The Pencil Story: Amazon Told Me More About Buying Pencils Than I Care to Know

Buying pencils cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

When I draw a cartoon, which I do occasionally, I get a piece of paper and sketch it out with a #2 pencil. I draw, then erase, then draw again until I am satisfied. I then get another piece of paper, place it over the first, then by looking through the blank paper to the faint lines of the pencil drawing behind, render the final cartoon in ink. I started doing cartoons this way when I was in college. I see no reason to change this method.

The other day, I noticed that I only had a few old pencils left and all the erasers on the back ends were down to nubs. I decided to buy a half dozen new ones. I went to Amazon.

I typed in #2 pencils, pre-sharpened.

On my screen were pencils from Ticonderoga, Arteza, Dixon and, among others, Amazon. Amazon sells its own brand of #2 pencils. I could get 150 pre-sharpened #2 HB pencils for $12.49. Not much in the scheme of things. But I didn’t want 150 pencils. I wanted six pencils. Also, what does HB mean? I tracked that down. It means the lead is hard rather than soft. Well, I wanted hard. Amazon had 1,077 reviews averaging four stars. Why am I even looking at this? I only want six pencils.

I clicked on Ticonderoga Pencils, which had 4,712 reviews, was more reviews than any of the other pencils, which says something. And they averaged four-and-a-half stars. They offered a 96 pack of pencils for $9.96, which was less than Amazon but was still too many pencils. But then I saw I could get a 12 pack of pencils. And that was only $3.99.

Towne Cellars leaderboard 2019

I was after six pencils, but I was not hard and fast about it. Could be 12.

I clicked on some of their reviews.

“The problem with Ticonderogas is that they are made in China and Mexico and on Amazon you never know what you will get. To complicate things somewhat, I’ve seen incense-cedar as well as less identifiable and lesser quality non-aromatic basswood and other lower grade wood material that is not readily identifiable.”

Here was another.

“Quality has gone down significantly. It used to be the ‘go-to’ pencil and now that is no longer the case. I found that in addition to the lead breaking far too often, the metal eraser ends are coming off as well.”

I read a few more. Buying this pencil was risky. And how could they sell 12 pencils for $3.99 and 96 for $9.96? Were they losing money at 96 pencils? Or were they overcharging for 12?

I went to Dixon Pencils. A box of 12 pre-sharpened is $3.09. That seems more possible. And fairer.

A terrible pencil, said one review. Wider-than-normal casings and made with disintegrating wood.

Well, I certainly don’t want a pencil that is wider than normal. I’m used to a particular way of holding a pencil. This could get in my way.

Another reviewer said he couldn’t re-sharpen the pencil in his pencil sharpener because of
the wideness.

And here was another problem.

“The box needs to be redesigned. The tops open as the packages typically do, but the bottom of the boxes are flimsy and poorly designed. I figured that the bottom of the box should and would be the same as the top? They opened up all in my package. So, being pre-sharpened pencils is pointless is someone will have to sharpen them again anyways, if the points break off from the boxes not being secure.”

I tried a different brand of pencil, which shall remain nameless. A review said that the front end gets shredded when you put it in a pencil sharpener, so essentially you only get to use the pre-sharpened end once and then have to throw it away. The rest of the review was equally bad.

Over all, I thought Ticonderoga pencil, with all its seeming shortcomings, led the pack. Also, I liked the name because it reminded me of that famous Revolutionary War battle we won. But I still wasn’t so sure about the quality. Was this back to the great old quality or still what people had said was poorer new quality?

It could be a bad bet. How I spend my money is important. Don’t want to get cheated out of my, uh, 399 cents. What? What am I doing? But I couldn’t get over it. It was the principal of the thing. And so, in the end, I decided I’d hold off.

In retrospect, I think they give you entirely too much information about these things. I had trouble falling asleep that night as a result.

Maybe I should just go out to the Sag Harbor 5 & 10 and buy a pack of pencils.

Dan camel bandit cartoon
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

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