Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils: Faber-Castell Goldfaber 4100 (Contemporary Goldfaber Comparison)

Vintage Goldfaber water-soluble colored pencils

In my review of vintage Prismacolor pencils, I had mentioned that pencils of this brand produced in the ‘90s and earlier are of higher quality than ones you can buy now because they are no longer manufactured in the U.S. As a result, Prismacolors with early production dates are highly sought on eBay by colored pencil artists. I’ve acquired some from that early U.S.-manufacturing era, and they certainly are as creamy and richly pigmented as contemporary ones – but without the annoying core-breakage issue that newer ones are known for. (I threw out a set a few years ago because the continual breakage drove me crazy.)

I hang out a lot in the analog-centric world (on the Internet, ironically), where people sometimes get wrapped up in discussions about how everything back in the day was better made than anything made now. Whether they are influenced by personal nostalgia for the good ol’ days or unbiased research is difficult to say. Although it’s certainly true of many products (especially appliances – it seems like whenever we have to replace a fridge or washer, the newer one doesn’t last nearly as long as the one it replaced), it’s not universally true, by any means.

My experience with the Prismacolors and the general “older is better” attitude have been on my mind, and I started wondering if the same could be true of other colored pencil brands. The difficulty, however, is in finding both a vintage set and a contemporary set of the same brand, since so many vintage brands are no longer being produced.

Coincidentally, an example of old and new came to my attention at around the same time. On one of my cruises through eBay, I had spotted some vintage German-made Faber-Castell Goldfaber water-soluble colored pencils. I had never heard the brand Goldfaber before, but shortly thereafter, I found a "new" Faber-Castell Goldfaber brand on the market (which I reviewed last month). Since the contemporary ones are also German-made, I had a rare apples-to-apples situation.

The small collection I purchased on eBay included several different ages of the brand, as represented by their designs and markings. A small group has a dark blue barrel with a distinctively long end cap indicating the color (below). The cores on these are slightly softer than on the pencils in the larger group, whose hex facets alternate between metallic gold and the core color (top of page). Although the vendor didn’t know specific production years, he said the dark blue ones are newer. He also reassured me that they are all German-made. (His actual words: “The ones I sell are all vintage, no longer in production, good old German stuff!”)
The newest of the vintage Goldfabers
In addition, the gold-faceted pencils show several variations of the logo and branding. The design of the top two looks the most modern and includes the paint brush icon. Although all are water-soluble, the gold-faceted ones do not show the paint brush icon.

Variations in branding

I preferred swatching the softer cores of the dark blue collection, but the colors I needed for my apple sketch were in the older gold-faceted group. Compared to the contemporary Goldfaber set I reviewed earlier (the same sketch you saw previously is shown again here for reference), the vintage pencils are much harder and difficult to layer and blend. I spent the same amount of time on each sketch (35 minutes), but as you can see, I couldn’t get rich hues with the vintage pencils. At the point that I stopped, I had applied enough layers in my usual method (repeatedly alternating applications of dry pencil, activating with water, and allowing it to dry) that the paper couldn’t take much more.

6/4/18 vintage Goldfaber water-soluble colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

5/16/18 contemporary Goldfaber Aqua pencils in S & B Beta sketchbook

My conclusion: Old is not necessarily better, at least in function. I’m sure manufacturing processes have improved over time, making it cheaper and more efficient to produce pencils. I imagine that a long-standing company like Faber-Castell still takes pride in developing better products and using high quality materials. And in recalling my Prismacolor experience, perhaps the most important factor is that F-C has maintained production in Germany instead of cutting costs in other countries.

Contemporary Goldfaber Aqua
I must say, though, that the older designs are more attractive than the contemporary Goldfaber design, which seems perfunctory at best. It’s just a pencil, but more care seems to have been taken with giving it a distinctive look. This might be one of those nostalgia-based views, but at least in this case, older looks better.


  1. the difference is overwhelming in your drawing

    1. Almost all vintage colored pencils do not contain as much pigment as contemporary ones, so the difference is quite a apparent.

  2. Those gold-striped ones are from late 80s and early 90s - in fact I didn't know that they included such hues as Gold 449 and Light Violet 439. I have only seen 24 colour sets without those two. They are also the newest ones as they have the European CE logo. Note that there is an indigo-like 442 that has no exact equivalent in any current European FCs!

    The dark blue ones appeared in early 90s, first in 36 and then in 60 colours. They are the direct predecessor of the later Art Grip Aquarelle line.

    Heikki (ManedWolf of WetCanvas)

    1. Thanks for that historical information, Heikki! You must have quite a collection of vintage colored pencils!

  3. I started in late 1980s and I probably have one of the largest collections in Finland. I haven't got any older stock however except some 1970s Prismalos I bought when in school. I seem to have specialized in students' and even kids' pencils even though I've got most of the artist-quality sets too.

    May I advertize a little? You might like to take a look at my Pencils You May Have Never Seen thread at WetCanvas:


    1. Wow, I'm going to have fun going through that thread! Thank you, Heikki! Your collection must be amazing!

  4. tl;dr: Trying to make mid-grade pencils look expensive is rewarding!

    I once found a set of the solid blue barrelled Goldfabers, when I was innocently going through my friends stuff, and according the sticker across the tin, they've been around since seventh grade, which was... 2006. So of course I adopted them!
    Student-grade watercolour pencils are my all time favorite sketching medium (IKEA has solid ones, who knew?), but Goldfaber specifically. Mostly because I am from Germany and I have two places that sell them open-stock within walking distance, which is good, I really go through them.
    So of course I absolutely love the 2006 set - as a keepsake.

    No idea, if they "expire" in a way and lose in saturation after 15 years in the light-tight junk drawer - I know, I would. Don't think so about pencils, though.
    I mean, they're still perfectly usable and actually feel more solid than the new, silver version. But those make up for it with more pigment, by reliably melting down with water and mixing better amongst each other. Not by much, maybe 10%, but enough to make the old ones feel... old.

    Having said that, I wouldn't even notice any difference, hadn't I eventually tried the Albrecht Dürers. Those activate beyond perfectly and painting with them is a breeze. The Goldfabers have the potential to look just as
    good in the end, but getting there is much harder. Or longer. Usually both, but that's what makes them so interesting and fun to me.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble :)
    Take care!

    1. I agree that it can be fun in a challenging way to use materials that are not artist quality. Sometimes the "fight" can be fun ;-) , and sometimes the fight can lead to discoveries about how to use all water-soluble pencils better. In any case, I am very process-driven, so even if I'm frustrated by materials, I find a way to learn from them. Thanks for sharing your vintage Goldfaber story!

  5. I saw a set of the Goldfaber pencils with the dark blue barrel on eBay today and knew exactly where to come to research them. Your blog has been invaluable, and thank you for publishing such informative and entertaining reviews!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Jael! I'm very happy to know that you find the blog useful!


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