From a user perspective, the vintage colored pencil brand that interests me most is Prismacolor. They have long been favored by many, including fine artists and illustrators, for their creamy softness, rich hues and vast color range. As I mentioned in my introduction, years ago I’d been frustrated by contemporary Prismacolor Premier pencils that I would sharpen and immediately break the cores – as if they were broken already even before sharpening. I sharpened entire pencils, one after the other, without hardly using them and eventually tossed the whole set (I didn’t even want to donate them to Goodwill and subject the next sucker to their flaws). That initial experience soured me to the Prismacolor brand, and I couldn’t understand why so many people loved them.
Eventually I started learning that the people who loved them were using sets that had been made years ago in the US. Prismacolor was originally manufactured by Berol in 1938 (according to Wikipedia; the blog ArtPencilsRare also has historical info), which was founded by Eagle, and both names have appeared with the Prismacolor brand. Somewhere along the way (I can’t seem to find a definitive year), manufacturing was moved from the US to Mexico, and the quality declined. Pencils produced in the ‘90s and earlier seem to be in the safe zone of high quality.
I have only a few Prismacolors in my vintage collection, but they display a variety of Eagle and Berol identities. (I know I said in my Mongol review that I love that logo best, but that top yellow one with the Art Deco logo makes my heart flutter. Don’t miss the lovely photo of Ana Reinert’s collection.) Prismacolors are unusual in that, to this day, they are unfinished on both ends. (Yay for the lefty who sharpened the bottom orange one!) Like their contemporary counterparts, the barrels are round.
|Vintage Prismacolors . . . I love that top logo!
To complicate the nomenclature, the softer pencils I think of as Prismacolor came to be named Prismacolor Premier in contemporary parlance. Its sister line, Prismacolor Verithin, is much harder than Premier and is intended for sharp, crisp detailing. This is just a guess, but it seems like the Verithins came along with the Prismacolors in their various parentages, because my very small collection of Verithins displays different versions of the Eagle identity (I’ve also seen Berol versions online). Check out some of the funky color numbers: 746 ½? The indigo and yellow ones say, “Also ideal for marking blue prints” on the reverse. Unlike Prismacolors that are bare on both ends, hex-barreled Verithins wear a sporty banded metal end cap that looks similar to the Mongol’s.
|Vintage Verithins display different renditions of the Eagle logo.
|1/6/18 vintage Prismacolors on Stillman & Birn Epsilon
From my brief (and sporadic, between breakages) experience with contemporary Prismacolors, my vintage specimens apply with the same creamy softness that this brand is known for. Since I knew the cores would be soft, I chose a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, which has a smooth surface, for my apple sketch. Although it took multiple layers as expected, the pigments applied as richly as they probably did decades ago. (I read somewhere that colored pencils have a longer useable life span than most art materials; they never dry up, separate or decompose.) I didn’t use any Verithins in this sketch, but my sample scribbles felt the way I remember from contemporary ones.
Although I’m not planning to collect vintage pencils simply to acquire them, I am going to hunt down a few more Prismacolors to use – a clear case of older being better.