Thursday, June 11, 2020

Vintage Colored Pencils: Caran d’Ache (Non-Watercolor)

vintage Caran d'Ache (non-watercolor) colored pencils

“Caran d’Ache (Non-Watercolor)” lacks distinction as a product name for this review title, but I’m having difficulty coming up with a more descriptive one. Though the tin is pretty, the pencil design is one of the least distinctive in my vintage Caran d’Ache colored pencil collection. However, it does have the distinction of being the only full set of vintage non-watercolor Cd’A pencils I own. Although I’ve seen a few messy or incomplete sets in the same type of tin on eBay, none was as lovely as this gently used one that I was thrilled to find recently.

The tin is adorned with a botanical illustration of flowers identified with their Latin names. Based on the “drippy paint” logo inside the tin, the set is no older than the 1980s.

Appearing on the round, glossy barrel are +Suisse+, 333 (Caran d’Ache’s numerical designation for non-watercolor pencils) and the color number without the color name. Other than contemporary Luminance pencils and my very old Polycolor set, these are the first Caran d’Ache colored pencils I’ve seen with a round barrel.

Also unusual for Caran d’Ache is that the end is completely unfinished. (Hmmm. . . a glossy, round barrel with an unfinished end . . . rather Prismacolor-like!)

Unfinished ends

The important question for a colored pencil historian is always this one: Where does this product fit into Caran d’Ache’s product line history? Since most of my Cd’A collecting experience so far has focused on watercolor pencils, I have less exposure to the Swiss company’s traditional colored pencils. The only other non-watercolor pencils I have are the random few pictured below that came without a box. Note that these have an unfinished hex barrel adorned with tulips, and Suisse is now spelled Swiss. I haven’t found a date to pin on the change from the French to English spelling, but it’s clear from overall product branding that the English spelling is used on contemporary products.

A few random pencils that came to me without a box. They are also non-watercolor.

Note the spelling of +Swiss+

My deduction is that the set I’m reviewing is older than the “tulip” pencils, which probably preceded the contemporary Pablo, which was released in 1990. The change from a round barrel to a hex is also a move in the direction toward Caran d’Ache’s contemporary lines, which are all hex-barreled (except Luminance).

Now the rubber meets the road: How do they feel to sketch with? Harder than contemporary Pablos, the core is close to Faber-Castell Polychromos (which is my comparison standard for artist-quality traditional pencils on the harder end of the range). I don’t know if these pencils were considered artist quality at the time, but the pigment content and quality are very good. In my apple sketch (made in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook with a relatively smooth surface), I was able to build and blend layers smoothly and relatively quickly. I’d say they would compare favorably with most contemporary artist quality pencils.

6/6/20 vintage Caran d'Ache colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

I also gave the “tulips” a few scribbles, and the cores look and feel identical to the pencils I’m reviewing.

Incidentally, if you are admiring the lovely points in my photos above (which I achieved with my Ruiya electric sharpener – yes, I shove vintage pencils into an electric! No babying here), let me show you how they looked when they arrived (trigger alert!). Almost every set of used colored pencils I’ve ever purchased arrived with points that looked like this (or worse) – used all the way down to the top of the collar and then apparently abandoned. I always sharpen immediately to spare myself cringing at points like these for long. I think I’ll write it into my will that all pencils in my collection must be sharpened before giving them away. Not that I would ever leave my pencils looking like this before storing them! I may have pandemic hair, but I still have some sense of decorum.


  1. Looks like a beautiful array of colors!!! Use them well.

  2. Love this write-up! The pencils are simple and elegant.
    I actually prefer my electric sharpener over all of my manual ones. It creates a lovely point.

  3. I agree that the pencils are from 1980s. I have a similar tin from very early 1990s and the pencils (I've given them away) were hexagonal with three-digit numbers from 001 up. The unboxed pencils in your other photos are very probably from just that kind of set.

    This was perhaps the predecessor of the fairly rare non-soluble Swisscolor green tin 30 colour set of the 1990s rather than a set for artists.

    Heikki (ManedWolf of WetCanvas)

    1. I don't think I've seen the old Swisscolors you mention! Will have to look for those!

    2. There were water-soluble Swisscolors too in the 1990s - they came in a black tin. They were replaced by Classicolors in about 2000 and then Fancolors before the current red-tin Swisscolors appeared. As far as I know those green and black tins were available in 12, 18 and 30 color sizes but not 40.

      The non-solubles were quietly deleted before 2000 if I'm not wrong.


    3. Thank you, Heikki, for that history! As you probably have seen from my blog, I'm a colored pencil historian ;-) , so it's fascinating to learn about all the different variants over the years. I have some contemporary water-soluble Swisscolors. It seems strange that Cd'A used the same product name but changed its solubility.


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