other feeling that kicks in this time of year is “fresh start.” Old year out, new year in. Time to purge, reorganize, and start with a blank(ish) slate. Fred and I regularly purge and straighten out our pantry during our break between Christmas and New Year’s. Annual ritual. Afterwards, we vow to use what we have on hand before adding more stuff to the cupboards.

Conklin Stylograph
Conklin Stylograph (to be reviewed)

In that same vein, I plan to make 2015 a year where I buckle down and USE my pens, pencils, papers, and inks— switching my focus from acquisition to using. When you have a Staples Printer Paper box full of empty notebooks, it might be time to stop buying notebooks and start writing in them. Like every day. Don’t get me wrong, I use my stuff but I need to REALLY use my stuff. There’s plenty here to be written in and written with, plenty to be reviewed, plenty to have fun with. Plenty.

Machined goodness
Machined favorites

So I’m closing out 2014 and starting 2015 feeling grateful and blessed. And you— all of you— are the reason.

Peace and good health to you all.

Write Notepads & Co.
Write Notepads & Co. loot

Shopping Local and Serendipity

I’m a big list-maker. A HUGE list-maker, especially at this time of year when there are cards to mail, letters to write, gifts to buy, extra errands to run, and all kinds of Christmas-related tasks to accomplish. There’s nothing more satisfying than checking off a box on one of the many to-do lists I cart around. (Well, MAYBE there are one or two other things—wink, wink, nudge, nudge!) I rarely venture out without a goal, a mission, a purpose.

But sometimes all of those checkboxes start bugging me and I just want to wander aimlessly. Like without a hundred things to do/see/accomplish. Like how I imagine other people live—with days full of whimsy and unplanned adventures.

What I realize when I finally get myself to do this— when I leave the list tucked away— is that cool things pop up. Cool pencil and pen-related things, it turns out. (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely turn off my “writing instrument radar.”) We hit a number of local craft shows throughout the year and have a great time wandering around and chatting with people making really interesting things— alpaca socks (the best!), soap, mustard, bowls, and brooms. You name it, someone’s making it.

Here are few of my serendipitous finds that are just too cool to not share.

Index card holder

Notecard holder

This little block of wood with an embedded magnet and ball bearing is the perfect thing to hold up an index card (for, you know, more lists). Intended to be a recipe card holder, I almost walked away from the booth because I never use recipe cards anymore. Then the light dawned (I was having a slow day, I guess) and I plopped down $5.00 for this wonderfully simple way to prop up any old index card.

Index card holder

It’s turned out to be really handy, and for five bucks, you can’t go wrong.

Handmade Pens 

Bob's pens

I run into Bob and Virginia Lenhart a couple times a year, and almost always find something on their table of colorful and well-crafted kit pens to bring home.  At the last show, I picked up The Spartan, the top pen in the photo, and swapped out the ballpoint refill for a Moleskine gel refill. Accented with #10 o-rings and gunmetal accents, the design is unique and fun to hold. The bottom pen, with its magnetic cap, is one that I use all the time, certainly as much as some brand name pens. The prices are right and it’s just fun using pens that are made by such nice local folk.

Old Pencils

Old pencils

On Saturday evening, we stopped at the open house of a local antique shop for punch and cookies and a look around. Amongst the costume jewelry, beer steins, china, coins, and Bullwinkle glasses (tempting!), I stumbled onto a few shoeboxes stuffed with loads of old pencils. PENCILS. Man, oh, man, did I start pawing through those. An older couple look on and chuckled and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want old pencils, but when I showed them the cool designs, the old time phone numbers (4-4475), and the awesome colors, they started coming around, and the woman admitted, “I DO like writing with pencils!”

Old pencils

I wound up picking out a couple of handfuls, despite dried up erasers and that basement smell. I couldn’t have been happier.

Old pencils

Who knew that all of these treasures lurked in the little shop I drive by all the time?

Old pencils

So though I am list-bound most of the time, these unexpected finds remind me that it’s fun to get out and see what the world tosses my way. Who knows what treasures lurk right in your town, your village, your neighborhood. Shop local and keep your eyes open for surprises. It’s as much fun as checking a box.

United We Stand: The Divide by Dudek Modern Goods (A Giveaway!)

The Divide

We humans are always finding ways to divide ourselves into “us” and “them.” Coke vs. Pepsi, introverts vs. extroverts, cats vs. dogs, early risers vs. night owls. We like what we like and burn through energy trying to convince others why we’re right and they’re wrong. What a strange bunch we are!

The Divide with pencils

I’ve found an exception to that rule in the pen, pencil, and paper communities. Instead of bickering about what we personally like or dislike, I’ve found the “writing implement” community to be fun, supportive, encouraging, down-to-earth, and exceptionally friendly. These are my people. We may have different tastes, budgets, and obsession levels, but we’re always there to help each other with advice, kind words, recommendations, and solutions.

The Divide

The Divide, by Mike Dudek of Dudek Modern Goods, represents that “let’s all get along” spirit by providing a place for your pens, pencils, AND pocket notebooks to live in harmony. Starting out as a special request by Tim Wasem of the Erasable Podcast, The Divide is now a regular in Mike’s line-up of handmade goods. Mine arrived last week and I already find myself longing for a second one— one for work and one for home. This thing looks and feels great, SMELLS divine (that wonderful “woodshop” smell), and is absolutely perfect for corralling six of your pens, six of your pencils, and three of your pocket notebooks. No more flotsam and jetsam scattered all over your desk.

Felt pads & branding

Made of solid walnut by Mike himself, The Divide measures 2.5″H x 5.5″W x 3″D. It has a “just the right size” footprint that doesn’t consume too much desk space. Using my handy dandy (and cheap) Harbor Freight digital caliper, I found that the pencils holes measure 0.4″, while the pen holes measure 0.5″ and 0.6″ (give or take a few hundredths of an inch). Hand-rubbed with a stain poly finish, The Divide feels like a small piece of fine furniture. The underside features felt pads to prevent the surface of your desk (or the bottom of The Divide) from getting scratched, as well as a smart looking Dudek Modern Goods “brand.” It’s simple but solid. Divided but harmonized. It’s a really, really nice piece of handcrafted goodness.

The Divide

I picked mine up from Mike’s shop, but thanks to Mike’s generosity, you can enter to win your very own Divide. Just post a comment on this blog— maybe pass along a few words about how the pen/pencil/paper community has helped, encouraged, or entertained you. I’ll assign each comment a sequential number, then will use a random number generator to select a winner. Post your comment (one per person, please) by Sunday December 7th, 11:59 pm Eastern Time (USA). I’ll select a winner on Monday December 8th, and will post their name right here on the blog. You’ll have a week to get in touch with me with your address so that I can pass it along to Mike. (The Divide will ship directly from Mike to the lucky winner.) The contest is open to US and international readers. [Pens, pencils, and Ambition Field Notes not included in the giveaway.]

The Divide

The world can be a prickly place, but our love of pens, paper, pencils, and notebooks keeps us together— just like The Divide.

The Divide

Check out The Divide, as well as Mike’s other products HERE.

(There are no affiliate links in this post, and I was not compensated for this review. I’m just a big fan of Mike’s work. Thanks to Mike for making this prize available for giveaway.)

Imperfectly Perfect: The Musgrave Test Scoring 100 Pencil

My top three
[Three favorites]

I’ve already written about my top two pencils— the Stabilo 8008 Graphite and the Palomino Blackwing Pearl— but lately a third pencil has been sneaking into my line-up more and more often. The Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil pops up quite often in Twitter discussions, as well as in the Erasable Podcast where it was recently the “Pencil Of the Week” (meaning that it was used by Johnny, Tim, and Andy for the course of one week, not that it was necessarily their favorite pencil).

Because of the Twitter chatter and a blog post here and there, I ordered myself a pack from and have been using them for awhile now, both at home and at work. The Musgrave Test Scoring 100 is currently resting solidly in one of the top spots in my pencil arsenal. Going by appearance only, it’s a bit of an unlikely candidate.

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencils

While my Palomino and Stabilo favorites are thickly and evenly lacquered, the silver paint on the Musgrave TS 100 appears to be thin and a little bit uneven. I think Tim Wasem noted that you can almost see the brush strokes, and I have to agree. The branding features a font that would look right at home on a mimeographed (yes, I’m old) test paper. The letters wiggle a bit and are not as polished or perfect as the rock-solid branding on the Palomino or the Stabilo. But you know what? I don’t care.

Musgrave TS 100 Branding

The pencil body is full-hex, meaning that the edges aren’t rounded off and feel more pronounced— maybe even severe— compared to a semi-hex or rounded pencil. Personally, I enjoy the edges because they give the Musgrave TS 100 an old-school feel— like you’re REALLY using a pencil. Maybe they’re meant to keep you awake while you’re taking a test or to make it easy to distinguish the TS 100 from the herd of other pencils in your pencil cup or to keep it from rolling off of a desk. In any case, I find the feel of the distinct facets to be…well…distinctive, not annoying. Granted, I tend to use pencils in fairly short bursts so I’m not looking for long-lasting comfort.

Musgrave TS 100

Made in the USA, and featuring what is described as an “electro-graphite” core (which is supposedly picked up better by test scanning machines), this pencil is a true bargain at $3.25 per dozen— just $0.27 per pencil. Though I’m no longer taking “fill in the bubble” tests anymore— thank god— I still appreciate the look and feel of the graphite. Though not as silky or creamy as the graphite in my top two pencils— the Stabilo 8008 and Palomino Blackwing Pearl (my true love)— the darkness and smoothness of the TS 100’s graphite is a bit of a surprise. In fact, I feel like the smoothness improves as the pencil wears down, though it’s entirely possible that I’m imagining that. Point retention is decent. I’m not running to the sharpener very 5 seconds (as I can be prone to do). Again we learn the lesson, don’t judge a book by its cover— or a pencil by its paint job or price.

Writing samples

Musgrave TS 100 eraser

The eraser does a decent job, too. Though a black eraser would look pretty cool, this one is unabashedly pink— again adding to that old school look. Erasing is quite clean and the eraser “debris” is more strand-like than crumbly. The eraser wears pretty easily, but still I run out of pencil before eraser. The ferrules are secure and look sharp against the pencil’s cool silver finish.


This isn’t a perfect pencil. The finish is basic but adequate. One of the cores in my pencils showed a slight flaw— a bit of a “cavity”— though it sharpened just fine. The branding is decidedly low-tech looking. The full hex body may annoy those who write for hours.

Musgrave TS 100

Despite those flaws, and maybe even because of them, the Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil has captured my pencil-loving heart. It’s not trying to be something it isn’t. It’s like a pair of broken-in jeans and a favorite t-shirt— ready for work. And the price? Well, what’s not to love?!

Writing sample
[I like looking at writing upside down. A quirk.]

If I was paying a premium price, the minor flaws I’ve described might annoy me, but given the excellent performance of the graphite, I can’t help but reach for this pencil, sometimes over my top two favorites. There’s just something about that hex.

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencils

The Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil sits solidly in the #3 spot on my “favorite pencils” list. Considering the competition, that’s high praise. Very high praise.

Top 3 pencils

This is a pencil that is, to me, imperfectly perfect.

Albert Einstein, the Pencil

It’s no secret that Physics and I have had a rocky relationship. All I can say as far as college Physics goes is, “Thank God for a smart lab partner.” My seat in the lecture hall was in the WAY back (alphabetically arranged) which didn’t help my precarious grasp on the formulas and theories that the professor tried to jam into my head. I got through…somehow. This was not my finest hour, academically speaking.

Retro 51 Albert pencil

Given that history, you’d think I’d avoid this Retro 1951 Albert pencil like the plague. But no, I had to have it. (Held out for awhile, then cracked.) I have a couple of theories about this:

1) One of my favorite childhood activities was writing and drawing on the blackboard in our playroom. Every now and then my father would apply a fresh coat of blackboard paint so the surface was restored to a deep dark finish. Fresh chalk on a smooth blackboard. Nothing better.

2) My office is situated on the floor with the Physics department so I see a lot of this…

Physics on display

I love where I work, so maybe, this pencil with its blackboards and formulaic scribbles makes me feel at home even though I don’t understand a whit.

Knurling and eraser

Whatever the reason, I love this pencil. It’s my first one from Retro 1951, though I’d been eyeing the all-black stealth model for awhile. Even though that one looked cool, I like this one with Albert Einstein’s formulas scribbled on a blackboard even better. The iconic Tornado knurling holds the pencil’s substantial eraser. And this eraser ERASES! No smudgy business going on here. The eraser feels soft and is big enough to handle even my Physics-sized mistakes.


Albert clip, knurling and eraser

A twist of the knurled section advances the beefy 1.15 mm HB lead, which means that you can advance exactly as much or as little lead as you like. You’re not at the mercy of a click-to-advance system that often extends too much or too little. The mechanism works without a hitch and the lead is luscious. At first I was leery of such a thick lead, but I absolutely love it. I’ll have trouble going back to those fragile 0.5 and 0.7 mm leads.

Various line sizes

The pencil itself is hefty and smooth feeling, not unlike the Makrolon body on the Lamy 2000 writing utensils, but without even that HINT of texture. This is pure smoothness. It feels so good in hand that I find myself using it when I’d typically use a pen. And that’s saying something.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Albert pencil comes with a 12-pack of 1.15 mm HB lead as well as a 6-pack of replacement erasers, meaning that I’m set to write and erase for a good long time.

The whole Albert package

Though Physics was not my thing, this Albert pencil by Retro 1951 is. With its slick blackboard look covered with Einstein’s tidy formulas, I can’t help but feel smarter for owning it. Professor Lapetina, though, might beg to differ.

I purchased my Albert pencil from Goldspot Pens. Here’s a LINK. (Not an affiliate link, I’m just a happy customer.)

Back To School Giveaway Thanks To OfficeMax

The products included in this review were provided to me by OfficeMax to facilitate this review and giveaway. I was not compensated in any other way, and the opinions expressed here are my own.

Prize package
Prize package

I’m just back from the DC Fountain Pen SuperShow, and though I was quite conservative in my buying, I have a number of interesting purchases to share with you. But not this week. THIS week, I’m offering you a chance to win a fun selection of OfficeMax products. You know, the things students need as they get ready to head back to school. The basics, done right.

Here’s what’s included:

A 4-pack of retractable gel pens…
Gel Pens
Black ink, 0.7 mm tip

Probably the least distinctive product in the bunch, these pens looks very generic, but write smoothly and without any skips. The line is dark and solid with no globbing or clumping. The rubberized grip makes for a comfortable, if somewhat unexciting writing experience. There’s certainly nothing wrong with these pens. Your student will love them. It’s just that visually, they lack pizzazz. As a utilitarian gel pen, they do the job, and do it quite well.

Retractable Gel Pens
Visible ink supply means no surprises from a dry pen!

A 12-pack of mechanical pencils…
Mechanical Pencils
I’m liking the colored grips!

I gave a few of these to Laura, a student working with me this summer, and they were an instant hit! The colored grip and matching eraser are both eye-catching and functional. Laura immediately commented that the eraser worked quite well and we discussed how so often erasers either don’t work or can even make things worse by smudging what they’re supposed to be erasing. Not the case here. This eraser erases.

Pencil grips

The rubberized grip provides a nice accent as well as a comfortable writing experience. Laura and I both like the look and feel. We were also impressed with the retractable metal sleeve that protects the pencil lead. Because it DOES retract, it won’t get caught on your pocket or purse…a nice touch!

Retractable tip
Retractable tip protector

A 10-pack of liquid highlighters…
Liquid highlighters
Nice color assortment

When I offered these to Laura, she was quick to select a couple of the less typical highlighter colors…green and purple. I’m partial to the orange, but all of the colors are nicely balanced- not so dark that they drown out your writing. The chisel tip makes it possible to draw three line widths, which is nice if you prefer to underline rather than highlight.

Highlighters at work
The highlighters at work

Chisel tip & liquid ink supply
My favorite part? The sloshing ink!

Unlike highlighters with opaque barrels, these highlighters don’t keep you guessing about the ink level. The ink is visible AND sloshable. Which might not be a word, but it’s a fun feature in a pen.

Writing sample
My OfficeMax test drive

The summer is winding down. Sniff. Time to dust off those backpacks and lunch boxes, and stock up on school supplies. But before you go shopping, why not try to win the products reviewed here!

Here’s how to enter:

1) Leave a comment on this blog by 11:59 PM Sunday August 18th. One comment per person, please!
2) Each comment will be assigned a number based on the order in which it was posted.
3) A random number generator will be used to select the winner of the set of gel pens, highlighters, and pencils. The winner will be announced on this blog the evening of Monday August 19th. OfficeMax will ship the prize package to the winner directly.
4) US residents only, please.