Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Vintage Walnut Hollow Farm Colored Pencils


Walnut Hollow Farm colored pencils (The yellowed packaging crumbled when I 
opened it, so all that's left is the card that was inside.)

Ever since I started collecting vintage colored pencils, certain types would come up as highly collectible, but I didn’t always understand why. Of course, some are collectible just because of their name or rarity, but others seem to be hoarded for reasons unknown to me. One such was Walnut Hollow Farm colored pencils.

A family business in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, since 1972, Walnut Hollow sold woodworking supplies and tools. Although the website is still operating, a 2021 article in the Dodgeville Chronicle says the company was sold to Handprint, the home and décor business unit of UFP Retail Solutions.

All of that sounds like an unusual context for coveted colored pencils, but apparently they were sold by Walnut Hollow for the purpose of decorating woodwork. At some point, Walnut Hollow stopped making them – and the hoarding began.

Although I kept hearing about them in the colored pencil world, I didn’t pay much attention to these “oil color pencils.” I couldn’t quite imagine woodworkers hoarding them. I assumed that traditional colored pencil artists must have gotten wind of them at some point, and they were the ones hoarding. Huh – I didn’t need one more rabbit to chase down the eBay hole.

Well, you know how that goes. I was chatting about Walnut Hollow pencils with someone in the pencil community, and the next thing I knew, she generously offered to send me a few to try from her personal stash. Try them I did, and holy moly!

It turns out that they are not especially rare, and I easily found a used set of 24 at a reasonable price (less than what I expect to pay for vintage Prismacolors). I have no idea when production ended, but the plastic packaging on mine was so yellowed and brittle that it started breaking apart when I opened it. All but one pencil was unsharpened, and the sharpened one hadn’t even been sharpened all the way. An ideal “used” set! (In the same way that a new car becomes a used car as soon as you drive it off the lot, I just saw a ”new-in-package” set of 24 with a price four times what I paid.)

To my delight, they were delivered during my solitary confinement boredom. What a pleasure even to sharpen them! No, I still haven’t learned how to use my calipers, but the thick cores are right up there with 3.8mm Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles and Prismacolors. The round barrels with unfinished ends recall Prismacolors’ classic design. The Walnut Hollow logo, color name and number are stamped in gold foil.

Cores in the range of 3.8 - 4mm

They sharpen beautifully!

2/10/23 Walnut Hollow pencils in Stillman & Birn
Zeta sketchbook

My first try with Walnut Hollows was the selfie you saw a few days ago. The Earthsworld reference portrait shown at left was my second try, this time using a Zorn palette. Both were done in a relatively smooth Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook. Even with my hasty, crosshatched style, I can feel how easily they blend and layer. Rich in pigment, they glide on smoothly with absolutely no dust.

Although I typically wouldn’t use such soft pencils on a toothy paper, I thought I’d try an Uglybook, just for kicks, to see how they would feel on a slight texture (below). They are just as pleasant to use.

2/10/23 Walnut Hollow pencils in Uglybook

Although they are as soft as wax-based Prismacolors, their oil base gives them a very different feel by comparison. Application feels closer to oil-based Faber-Castell Polychromos – but much, much softer. Like Polychromos, they feel like they could be layered forever without reaching the point of sliding away as many low-pigment pencils start to do.

If Prismacolors and Polychromos, two extreme opposites on the hardness scale, got together at a drunken party, their offspring might be Walnut Hollows. And since those parents are two of my favorite colored pencils, you can imagine how I feel about their children! The contemporary pencil that feels closest is oil-based Derwent Lightfast, which has a very slightly larger 4mm core. (In fact, now that I am comparing them side by side, Walnut Hollows are very much like Lightfast, which I had never before thought of as the potential offspring of Prismacolor and Polychromos after a drunken party! I should be using Lightfast more!)

Despite their softness, Walnut Hollows are not as opaque as Prismacolors; they are closer to Polychromos in that regard. Lightfast is somewhere in between.

Opacity comparison in Uglybook sketchbook

The largest set of Walnut Hollow Farm pencils I’ve seen on eBay is 36 colors, which sounds right for a set intended for craft use. I’m not planning to hoard these (for one thing, they seem too easy to find. . . where’s the chase?), but I’m thrilled that I finally became enlightened about why others do: They are delightfully rich pencils to use. (Well, OK, I might look for a set of 36, but that’s it. Really.) They also make me very curious to see some woodwork decorated with these pencils.

The happy kids of Prisma and Poly.


  1. Nice review--thanks! I might look for some on eBay too.

    1. You can still get them easily for a decent price if you don't mind slightly used. The "new in box" sets are way overpriced!

  2. Glad you found another set to keep you busy...especially when you were confined.

    1. I know, I was separated from most of my pencils for 6 days! The torture! ;-)

  3. Walnut hollow oil pencils feel the same as Derwent Drawing pencil. They feel so the same that I think they basically one and the same pencil, just different colors. The formula of the binder probably very similar. They are also more opaque than derwent Lightfast to my feel.

    1. Hmmm... interesting speculation! I'm a huge fan of Derwent Drawing, too, but I hadn't thought of that comparison. I agree, though, that they feel similar!


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