The brouhaha over Blackwing pencils

One man's quest to revive the Blackwing pencil touches off a storm of controversy.

All three versions of the Blackwing: the original Blackwing 602, CalCedar’s Palomino Blackwing (pointing right), and the new Palomino Blackwing 602 (with black erasers)

FORTUNE — Passions were running at their usual near-fever pitch in the pencil world earlier this year. CollectingPencils.com wanted its readers to identify the pencil held by GM (GM, Fortune 500) designer Chuck Jordan in a picture that ran alongside his obituary. “Great designer, passing of an age, shall not see his like again, yes, yes, yes … But what’s that pencil he’s holding?” Over at PencilRevolution.com, a reviewer appraised the latest specialty offering from General Pencil: “Fit and finish is decent. There are a few less-than-perfect ferrules with wood chips overlapping the edges but it’s minimal. I find the austere look very appealing.” A reviewer at Pencil.org was less forgiving of a mass-market model from Dixon Ticonderoga: “What I’ll say about these pencils is that friends shouldn’t let friends use the Dixon Economisers.”

It’s unusual for any consumer product to arouse such passion, let alone one that can cost less than 10. But then the wood-clinched, eraser-tipped graphite pencil has some extraordinary properties. It has outlasted the marker, typewriter, and dedicated word processor as a means of communication, and survived the arrival of the ballpoint, texting, and the iPad. On websites like Pencil Revolution and Pencil Grinder, enthusiasts obsess over fit and finish, the merits of presharpening, and the properties of erasers.

Some Timberline readers urged CalCedar to re-create a pencil with a distinctive, wide, adjustable eraser, the Blackwing 602. Introduced in the 1930s by Eberhard Faber, the Blackwing had attracted a cult following. A sleek-looking charcoal-gray pencil with a particularly soft lead and a unique eraser and ferrule (the crimped metal that holds the eraser), it was advertised as requiring only a fraction of the usual physical exertion to produce a mark. HALF THE EFFORT, TWICE THE SPEED was printed in gold letters on its side. The Blackwing counted among its users such writers and artists as John Steinbeck, Stephen Sondheim, and Chuck Jones.

The Blackwing survived a change in ownership when Faber-Castell USA bought Eberhard Faber in 1988, and again in 1994, when Faber-Castell was bought by Sanford Corp., a division of Newell-Rubbermaid (NWL, Fortune 500). But the machine that made the clips for the eraser ferrule had been broken for years and never fixed.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsWhen the Blackwing stock became exhausted in 1998, Sanford decided that its low volume — only about 1,100 gross annually — made repair uneconomical. With that the Blackwing died. Almost immediately, scarcity created a rush of demand by collectors. By 2001, Blackwing pencils that had originally sold for 50 would change hands on eBay for up to $40.

When Berolzheimer learned that the Blackwing trademark had not been renewed, he claimed it for his new pencil. “Pure and simple, Blackwing is a great and iconic name among serious pencil fans,” he explained in “Timberlines.”

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