Like the Dixon Ticonderoga in the US, the Staedtler Noris is ubiquitous, an icon of pencil design and available throughout most of the world. The most popular is the yellow and black striped HB with a red end dip, but the Noris line is available in a few different shapes, sizes, and barrel colors. There's even a Samsung digital stylus made to look like a Noris. I haven't used them all, but I have a few and thought I'd revisit them. After seeing so many Noris pencils in the Secret Life of the Pencil book, I had to pull mine out. I've always liked reading about the history behind Staedtler and the other big German brand, Faber-Castell, but I've always found their pencils kind of "meh". (Check out Caroline Weaver's book Pencil Perfect for some of this history.) The cores are alright, a bit harder than what I expect from the grades, maybe not as smooth as Japanese pencils. But one can't take a hard line in their preferences, because not only do products get better, your tastes change. And if so many people love this pencil, it's doing something right, right?
First, let's talk about the overall design of the Noris. In its most standard form, the Noris HB, it's hexagonal in shape, with 2 panels of black, opposite each other. The remaining 4 panels are yellow, with a thin stripe of black along the hex edge to separate where the 2 panels of yellow meet on either side. This makes for an interesting, and often copied, stripe pattern. A lot of Indian pencils use this stripe pattern. The Staedtler Tradition uses this pattern, but the yellow is replaced with red, which make the Tradition and the Nataraj 621 dead ringers for each other. Fun fact: the yellow panels on the Noris used to be orange, until they switched to yellow in 1955. I would love to see one of those old pencils, but I think yellow is a better choice. Anyway, the Noris end dip is a rippled red over white, making the white bit look kind of like a crown. Is Staedtler the king of pencils? The color part of the end dip changes depending on the grade: green for 2H, blue for H, red for HB, black for B, and orange for 2B. The lacquer and gold foil imprints on all of the ones I have are well-applied. The wood on all these pencils is a little different. Some are nicely grained, some have nearly no visible grain to speak of. And they don't really reek of cedar. They all sharpen nicely.
On the standard Noris, I have the aforementioned HB, along with B and 2B. For my tastes, the HB is a little hard. I actually prefer the 2B, as it writes more like a Japanese B/HB, which is my favorite core. I reach for the HB when I need great point retention or I'm writing really small or on some very textured paper. I also have an eraser tipped version of the Noris HB. While it looks plain and pink, and a little dusty, it works like a champ. It's dust free and balls up really well, and can get rid of marks, even on toothy paper, fairly well.
Next is the Exam Grade triangular Noris in 2B. "Gred Peperiksaan" it says on the barrel, which roughly translates to "Grade Examination" according to Google. These are only available in 2B, but are available in a few different colorways. As you can imagine, I like the green the best.The core is dark and smooth, but like most of the Noris line, point retention is pretty nice.
My last entry in the Noris line that I've gotten my hands on is the Noris Ergosoft Jumbo. The core is soft, and while it doesn't say on the pencil, my guess would be the core is 2B in softness. There are standard width Ergosoft pencils as well, and both are triangular shaped. The barrel looks just like a fatter, triangular version of the Noris, but it feels weird. There's some sort of waxy coating on the outside that provides a bit of grip, but kind of makes my fingers feel sticky after using it.
So the Noris: while the standard hardness is not for me, except in very specific circumstances, I really like the softer versions of the pencil and am happy to revisit them from time to time and pull one out of my stash. If you're from the US and you haven't yet tried one of these pencils, they're definitely worth a look, and if you're from pretty much anywhere else, I'm sure you've used one before.
Available from Amazon, $9.99 for a 36 pack.