Franklin-Christoph 1901 Pencil Review

Disclaimer: Franklin-Christoph sent these pencils to me at no charge for review. 

Olde English F logo.

Admittedly, I only know Franklin-Christoph in passing. I've read reviews of their pens and know that they are generally well-regarded in the industry for quality and design. They run out of my price range, with nothing except some ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils under the $100 mark. While browsing their site and reading reviews, I am impressed and if the time comes that I buy an expensive (for me) fountain pen, I will definitely take Franklin-Christoph into consideration.

That being said, this is their first foray into the world of wood-cased pencils. Unfortunately, we live in a country that has only looked back with regret about letting our manufacturing industries die, pencil making being one of them. So we're left with 2 independent pencil companies in the United States, where Franklin-Christoph prides themselves on making their products. And only one of those companies makes pencils on contract for other companies, Musgrave, out of Shelbyville, Tennessee.

If you've ever used a pencil that was Made in the USA and branded from a stationery company or some other design-focused shop, chances are it was a Musgrave pencil. Field Notes*, Draplin Design Co, Story Supply Co, Write Notepads, Hester & Cook. All Musgrave pencils. They make the Golden Bear and Prospector pencils for Palomino. They're the stationery equivalent of a contract beer brewer, taking people's recipes and making them in a big factory so small companies can sell pencils too.

(EDIT: there is some question about whether Field Notes flagship round cedar pencil is made in the USA. It is the EnviroStik from Dixon Promo, so likely not. However, their one-off pencils state that they are, and are likely Musgrave. Also, I am aware of Moon Products and that they make pencils in the USA, however I did not mention them initially because they are not independently owned, being part of Mattel. They also do make custom pencils.)

Printing on the barrel. These pencils are perfectly aligned for the shot. The printing is not. Notice the 2nd pencil from the top, the print is creeping down the hex edge.

Musgrave quality is famously lackadaisical & haphazard; sometimes they make amazing pencils, sometimes you wonder how they're still in business, and sometimes they send mistakes out into the world, only to find a demand. Sometimes they will make a pencil with cedar, other times, they'll say they can't when it's requested and use basswood, then use cedar the next time when you didn't ask for it. The modern version of knowing how much someone cares about their business by "checking out the bathrooms" is by looking at the website. Don't get me started on the atrocities there. Every time I look at it, I almost drive down to Shelbyville and offer my design services for free. That's how much it offends me. Maybe in 5 years it will be so old it's new again.

So when it was announced that Franklin-Christoph had made pencils, those of us in the know were a little concerned: which Musgrave would they get? Would they get the Musgrave that makes the Golden Bear? Or would they get the Musgrave that makes these pencils? The answer is somewhere in between.

Writing sample. The difference between HB and 4B should be way more than it is.

It starts off with a good idea: 2 pencils with erasers, HB and B. Four "drawing" pencils: HB, B, 2B, 4B. The drawing pencils are metal-capped, like a General's Kimberly, but unlike the Kimberly, they don't really change much when going down grades. The lacquer is supposed to be a spotted matte black coating, and it's spotted, for sure. That's one of the few bright points of this pencil. The Franklin-Christoph product page says these are made with "premium selections of basswood"...I don't know what they means, but I can tell you, they didn't cut any corners...these pencils are just as sharp as the standard Musgrave hex barrels, which makes Deirdre over at the Weekly Pencil happy and the rest of us sore with callouses on top of our callouses.

Musgrave has a reputation for having crappy, dried out erasers. These, however, are fairly decent. The erasers are white and it's my theory that they have a huge backlog of pink erasers, sitting in the warehouse, drying up. When one of these companies contracts a pencil to Musgrave and they use a different color eraser, the eraser is generally better than if they picked pink.

My problem with the cores is that the difference between the HB and B is almost non-existent, same with the B & 2B. The changes in grade are so small, in fact, that only by trying the HB and the 4B side-by-side can I tell a difference in grade. I own HB pencils that are softer than this 4B (Viking Skoleblyanten, Casemate Neons, Palomino HB). I tested them against the General's Blue Semi-Hex drawing pencils and the Kimberly. They are all significantly harder than a similar pencil of the same grade. One would also expect wider cores in the softer grades, but you'll get no such thing here. 

More bad printing. MUSGRAVE!

I mean, I know I'm gonna sharpen this away, but UGH. Musgrave...

"Spotted matte black coating." Either a design choice or a sales spin on a bad paint job. Only Musgrave knows for sure.

The fit and finish of these pencils leaves a bit to be desired as well. In typical Musgrave fashion, the ferrules are just jammed on there, and the printing of the pencil is all over the place. There's no imprint here, just a white paint that is translucent enough to make the branding look light grey. It is not centered on the flat side of the hex, nor in the vertical aspect of the pencil. The printing just seems to be wherever it wants to be, how it was originally designed be damned.

You may be asking yourself, why such a negative review? Why, when the fine folks at Franklin-Christoph gave you this pencil to look at, for free, would you rake it over the coals? To save you $15. Yes, all of this can be yours for $15 per dozen. Now, that's nothing for their fountain pen contingent and some may just buy them to have and collect. But for the pencil people, the readers of this site, the folks wondering if they should pony up $15, the answer is no. At best, they're worth it for half the cost, maybe. At half the cost, they could be looked at in a different light. If you buy a $250 pen from Franklin-Christoph and buy a $15 Pilot Metropolitan, you would expect the F-C to perform better. If the Pilot Metropolitan cost $250, it wouldn't be considered as good as it's considered NOW at $15. Same thing applies here. I have NOTHING against Franklin-Christoph: they're fine folks who make fine products and seem to be loved in the pen world. I hope this reads as an admonishment of Musgrave and just an unfortunate situation for Franklin-Christoph. Their only issue here is that they weren't able to make these pencils themselves. Their only issue here is that there is no choice if you're a brand that wants Made in the USA pencils as part of your offerings. It's Musgrave or nothing. Their only issue here is that they stuck to their roots and philosophy and wanted a product made in the United States. They could have gone outside the US and had a better pencil made. One would argue they SHOULD have done that, especially if they planned on charging $15 a dozen, but they chose to stick to their philosophy. I can't fault them for that. I also can't recommend these pencils.

Available from Franklin-Christoph, $15 for 12 eraser-tipped HB or B, $5.75 for 4 metal-tipped drawing pencils, either mixed or all one grade.