And no, it's not the Chinese manufactured Dixon Ticonderogas, although those are nice, because the "warping" issue knocked them out of the top slot. I've either purchased or been sent so many pencils over the past year or so that I haven't yet gotten around to testing all of them out. This week, however, I sharpened up two Palomino Golden Bears, and I'm quite impressed.
The Golden Bear is Cal-Cedar's mid-range pencil. Setting aside Blackwing range, the "classic" Palomino is the more expensive offering (at $12.95 per dozen); the Golden Bear clocks in at a bargain $2.95 per dozen (or $30.09 for a gross!), and the "budget" Prospector sells for $1.95 or $2.25 per dozen, depending on whether or not you want them in green or unfinished.
I have not yet tried the Prospector, but the Golden Bears are quality. They easily hold up to any office supply store pencil, and compare favorably to your standard Dixon Ticonderoga or General's Semi-Hex. The graphite core is dark and fairly smooth (just a touch grittier than the Palomino, which is to be expected at this price point), and the wood is still genuine incense cedar. My favorite things about these pencils is the point retention. They don't dull easily, and the cedar is such good quality that they seemingly last forever.
To my understanding, these pencils are manufactured by Musgrave in Shelbyville, Tennessee (close to home), and have the telltale Musgrave "sharp edges." To those of you who have not used a Musgrave pencil, the hexagonal edges are not "rounded" like most pencils, and therefore can cause some problems for those who grip the pencil either too tightly or in a way which causes the pencil to dig into their fingers. I've not had this problem, however, and I like my Musgraves.
The Golden Bears are either blue or orange (the signature Palomino colors) and are fitted with the opposite color eraser on a brass ferrule with an orange stripe. The erasers are excellent.
You can get a really good deal for a bundle of 36 via Amazon.