Friday, April 01, 2011

Naturally Gorgeous: USA Gold Natural

Pencils in the buff
Pencils in the buff: General's Cedar Pointe, Forest Choice, USA Gold Natural

Not quite a full review, and I know the photos are pretty lousy, but I couldn't resist at least a mention...

Last week, pursuing rumors of Rhodia notebooks on clearance at bargain basement prices, I stopped by my local Target. Alas, the only Rhodia notebook they had wasn't marked down all that much, and also looked like someone had dropped it on the floor and danced on it quite thoroughly in muddy shoes. So I passed. Since then, I've been able to fill my Rhodia longing at Powell's City of Books in Portland, OR, but at that moment, standing in the aisles at Target, what was I to do? I couldn't just walk away from the office supplies section empty handed, now could I? (Don't answer that...)

Fortunately I found an inexpensive consolation prize. Although I really, really, really don't need any more, I picked up a pack of pencils, namely some USA Gold Naturals.

USA Gold Naturals in Package
Yeah, I got impatient and ripped into them before taking any pictures...

The USA Gold Natural is made in the USA, as they make a bit obvious on their packaging. It is natural incense cedar, and smells like it--mmmm.  Very nice to sharpen.  It's also nice to sharpen in that the lead has been nicely centered in every one I've used so far.  This is important: poorly centered leads have become perhaps my biggest pet peeve when it comes to wood-case pencils.  Like the Forest Choice, the Natural seems to have a light coating of varnish or other sealant to protect it from dirt and graphite grime and moisture...which does mean it won't get that fascinating worn-in patina that the General's Cedar Pointes do, for better or worse.

Like its yellow-clothed brethren (the standard USA Gold), the Natural is a little on the slender side. (I believe the Ticonderogas have also lost a bit in diameter over the years in order to conserve wood.) It isn't terribly noticeable, though, especially after a moment or two of use.

USA Golds have dandy erasers, small but much better than is typical in this class--they don't flake, don't rip the paper, remove graphite cleanly, and the leavings roll into easily-brushed-away strands. And I like the colors of the ferrule: brass and green. Simple, yet distinctive.

USA Gold Natural Ferrule
Classy ferrule on these, in my opinion...

It writes well. Personally, I find it tricky to describe graphite pencils, particularly since I mostly use reg'lar HB grade without a lot of variation. You can only say "smooth and dark" so many times before it becomes meaningless. I'd say it's darker than a Ticonderoga, lighter than a Palomino or my Helix Oxfords, relatively hard-wearing without being gritty, and fairly smear-resistant, particularly compared to other inexpensive pencils. Howzat?  It's a good all 'rounder.

Ticonderoga/USA Gold Natural comparison. Difficult to show darkness and clarity in a scan...  I ran a finger over the word "smear," but pencil doesn't smear easily on Rhodia paper!

It's not a premium pencil, but it's light-years beyond the usual plastic-wood-mush pencil-shaped-objects that are typical in this price range. I like it.  Quite a bit.


Duffy Moon said...

Just now found this post (a few years late, admittedly). I'm lately a big fan of these pencils. I was swayed by the cheap price tag and the 'made in USA label' (manufactured by Moon Products Inc was a plus).

Little Flower Petals said...

I think some of the Musgrave offerings are my favorite US made pencils (they're beefier, for one thing), but for sheer value, these are hard to beat.