I’ve been thinking about this question a LOT lately. And not necessarily because I want to justify my own collection, which actually has diminished significantly in recent years. I’ve not purchased any new pens for months, and have made an honest effort to sell off unused items, work my way through my backlog of paper, and simply be more conscious about acquiring additional stuff. Of course I still tend to accumulate pens, pencils, ink, and paper over time - it’s the nature of product reviewing that you sometimes need to acquire items to review - but it’s become more gradual, I don’t feel as though I’m drowning in clutter, and I’m not losing money. A semi-annual stationery purge helps to keep things in check.
I’m not a collector, in the traditional sense, and I try to buy only those things that I could conceivably use one day. On principle, I discourage FOMO-driven “fear hoarding.” You know the forum threads - “They might discontinue X limited-edition product or run out quickly, and I know I haven’t tried it yet but it’s going to be great because X blogger says so and I went ahead and bought seven bottles/boxes/packs of notebooks because I might never be able to get it or anything like it ever again.” This type of stockpiling isn’t healthy, for your sanity, your wallet, or the stationery industry in general. These purchasing frenzies incentivize brands to churn out dozens of ill-conceived “limited edition” versions of the same product rather than innovate and bring something new to the market. Many “limited editions” aren’t even unique - with respect to something like fountain pen ink, is there any good reason to stock up on a dozen bottles of a single color when the overwhelming majority of people go through a bottle (maybe two) a year at most, and where the size and scope of today’s ink market renders it extremely unlikely that you won’t be able to find a similar, if not identical, color? Stockpiling like this rarely makes sense to me.
Lately, however, I’ve been wondering whether a good case does exist for stockpiling certain products you use regularly and form a core part of your workflow. Two items in particular prompted this internal debate: (1) the Baron Fig Mastermind desk pad, and (2) the cedar No. 2 pencil. The first, I’ll freely admit, is more fear-driven than the other. To my knowledge, Baron Fig is in no danger of going away anytime soon, but I’ve not found anything similar to the Mastermind that matches its combination of size, paperweight, and format. (The Studio Neat Panobook and the Write Notepads Landscape Notebook are similar, but I love that the Mastermind is a tear-away desk pad, especially since I have to shred most of my notes from work.) There’s no need for me to invest in a lifetime supply of writing pads, but does it make sense to have extra stock on hand to hold me over if it’s ever discontinued and I need to find something else? Since I’ve used the Mastermind every day consistently for the past two years, probably.
The cedar No. 2 pencil presents a better case for buying up what you can while you can still get it. Much ink has been spilled (or graphite smeared) lamenting the fact that modern pencil production is plagued by inconsistent quality, even within brands, and unannounced design and manufacturing changes. Take the Dixon Ticonderoga, for example. While the original, USA-manufactured cedar Ticonderoga has been a bit over-romanticized, there’s no disputing the fact that since Dixon began outsourcing production to multiple factories around the world, consistent quality has been elusive. I’ve purchased a box of Black Ticonderogas made in Mexico that were some of the worst pencils I’ve ever used - hard, scratchy, and way too light for their No. 2 designation. Another pack of Chinese-made Ticonderogas that I purchased from Target are still among the best pencils in my stash, with a smooth, dark core, while yet another identical-looking box purchased from Office Depot were just “meh.”
Woodcase pencil-making is, by its very nature, resource-intensive and susceptible to economic pressures that force manufacturers to outsource and cut costs, especially in market segments like school supplies where they can’t raise prices enough to compensate. All of the favorite inexpensive “school” pencils I used growing up (the Dixon Ticonderoga, the Faber-Castell American, the Blackfeet Indian Pencil) have either seen production move overseas or have disappeared entirely from the U.S. market. What’s to say that more brands won’t follow? Sure, it’s a safe bet that Blackwing probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon - as long as people are willing to pay close to $30 for a dozen pencils - but can you really say the same about Generals, which operates a factory in the uber-expensive New York City metropolitan area and focuses on pencils that sell for around $6 per dozen? Even CalCedar (maker of Blackwing) discontinued the eraser-tipped Palomino No. 2, which I consider one of the best pencils ever made. They used to sell them in bulk for $100 per gross, and failing to pull the trigger on that purchase is one of my great regrets. I won’t make the same mistake with the Forest Choice No. 2.
I guess the point of this musing is to say that if I find a reasonably priced product that I use daily and enjoy, why wouldn’t I purchase it while I can, especially if there’s a real (as opposed to perceived) danger of it going away forever? Building up a nice stock of quality woodcase pencils doesn’t cost very much, and pencils don’t take up much space or deteriorate quickly. A dozen USA-made Ticonderogas from the 1990s or 2000s can be had on eBay for as little as $7, and they’re as usable as ever. Sure, that’s pricier than what you’ll see in stores today, but it’s still much less expensive than a dozen modern Blackwings. That Faber-Castell “American” pencil I mentioned? You can buy a sealed half gross of those for $20 - still less than a dozen limited edition Blackwings. The other good thing about pencils is that if you have school-age kids in the house, those pencils are going to get “stolen”, and you can always donate unused pencils or those that don’t match your personal preferences to school-supply drives, which my office runs every fall. In short, be conscious of what you use, and don’t buy multiples of stuff simply because of FOMO-pressure or because someone like me told you to, but at the same time, don’t let today’s trendy obsession with “minimalism” keep you from ensuring that you have a ready supply of quality writing tools that you need to do the work you love.
Now excuse me while I go finish work on my pencil bunker.
Disclaimer: This post contains links to paid sponsors and affiliates. All pencils pictured in this review were purchased with my own funds for my own use.
Also, please do not flood me with emails about selling pencils or pens. I’ve recently been receiving scores of unsolicited e-mails asking if I will sell “XYZ” pen, pencil, or notebook (typically a limited edition). If I am looking to sell or trade something, I will typically ask for trade offers or post things for sale on a separate page. Thanks for understanding - I can only respond to so much email!