Friday, August 2, 2019

Vintage Colored Pencils: Staedtler Noris-Duetto and Mars-Polycolor

Vintage Staedtler Noris-Duetto bicolor pencil tin

In my last vintage pencil review, I mentioned that I seem to live in a magical land of pencils, where I am sometimes given serendipitous gifts. A very generous blog reader and knowledgeable pencil collector recently sent me some sets of vintage colored pencils as well as several vintage graphite and carbon drawing pencils. I’m reviewing two pencil sets together – Staedtler Noris-Duetto and Staedtler Mars-Polycolor – because they work well together as partners.

You know my penchant for bicolor pencils – I have many, and almost all of them indicate their colors with each half of the barrel varnished with the color on that end. These Noris-Duetto pencils especially tickle my fancy because of the way the identifying bicolor stripes run the length of the pencil. Admittedly, it’s not the most practical way to indicate the colors, since one must look at the point rather than the barrel to identify the hue, but that’s a minor quibble in the greater colored pencil scheme of things. I love this design.

Bicolor striping the full length of the pencil

I dug through my collection of bicolors and found only a few that use the same full-barrel striping – three German-made Lyra and Faber-Castell red/blue editing pencils.

Top: Noris-Duetto bicolors; bottom: other bicolors with full-barrel striping.

The set of 12 (24 colors) came in a cheerful tin (I love that Gothic spire!). Based on the logo, the collector who gave them to me speculates that they are from the late ‘70s. Like a few other random vintage Staedtler colored pencils that I had acquired elsewhere, the Duetto cores are very hard.

The set of 12 Staedtler Mars-Polycolor pencils is from 1968, according to the same collector. The price sticker on it says $1.98!
Vintage Staedtler Mars-Polycolor pencil tin

The round barrels have a glossy varnish with white, rounded end caps. The gold imprinting is lefty-oriented – always a bonus design element in my book! The only other lefty-imprinted colored pencil I have ever seen is another vintage German-made brand, Stabilo Schwan.

Lefty-oriented imprint!

The tin contained a delightful graphic showing off the thick cores on these Polycolors. It also included an insert indicating other colored pencil lines available from Staedtler at the time: Mars-Lumochrom (thin lead, hard), Tradition-Chroma (hard, for drawing, marking, correcting), Mars-Polycolor (soft, thick leads for artists and craftsmen), and Tradition-Aquarell (water-soluble). It’s a useful bit of information for a colored pencil historian. (Yes, it says five types, but only four are listed.)

As described in the insert, the Polycolor cores are indeed thick and soft, even by contemporary standards. With the same size cores as vintage Eagle Prismacolors and Eberhard Faber Design Spectracolors, the Polycolors are nearly as soft.

Thick, soft cores

As I was test-scribbling with both of these vintage Staedtler pencils – one very hard, one surprisingly soft – it struck me that they might be ideal for sketching with together. I’ve learned over time that both hard and soft colored cores are essential drawing tools with different purposes.

Grabbing a handful of Rainier cherries from the fridge and my Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook, I used the very firm Duetto bicolors to draw the initial contour. Then I used the much-softer Polycolors to blend and layer the main hues. Finally, I went back in with the Duettos to draw the thin stems. Both contain good pigments that work well together, and I’m delighted to add these to my collection.

7/2/19 vintage Noris-Duetto and Mars-Polycolor pencils in S&B Epsilon sketchbook

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