For my first official review, I couldn’t think of anything better to start with than the Palomino Golden Bear #2. These orange and blue beauties will always hold a special place in my heart. The Palomino Golden Bear was one of the first pencils I used that was from “beyond the store”, and it was my “gateway pencil” to the world of higher-quality woodcased pencils. Simply put, the Golden Bear reignited my passion for woodcased pencils and opened a door I never thought I’d enter (but sure glad I did).
If you don’t want to read my long-winded review, here is the short version: I love this pencil.
A Little Background
I received my first Golden Bear as part of the Palomino Collection Pack (available here from Pencils.com). The Palomino Collection Pack contains both colors of Golden Bears (orange and blue), as well as seven other pencils produced by Palomino’s parent company, California Cedar Products Company (Cal Cedar). I give the collection of nine pencils my highest recommendation if you want to try an outstanding assortment of super-quality woodcased pencils.
I purchased the Palomino Collection Pack after hearing about it on the first episode of the Erasable podcast. The podcast about wooden pencils is hosted by Andy Welfle, Johnny Gamber and Tim Wasem, and holy cow, it is fantastic. When Andy said the Golden Bear was one of his favorites, it made it the easy choice to use first out of the collection. I also wanted to start on the lower end of the price scale before moving on to more premium and expensive pencils (hello, Blackwing!) since I was a relative beginner.
The Golden Bear is part of the diverse family of Palomino-brand pencils. Cal Cedar’s primary business is producing and selling cedar slats to other woodcased pencil manufacturers. Thank goodness they decided to use their own slats to make some of the industry’s best pencils. Along with the Golden Bear (from most to least expensive), Cal Cedar makes the super-popular Blackwing line (Original, 602 and Pearl), the self-titled “Palomino”, the environmentally-friendly ForestChoice, and very budget-friendly Prospector. The ForestChoice is the same price as the Golden Bear, so they are ideal candidates for a comparison review (note to self).
Appearance & Design
The Palomino Golden Bear is one good-looking pencil. It comes in two color combinations: orange with a blue eraser, and its inverse, blue with an orange eraser. They are both beautiful- honestly, I can’t pick a favorite. The only thing it’s missing is a bear, but at least it’s on the box.
And, yes, I just called a woodcased pencil “beautiful”. That’s how it’s going to be around these parts.
The Golden Bear’s paint job is not super-thick (like a Mitsubishi 9850), but thick enough and very smooth. A quality gold stamp displays the fonts used for branding, as well as “USA” and “#2” symbols. The red band around the ferrule complements the blue and orange colors of the paint and erasers. Another sign of the overall high quality of Golden Bears is that the red band around the ferrule is perfect in every Golden Bear I own1. The ferrule is a soft gold color that is perfect for its namesake.
Golden Bears have a full-hex design. Whereas many hex-shaped woodcased pencils have more rounded corners (semi-hex), the corners of a Golden Bear are relatively sharp. The only smoothing comes from the pencil’s paint. I don’t think this characteristic is a knock against the pencil at all. I really like it and see it as a feature. For some users, it could potentially become an issue during a marathon writing session. I learned from a great post by Andy Welfle at Woodclinched.com that Golden Bears are manufactured for Cal Cedar by the Musgrave Pencil Company of Shelbyville, Tennessee (Pencil City, USA!). Interestingly, one of Musgrave’s pencil geek favorites, the Test Scoring 100, has the same full-hex design as the Golden Bear.
In my experience, Golden Bears have been a pleasure to sharpen. After sharpening many, the only negative thing I’ve encountered is very occasional minor splintering where the graphite meets the wood. Although that may be a result of my sharpener, my technique, or both. It’s a small quibble that is purely cosmetic and doesn’t affect point performance at all.
Otherwise, the Golden Bear gets high marks for all the things (in my opinion) that makes sharpening a pencil an enjoyable process:
- They have centered graphite cores- I’ve yet to see one that isn’t.
- Fantastic aroma- California incense cedar smells great!
- The cedar shaves off in wonderful ribbons (at least with a KUM 1-Hole Long Point Sharpener).
- Strong graphite that doesn’t break or get brittle when going for a super-long point.
Writing & Erasing
Ok, so how does this very handsome and wonderful-to-sharpen pencil actually perform?
The Golden Bear is an awesome writer. It may just be the best pencil for a prolific writer. They’re relatively inexpensive, and the desirable combination of point retention and graphite darkness is phenomenal. For a #2 (HB) pencil, the line darkness it provides is fabulous. The point retention is similar to the Mitsubishi 9850 HB2, but they’re four times the price at $1.00 each.
I thoroughly enjoy writing with a Palomino Golden Bear. It has become one of my favorite daily writers, and despite a plethora of choices in my pencil case (that often cost more), I find myself reaching for a blue or orange Golden Bear a whole lot.
I compared the writing results of a Golden Bear with a bunch of other pencils, and I discovered a few things:
- Photographing writing comparisons of pencils is rather futile. The nuances between them just aren’t demonstrated well. Next time I do a comparison, I’ll add a darkened box for each sample. I think that will be more effective.
- The Golden Bear’s output was even darker than I had expected. It’s very close to the General’s Test Scoring 580, which puts down a very dark line.
- Using a Golden Bear along with nine other pencils in one writing session reinforced how much I like it.
The Golden Bear’s eraser isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t take anything away from its overall impressiveness. For an attached eraser, it does an average job. It will definitely leave remnants of graphite, but it isn’t a big deal to me. I use attached erasers somewhat sparingly. I’m usually writing rough drafts of stuff, and I’ll just cross things out. Stopping to erase slows things down too much. If I do feel the need to erase something, I’ll usually use a separate eraser (like the excellent Uni Boxy Eraser). To me, the benefits of an attached eraser are aesthetics and weight balance.
If you’re new to the woodcased pencils, you really need to experience the Palomino Golden Bear. It’s such a perfect example of how much a superior pencil you can get, for roughly the same price (or cheaper), if you go beyond your local big box office supply store. It may just be the best “bang for the buck” pencil in the woodcased pencil world. You can get a dozen of these gems for $2.95 (as of this post date) at Pencils.com (along with a bunch of other awesome stuff!). That’s about 25 cents a pencil folks. The Golden Bear is an excellent pencil, and for that price, it’s downright amazing.
Disclaimer: The Golden Bears in this review were from my personal collection and paid for by me. Also, no Golden Bears were harmed in the creation of this post. It was so darn cold outside, the snow never had a chance to melt. I still wiped them off with a soft cotton cloth (my t-shirt) though.