Thursday, June 7, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils: Eberhard Faber Design Spectracolor Doublecolor

Eberhard Faber Design Spectracolor Doublecolor pencils

Sometimes you don’t know a grail exists until you find it.

My penchant for colored pencils is obvious. Within that niche, however, I also have a more specialized proclivity: bicolor pencils. It’s possible that this affection began way back in early childhood, when one of the first colored pencils I can remember using was the Empire Sunset Dual-Kolor. Since then, I’ve had difficulty resisting pencils with a different color on each end, even though I know I’ll probably be disappointed. Most of them are novelties or intended for children, and the cores are hard, wimpy and generally unusable (I’ve found a couple of exceptions that I’ll review some day). Lately I’ve seen some that are marketed to coloring book users, which I had hoped might mean they are of a slightly better quality, but more often than not, they are kids’ pencils packaged for adults.

Box front
Box back
Made by Eberhard Faber of Lewisburg, TN
Even without sentimental nostalgia, bicolors make so much sense for urban sketching: On location, I don’t need a large quantity of any single color, but I’d like to have a variety of colors that I can carry in a compact space. For this reason, a high-quality (and ideally water-soluble) bicolor pencil remains on my sketch material wish list.

That brings me to the grail I didn’t know existed. A while back I was chatting with Ana Reinert about vintage colored pencils, and she mentioned a line called Design Spectracolor that at some point was acquired by Prismacolor. Cosmetically, the line is unique in that both the outer barrel and the wood are black. The glossy end cap indicates the core color. Digging around on eBay revealed that Faber-Castell’s name is stamped on at least some iterations of the brand.

Top: Venus Spectracolor; bottom: Faber-Castell Design Spectracolor

Further research revealed that at some point the Spectracolor brand, which was marketed as artist quality, was also owned by Venus (which was eventually taken over by Faber-Castell). These look similar to vintage and contemporary Prismacolors; instead of a black barrel, they have a glossy colored barrel unfinished on both ends, and the wood is natural instead of black. All of these Spectracolors can be found on eBay regularly, but at relatively high prices. I’ve grabbed a few used ones through lot sales and in small, incomplete sets. In core quality, they are like the old Prismacolors: soft and waxy with strong pigmentation.

All of that is intellectually interesting to a colored pencil historian, of course. But one day on eBay, something extraordinary appeared in my search: A complete set of barely used Design Spectracolor Doublecolor pencils! These bicolor pencils bore the artist-quality Spectracolor brand – as well as the Eberhard Faber name, no less! (According to The Pencil Perfect, Eberhard Faber was purchased by Faber-Castell in 1987.) The set included 30 colors (15 pencils), which isn’t a huge range but is certainly adequate for most subjects. It meant that at one time in pencil history, a major American pencil manufacturer saw a market for bicolor pencils for artists – not just kids. 

Now my interest was emotional as well as intellectual, and I bid aggressively. (Well, aggressively for me means I placed more than two bids without exceeding my maximum bid limit.) I thought surely some other bicolor-nostalgic, colored pencil historian and vintage collector would outbid me – but I had only one competitor, and he/she dropped out before the end! An easy win!

The Spectracolor Doublecolor pencils have the same cores as their single-color counterparts – very soft, somewhat waxy and richly pigmented. Information on the box says that the pigments are lightfast and fade-resistant. Easy to blend and layer, they are a joy to use. With neither a colored end cap nor a colored barrel, only the points indicate the color. But that’s a minor quibble about the first truly useable set of bicolor pencils I’ve found.
 
Top: Eberhard Faber Design Spectracolor Doublecolor; bottom: Faber-Castell Design Spectracolor
6/3/18 vintage Design Spectracolor Doublecolor pencils in Stillman & Birn
Epsilon sketchbook

Of course, they aren’t the ultimate grail – to fulfill all my desires, they’d have to be water-soluble, too – but I’m thrilled to have found them anyway. It gives me hope that someday another forward-thinking pencil manufacturer will see this need and fill it.

P.S. Initially I had been numbering the posts in this series about vintage colored pencils because I thought I would have only a few to review. But it seems my collection is growing indefinitely (how did that happen?), so there’s no point in numbering them further!




23 comments:

  1. Eventually, Prismacolor bought Design Spectracolor. I have these pencils but not the double-ended versions so I am insanely envious of these! The consistency should be almost the same as Prismacolors. At least, old Prismas. Now, I must scavenge Ebay!

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    1. Insanely jealous?? Wow, then I know I must have scored well! ;-)

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  2. I love the Design Spectracolor pencils!! I bought a set of double-ended ones ages ago and was broken hearted to discover that the company is no more.

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    1. Wow, you have a set of these?? Wonderful! They are very rare now!

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  3. I have the Design watercolor pencils! I purchased the set of 48 at a local art supply store 30+ years ago. I've hardly ever used them though because at the time I was trying to find a replacement for my father's Eberhard-Faber Mongol Paint with Color pencils circa 1950.

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    1. Oh my gosh, I've only ever seen the Design Watercolor pencils on eBay once! If you ever want to sell those, I would buy! Seriously! Interestingly, I do have a set of E-F Mongol Paint & Color pencils, which I see quite regularly on eBay.

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    2. Thanks, MiataGrrl, if I decide to part with them I will let you know. Since then I did find the Mongol pencils on eBay and bought several sets. Somehow none of them measured up to my memory of the set of my Dad's old pencils though. Not sure if things are just better in memory, or maybe 70 year-old pencils are just too dry or stale somehow.

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    3. I also managed to snag a complete 48 color set of the Design Watercolors on eBay a few years ago. I saw them very soon after they were listed, made an offer which she accepted immediately. I don't think the woman realized what she had. The colors are so rich I hate to use them as they are so extremely rare and can't be replaced. Now I want the double-ended ones too! (As if I need another set of colored pencils of any kind!)

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    4. Felinda, how lucky to get all 48! They must be super rare... I've only ever seen the full set in a photo, and only once!

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  4. I have a set of these double-ended pencils, but they're getting smaller and smaller and it makes me so sad!

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    1. How wonderful, though, that you have enjoyed them so thoroughly!

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  5. Ohh... a fellow spectracolor lover!

    I had a set as of 60 as a high schooler and it kinda got taken apart in college and only had a handful of colors left. A few years ago I went on a rampage and managed to score a new set of 60, the double ended set and a set of 24 water colors (and also a set of 12, to have extras). I wish I can find larger sets...

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    1. Congrats on getting the watercolor set!! That's my grail... and I've only ever seen one set come up on eBay! Let me know if you ever want to sell yours! ;-)

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    2. So I just found pictures of the 48 count set of the spectrawater color pencils. I don't recall where I found those pictures... but I can share them with you if you want to oggle at 'em.

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    3. Yes!! Would you email them to me at: tina.k[at]juno.com? Thank you!

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  6. I have quite an asortment of colored pencils, Derwent, prismacolors, and going through my cupboard I found a brand new set of design spectracolors the 96 color set. Trying them out theyare fantastic to say the least. Derwent was always my choise to use. I noticed the diference in the spectracolors the pigment inten sity. It was a lucky find

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    1. That's definitely a find (and in your own cupboard!) -- the 96-color set is quite rare! They are fantastic pencils... enjoy using them!

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  7. I have one set of 60 colors in case in my collection, almost new, just one is more used.
    But never used I bought from one man who was selling his collection.

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  8. You need to put the spectra color design pencils back on the market,,I have an old set just about worn down my brother in-law gave me,,,they are the best,, can't find any anywhere ,ebay wants a small fortune for one pencil,,their quality can't be beat,have tried all that's on the market,,,please,please think about it!!!!

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  9. I just found this set of colored pencils at a Goodwill, they look completely unused! I'm excited to try them out

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    1. Wow -- Doublecolors??!! What a find! Congrats and have fun with them!

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  10. What is the best replacement for these in 2022? I had a stash of them from 30 years ago that my granddaughter adores. She especially loves the double-sided ones. I thought a good present would be to buy her a set of her own. Had no idea they were long gone. They were so buttery smooth and well-pigmented! What would you buy now?

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    1. Unfortunately, your options are few. :-( For buttery smooth, soft cores and high pigment, the only thing that comes close is Prismacolor, but the contemporary ones (made in Mexico) can have production flaws like uncentered cores and lead breakage. The best replacement would be vintage Prismacolors from the Sanford era (late 1990s), which are less expensive than the older Berol or Eagle eras. And even more unfortunately, there are no Prismacolor double-sided pencils. :-(

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