Monday, January 27, 2020

Vintage Colored Pencils: General’s Kimberly Watercolor and Color-tex

Vintage General's Color-tex traditional pencils
and Kimberly watercolor pencils

Years ago when I hadn’t yet begun sketching but was playing with lots of mixed media, I had a small set of contemporary General’s Kimberly watercolor pencils. They were hard, dry and low in pigment, so as soon as I learned about all the better watercolor pencils available, I gave them away.

Although I didn’t value the pencils themselves, I started thinking more about the General Pencil Company, of Jersey City, New Jersey, which is still owned and operated by the same family that has been making pencils in the US since 1889. During the 19th century, many US pencil companies existed, but by the 20th century, most had been purchased, consolidated and renamed. (My vintage collection includes colored pencil examples made by several of those American makers before they disappeared or began manufacturing elsewhere, including Eberhard Faber, Wallace, American Lead Pencil Company and Empire.)

Of those many American companies, General and Musgrave Pencil Company of Shelbyville, Tennessee, are now the only remaining pencil manufacturers still making pencils in the USA.

I know that Musgrave doesn’t make colored pencils (and maybe never has – I’ve not seen any). That means that General is the only current colored pencil maker in the US of A! This realization put me in a sudden patriotic tizzy. First I went looking for and found the incomplete set someone had given me of old General’s Color-tex pencils, which are the “wet proof” counterpart to Kimberly watercolor pencils. Then I searched eBay for vintage Kimberly watercolor pencils and found them to be ubiquitous and inexpensive (cheaper than contemporary ones).

The two boxes have the same design and undoubtedly are from the same era (see above). The backs are also identical.

Both sets feature this slide-out tray.
The backs of both boxes are identical.

The designs of the two types of pencils are also very similar – so much so that it would be easy to get them mixed up if they were spread out on a desktop. They both have identical metal end caps.
Top: Kimberly "Carbo weld" water-soluble colored pencil; bottom: "insoluble" Color-tex

Both the Kimberly watercolor and Color-tex pencils have “thin leads” (not all of which are well-centered).
Thin cores, not always centered.

Test scribbles indicated that both are, indeed, as hard, dry and low in pigment as I remember the contemporary Kimberly pencils being. I didn’t bother to sketch with the Color-tex pencils, but I thought it would be an interesting challenge to try a sketch with the watercolor set. As expected, the scant pigment didn’t dissolve well, and it took quite a bit of work to get even this much color on the apple. After the first activation with water, the pigment was pretty much done; no further pigment could be applied (which is often the case with low-pigment pencils).
1/23/20 vintage General's Kimberly watercolor pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

Caran d’Ache they are not (nor Faber-Castell, Derwent nor Staedtler). I couldn’t help feeling sad and bittersweet that these represent the only colored pencils still made here.

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