We're into Year 3 of the Volumes series. Palomino continued to do a few different things with the limited pencils this year, some cool, some not...along with a few head scratchers. Some thoughts on each Volumes series release, then we'll get into the rest of what they did with the line.
Volume 205: Jade Edition
The "big idea" is interesting. Pay tribute to the spread of ideas, the Silk Road, and Jade being one of the items that was popular with Silk Road traders. But the execution was a bit lacking. I love that they did 2 different styles of pencil in one box, 6 of each. But the wrap they used was weird. It was supposed to be "halftone" but it just looks pixelated. These might've been better for me if they had made them with a true marbling effect, but the way they did it looked cheap. It used the 602 core, but that wasn't enough to save it, for me. The marketing video they put out for it was universally panned in the stationery nerd circles I run in. It didn't really match the theme (or anything at all, for that matter).
Volume 73: Lake Tahoe Edition
As much as the Jade was panned, this one seemed to be universally loved. They did some interesting things with this pencil. It's "Lake Tahoe Blue" with a raised printing of the topography of the lake bottom. The 73 refers to a clarity reading called the Secchi depth. The whole theme was to bring awareness to conservation efforts for Lake Tahoe. The pencil itself used the MMX core, the softest of the Palomino Blackwing cores.
Volume 1: Guy Clark Edition
This one was a bit weird. This is the first round Blackwing. It used the Pearl core, but wasn't as smeary as some of the earlier Pearls while being very similar in softness. It was painted with a "grey wash" that allowed you to see the wood through the paint, like an old fence post or something. Unfortunately, it was the color of tan orthopedic shoes, which I didn't even see until it was pointed out on social media...then I couldn't unsee it. It used a "denim" eraser that was supposed to be the color of the favorite old chambray shirt worn by Guy Clark. If you're not already a fan of his, chances are you won't be once you hear his music. He seems, to me, like a musician's musician, and he is certainly an acquired taste, even for someone who likes the country music genre. I get it...I listen to a lot of eclectic stuff. But this seems like such a waste for using the number 1. To me, that's an important number, and should've been reserved for a more special edition.
Volume 16.2: Ada Lovelace Edition
Black and white "stormtrooper" look to the pencil. White body, black ferrule, both matte. White eraser. Dedicated to Ada Lovelace, a 19th century mathematician often cited as the first computer programmer. For me, the sizzle was better than the steak on this edition. Great story, kinda boring pencil. I think I would've liked it better had they gone with the "Extra Firm" core from the 24 & 530 instead of the 602 core here. A pencil dedicated to a mathematician should have the firmest core, and if it had been, then each release this year would've had a different core.
This year saw a redesign of the main line of pencils. They had started to switch the line over to the new logo and wordmark last year, but this year everything got in sync, along with some cosmetic changes. The Pearl now has a gold imprint, gold ferrule, and white eraser. The MMX (just "Blackwing" for the uninitiated) now uses the black eraser. And the 602 is now outfitted with the pink eraser, as it should be. All the erasers, including the colored replacements you can buy in sets of 10, have all moved to dust-free, and there are multiple colors available.
Starting with the subscriber extra in the Jade shipment, Blackwing expanded their notebook lineup a lot this year. Subscribers each got a single Clutch notebook, the pocket notebook size. They also added a large size, called the Summit, to the line. In addition, a white version of each (and the previous released A5-sized Slate) was made to match the Pearl pencil. They even made a second Blackwing sharpener (rebranded KUM Automatic) in white to match.
They launched the Point Guard for subscribers last winter, and while it wasn't without its problems, they stuck with it, redesigned it to better fit the pencil without marring the lacquer, and it is now available in Matte Black, Gold, and Silver. All machined aluminum. I haven't gotten a new one because I honestly didn't have a problem with mine really messing up any pencils. I don't use it daily, but it is always sitting on whatever Blackwing I'm currently using.
One thing I'm hesitant to write about is the Cal Cedar 100-year Anniversary Blackwing. Some are calling it the 1917, some the 100, some the 504. It's an all natural pencil with a green imprint and green eraser. On one side, it just says Palomino Blackwing, and on the other side it says Cal Cedar 1917. It's basically the pencil everyone in our little pencil group on Facebook has been clamoring for, because it has the Extra Firm core. Each subscriber was sent one of these pencils in a tube as an extra in the 16.2 Ada Lovelace edition box. Included was a chance to buy these pencils, 2 per subscriber, and a specific day at a specific URL. The subscriber extra was the single pencil in the tube and "a chance" to spend upwards of $60 after shipping. When the time came to purchase, the website had some troubles and went down, giving a 504 error (hence the 504 moniker). It sucked that they didn't have enough for every subscription to get 2 boxes. That was a miss on their part. It's also a miss that they have still yet to release a pencil with the 24 core full time. I suspect after the fervor over these pencils, something is on the horizon. It's not every day their website gets blasted like that. If they don't do anything with it from there, they might as well sell off the brand, cos they have no idea what the hell they're doing.
Though there were some high points this year, I personally thought it was a down year for Blackwing, especially the Volumes Series. I am comforted by the fact that they are continuing to refine the standard lineup, but the quarterly releases left a little to be desired. Not enough to make me stop subscribing, but I'd like to see a bit more fun in some of the pencils.