My love for the Staedtler Norica Black 2014 is well known. Supposedly "within tolerances", the happy accident, sold in the US primarily at office supply giant Staples, is insanely great, especially for the price. The word is out, and they are getting harder to come by, but the 2014 Norica can still be found in some places, and they pop up from time to time. Depending on the day and sale, you can find a box of 36 for as low as $5, most of the time sitting at $8, but the "full price" is $11.99 on the Staples website. That means, on the right day, you can get a gross of these pencils for $20. These pencils rival the Blackwing 602 core quality, in my opinion. The other editions of this pencil, the 2012 and the 2015, are nowhere near as smooth, the core is standard size, and like most cheap pencils, have some fit and finish problems.
So what does this have to do with the Staedtler Mark 2B? Well, the theory around some of the pencil community was that the factory must've messed up and branded the Mark 2B as the Black Norica HB and they just had to release them anyway. So would this pencil be the replacement for the mythical 2014 Norica? Is this the standard release that the fans of the smooth black beauty can move to once the well dries up?
I think not, however, the Mark 2B is a good pencil in its own right.
I'm a fan of the looks of this pencil for starters. It's got a smooth matte black lacquer and silver imprint, and all the finishing was perfect on the entire box of 12 that I purchased. While the imprinting is only on one side, that side is fairly busy. It has the standard Staedtler icon and logotype, then the Mark 2B logotype. After that, it says Germany 132 12, a sideways triangle with a line through it (which I'm assuming is the Mark 2B icon, because the box has a cutout of the same shape), and 2B. The Mark 2B font is amazing, but it is unfortunately lost in the shuffle with all this other stuff. I love its retro-future feel...it reminds me of the early days of the computer. I wonder if this font has been on this pencil since it's inception, and when that inception was.
The ferrule is the same as a Tombow or Mitsubishi, but this one is standard silver. It holds a white eraser that is similar to the Norica, but seems to be a little harder. The Norica eraser feels like the Mars eraser, but this one feels hard. It could be designed that way to withstand erasing a lot of test bubbles or it could be due to age, but I have no way of knowing. The box is in English and Thai. The branding is mainly English, while the details on the back of the box are Thai. Unfortunately, Google Translate doesn't do the "goggles" feature with Thai, so I was unable to translate it.
The wood seems to have basswood characteristics and has that typical "maybe nothing / maybe bay leaves / maybe old rotting furniture at your Grandma's house" smell that a lot of pencils from Southeast Asia seem to have. Some of the recent Target pencils have this smell as well, though a bit more pungent. Those are made in Vietnam, while these Staedtler Mark 2B are made in Thailand. From the research I've done, apparently these aren't available in the UK or Germany.
The core is fairly decent, but not as smooth and dark as the 2014 Norica. This is a good thing when it comes to the stated use for this pencil. The 2014 Norica is too soft and prone to needing sharpened quicker during a test, and it doesn't erase as well as the Mark 2B does. I couldn't find any information on whether or not this pencil is made with true "electrographite" or if they just advertised it for Test Scoring because it was dark and easily erasable. Seems that many of the pencils advertised as "great for exams" are just #2 pencils (think Staedtler Rally).
While it's not the 2014 Black Norica in it's original form, the Staedtler Mark 2B is a great pencil if you can get your hands on it, even though the price is a little on the high side at over a buck per pencil. The all-black lacquer and retro-future imprint make this a winner in my book, but even in different clothing, it would be a worthwhile acquisition.
Available from Amazon. $12.50 for 1 box of 12.