Sunday, June 10, 2012

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 Pencil

Musgrave Test Scoring 100 pencil

I have a number of well-liked pencil varieties...more than I should probably confess to. Many or most have been heavily reviewed elsewhere. So today...I want to stick in a plug for a pencil that's a bit of an underdog: the Musgrave Test Scoring 100, made right here in the US in Shelbyville, TN.

I'm only aware of a few reviews--here and here, for example. And I'll say up front, I'm not an experienced, competent reviewer like these folks. You should almost certainly trust their reviews (rather lukewarm or negative as they are) over mine. I take no responsibility for consequences stemming from my words here.

That said, I would like to go out on a limb and state another thing up front: I flippin' love these pencils.

I even love their appearance: that thin, somewhat chintzy silver-colored paint, for one. It warms the heart of anyone who has ever used silver spray paint to make cardboard robots or other such backyard crafts. It's so wonderfully tacky. And the unapologetically plain pink eraser and unpainted ferrule also tug at my heartstrings. The whole thing reminds me of some sort of homemade toy, which makes me smile. They're so ugly, they're adorable.

But it's a pencil: a writing instrument, first and foremost. How does it write?

Musgrave Test Scoring logo

As the little icony graphic surrounding the pencil's name illustrates, these pencils were designed to be used for filling in the little bubbles on multiple-choice tests: they are meant to make a good, solid, dark mark, easily read by those Scantron machines. And making dark marks is what they do. They are a little on the soft side, and slightly waxy. Some dark pencils can be a little powdery in feel, easily worn down and somewhat prone to crumbling. These are less so, and less prone to smearing as well, but if you look very closely at the dark writing, you can see a bit of texture to it. At a microscopic level, it may not cover the paper quite as thoroughly as the more powdery pencils.

Test Scoring writing sample
Hard to see from this scan, but it's actually somewhat darker than the Ticonderoga, but perhaps less sharp

Test Scoring Close-up, showing texture
Somewhat blurry close-up attempt to show the texture I'm referring to.

They do wear down a little faster than at least some HB pencils--they're more akin to 2B grade, I'd say--but aren't unreasonably fast-wearing. And I've had zero issues with lead breakage. Most importantly, I just plain love the way they feel on the page. They require very little pressure, and they are very smooth, yet...chewy. Chocolatey. I don't know quite how to put it. It's not the almost chalky smoothness of, say, a California Republic Palomino HB, but something slightly more substantial. It almost reminds me of the silky-yet-springy feel some mechanical pencil leads have, to my mind. Others have stated they found the lead scratchy, which makes me question my sanity...but what else is new? Another point in their favor: the leads have been perfectly centered in all I've sharpened so far--poorly centered leads being a serious pet peeve of mine. And the pencils sharpen easily and cleanly. I believe the wood is either cedar or basswood. They don't have a strong aroma.

Aside from the slight texture to the writing they produce, their other potential downside is the pointiness of the corners. Unlike vintage pencils, most pencils these days are actually semi-hexagonal rather than straight hexagonal: the corners are softly rounded off. Musgrave doesn't do this. These corners are straight cut. They aren't sharp, but they're definitely more cornered than your average modern pencil shape. This looks classy and makes them reassuringly grippy at first, but during long writing stints, you start to notice the edges, and not necessarily in a comfortable way. On the bright side, they will build up your writing callouses and help you feel like a serious old-school writer, if this is your dream.

Test Scoring Ferrule

The eraser is...your average rubbery eraser. It is no worse than most attached erasers: i.e. it will do in a pinch, but I vastly prefer my Papermate Black Pearls and Mars Plastic erasers. The ferrule is plain, unmarked metal.

From what I can determine, for standard consumers, these are most easily available via Pencil Things--either directly from their website at, or (in packs of three dozen) via their store on

Test Scoring Smear Test
Smear test--it does smear a tiny bit more easily than a standard Ticonderoga HB

And now, one of these days I need to get my hands on some Musgrave's HB pencils!


Bill M said...

I just learned of a new pencil. I need to look for some of these to have on hand for our radio licensing test sessions.

notagain said...

I like that they are made for a single purpose. That's the thing that always appeals to me.

John said...

Great review! I'm glad to see this pencil get some praise! :-)

Adair said...

Wait until you try the Musgrave HB. It is the best pencil still made in the USA, and one of the best in the world. Unfortunately,they are not easy to come by, and Musgrave seems to do little to market its superb products.

Little Flower Petals said...

Hoping to pick up some Musgrave HBs soon! I also have some of Musgrave's Unigraph HBs, which are beautiful pencils, but I don't like them as much (they don't have the unique feel of the Test Scoring pencils), and also have had trouble with breaking the (somewhat soft) lead. Maybe they're better for drawing than just writing. I'm curious where the regular HBs will fall in the spectrum.

I'm seriously thinking of eventually ordering some of the Test Scoring pencils in bulk. I like them that much, and considering how few distributors there are (unless, presumably, you're ordering for a school district or something), I'm a little afraid of running out and discovering I have no way to replenish.

Adair said...

The Unigraphs are indeed lovely, and they remind me, with their green barrels and gold lettering, of the great German Faber-Castell pencils. However, I have found them to have inconsistent lead quality. Not so with the Musgrave HB's---perfect every time! They are on the soft, dark side of HB, with very smooth performance. I love them!

Boiling Pot said...

This is an excellent review. Quite thorough and including non-technical aspects of pencil-ry. I'm sending away for some of these Musgraves.

I've either lost my General Test Scoring pencils or their erasers are worn down, making them useless to a not-very-smart crossword enthusiast. Their shipping cost has gone up greatly to my country, but the folks who sell Musgraves are more reasonable in this regard.

Little Flower Petals said...

Thank you for your comment! I actually just received some General's Test Scoring pencils from an eBay vendor this week--I should do a comparison of the two one of these days. I would say the General's pencils are smoother but softer, requiring more frequent sharpening. Personally? For regular use I kind of prefer the Musgraves. They remain one of my favorites, and are now available from as well as the vendors I originally mentioned. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Anonymous said...

I second Adair's remarks about the Musgrave HB (natural finish with a clear lacquer). I find the lead smooth, dark, and hardwearing. This is another sleeper like your beloved General's Semi-Hex. I like the Test Scoring 100 as well, but the eraser is pants.