Thursday, June 11, 2020

Vintage Colored Pencils: Caran d’Ache (Non-Watercolor)

vintage Caran d'Ache (non-watercolor) colored pencils

“Caran d’Ache (Non-Watercolor)” lacks distinction as a product name for this review title, but I’m having difficulty coming up with a more descriptive one. Though the tin is pretty, the pencil design is one of the least distinctive in my vintage Caran d’Ache colored pencil collection. However, it does have the distinction of being the only full set of vintage non-watercolor Cd’A pencils I own. Although I’ve seen a few messy or incomplete sets in the same type of tin on eBay, none was as lovely as this gently used one that I was thrilled to find recently.

The tin is adorned with a botanical illustration of flowers identified with their Latin names. Based on the “drippy paint” logo inside the tin, the set is no older than the 1980s.

Appearing on the round, glossy barrel are +Suisse+, 333 (Caran d’Ache’s numerical designation for non-watercolor pencils) and the color number without the color name. Other than contemporary Luminance pencils and my very old Polycolor set, these are the first Caran d’Ache colored pencils I’ve seen with a round barrel.

Also unusual for Caran d’Ache is that the end is completely unfinished. (Hmmm. . . a glossy, round barrel with an unfinished end . . . rather Prismacolor-like!)

Unfinished ends

The important question for a colored pencil historian is always this one: Where does this product fit into Caran d’Ache’s product line history? Since most of my Cd’A collecting experience so far has focused on watercolor pencils, I have less exposure to the Swiss company’s traditional colored pencils. The only other non-watercolor pencils I have are the random few pictured below that came without a box. Note that these have an unfinished hex barrel adorned with tulips, and Suisse is now spelled Swiss. I haven’t found a date to pin on the change from the French to English spelling, but it’s clear from overall product branding that the English spelling is used on contemporary products.

A few random pencils that came to me without a box. They are also non-watercolor.

Note the spelling of +Swiss+

My deduction is that the set I’m reviewing is older than the “tulip” pencils, which probably preceded the contemporary Pablo, which was released in 1990. The change from a round barrel to a hex is also a move in the direction toward Caran d’Ache’s contemporary lines, which are all hex-barreled (except Luminance).

Now the rubber meets the road: How do they feel to sketch with? Harder than contemporary Pablos, the core is close to Faber-Castell Polychromos (which is my comparison standard for artist-quality traditional pencils on the harder end of the range). I don’t know if these pencils were considered artist quality at the time, but the pigment content and quality are very good. In my apple sketch (made in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook with a relatively smooth surface), I was able to build and blend layers smoothly and relatively quickly. I’d say they would compare favorably with most contemporary artist quality pencils.

6/6/20 vintage Caran d'Ache colored pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

I also gave the “tulips” a few scribbles, and the cores look and feel identical to the pencils I’m reviewing.

Incidentally, if you are admiring the lovely points in my photos above (which I achieved with my Ruiya electric sharpener – yes, I shove vintage pencils into an electric! No babying here), let me show you how they looked when they arrived (trigger alert!). Almost every set of used colored pencils I’ve ever purchased arrived with points that looked like this (or worse) – used all the way down to the top of the collar and then apparently abandoned. I always sharpen immediately to spare myself cringing at points like these for long. I think I’ll write it into my will that all pencils in my collection must be sharpened before giving them away. Not that I would ever leave my pencils looking like this before storing them! I may have pandemic hair, but I still have some sense of decorum.


  1. Looks like a beautiful array of colors!!! Use them well.

  2. Love this write-up! The pencils are simple and elegant.
    I actually prefer my electric sharpener over all of my manual ones. It creates a lovely point.

  3. I agree that the pencils are from 1980s. I have a similar tin from very early 1990s and the pencils (I've given them away) were hexagonal with three-digit numbers from 001 up. The unboxed pencils in your other photos are very probably from just that kind of set.

    This was perhaps the predecessor of the fairly rare non-soluble Swisscolor green tin 30 colour set of the 1990s rather than a set for artists.

    Heikki (ManedWolf of WetCanvas)

    1. I don't think I've seen the old Swisscolors you mention! Will have to look for those!

    2. There were water-soluble Swisscolors too in the 1990s - they came in a black tin. They were replaced by Classicolors in about 2000 and then Fancolors before the current red-tin Swisscolors appeared. As far as I know those green and black tins were available in 12, 18 and 30 color sizes but not 40.

      The non-solubles were quietly deleted before 2000 if I'm not wrong.


    3. Thank you, Heikki, for that history! As you probably have seen from my blog, I'm a colored pencil historian ;-) , so it's fascinating to learn about all the different variants over the years. I have some contemporary water-soluble Swisscolors. It seems strange that Cd'A used the same product name but changed its solubility.

  4. My brothers and I each received a set like this one for Christmas 1973, so the design of the tin started at least then. Two years later we were given the water soluble set of 18 - I still have my brother's set of those, and they also have the dripping logo so it was certainly earlier than 1980s and the tin design is the same as can be bought today.

    I'd love to find another green flowered tin again - it's so lovely. I have an 18 set of the same design but it was the 30 that we were given...

    1. Thank you for that dating info. It's really wonderful that you still have a set from the '70s! So your water-soluble set of 18 has the same tin design as this one??! That's so interesting! Seems like it would have been confusing for customers to see both the regular and the water-soluble with the same box design!

  5. I have a tin with the same design lid. The logo inside has the addition of Swiss Made below the drip logo.
    The pencils inside are the hexagonal tulips.
    I purchased these new between 1978 - 1980.

  6. Hi Tina!!
    I was coloring with my old Caran d'Ache pencils like the hex "tulips" in the photo above (I got the set of 18 with the flower tin when my sister was born in 1979; the tin has since disappeared in multiple moves across the country) and I want to replace some of the colors that are getting short. I searched for comparable pencils because the last few I've tried are too waxy and just don't color the same. The Cd'A Pablo are softer, which was not what I was looking for. I don't love the F-C Artgrip and the new Derwent Studio labeled England are dramatically inferior to the former Rexel Cumberland Derwent Studio labeled Made in Gt. Britain. Imagine my pleasant surprise when your blog had the answer!

    I've never tried the Polychromos. I will have to give them a go. Clearly, we have more in common than Sweet Tooth :)

    1. Hi Andrew! I'm so happy that you found my blog! Indeed, we have lots more in common than just Sweet Tooth! :-) That's so cool that you still have some of your childhood Caran d'Ache pencils!


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