Saturday, October 14, 2023

Vintage Sanford Prismacolors

 

Sanford Prismacolor set of 120

Since I’ve shown my oldest Eagle and Berol Prismacolors and Canada-made Berols, the remaining notable vintage Prismacolors in my collection are a set of Sanford from 1999. From my research, the name Sanford (“a Newell Company”) was used from about 1996 through the early 2000s. By 2005, still USA-made, Sanford pencils began using the current Prismacolor Premier name. Eventually production was moved to Mexico (the date I have seen is 2010), when quality began to decline. So I consider Sanford sets made during the era between the mid-‘90s and early ‘00s as the freshest of the good-production years.

Not counting colors that were discontinued at various times, I believe this Sanford set of 120 was the largest Prismacolor range available at the time. Reasonably priced used sets are readily available on eBay (though often incomplete), and even sealed sets come up occasionally. Though it didn’t have to be unused, my only requirement was that the set include all 120 colors. Early last year, this one appeared on eBay for a great price. Technically used, the set included only one pencil that was sharpened – all others were unsharpened. I was thrilled to grab it.

A few pencils have barcodes, which could mean they were open-stock replacements and did not come with the original set, but the logo and other imprinting are identical on all pencils, so they are all from the same era. It’s possible that the box was assembled during the transition to pencils printed with barcodes, so it contains a mix. (Aside: Printed barcodes make all pencils so ugly . . . at least Prismacolor has the decency to put it on the end that will be sharpened off quickly.)

As the seller described, only one pencil had been sharpened – Scarlet Lake 923. It looked unused. I know that at some point, maybe when production moved to Mexico (I have no facts on this – I’m speculating), Prismacolor began selling the pencils pre-sharpened. The point on this one did not look factory-sharpened, and I’ve never seen any other Sanford Prismacolors with factory points.


Here’s where it gets funny (funny about me, anyway): If a bunch of them had been sharpened, I would not have thought twice, and I would have still been happy to have a complete set. But that only one was sharpened filled me with curiosity: Who in the world would buy the largest set of Prismacolors, sharpen only one pencil but not use it – and then the set ends up on eBay (the seller was not the original owner)?

I’d like to believe that I’m not a “completionist” or an otherwise obsessive collector, so let’s just call it a fun, focused hunt: One unsharpened Sanford Scarlet Lake. How hard could it be?

I began by researching which Sanford sets had included Scarlet Lake. If it came in a small set, I wouldn’t have had a problem buying 12 or 24. But of course, it’s a Murphy’s Law of Prismacolor collecting: Scarlet Lake came only in the set of 120! The aggravating part about this research was that the standard box design for all set sizes shows Scarlet Lake in the illustration, so I had to examine the full color list to see whether Scarlet Lake was actually included. Even worse, the color list sometimes showed swatches without color names or numbers! (Somewhere during this research, it did occur to me that the colors included in various sets were probably documented and easily available if I just looked on the Internet, but what’s the fun in that? I prefer to squint at dark, blurry eBay images.)

The image at right of 3 pencils, including Scarlet Lake, was a standard part of the box design for all set sizes, whether the set included Scarlet Lake or not!

With no intention of buying another full set of 120, the hunt suddenly got more interesting. A couple of times when I saw incomplete sets with “some unsharpened” pencils, I contacted the sellers to inquire if the unsharpened happened to include Scarlet Lake. If they had, I thought I’d offer to buy just the single, since the set was incomplete anyway. Sellers were always kind enough to check for me, but no luck.

If I got desperate, I considered buying a bulk box of 12 Scarlet Lakes, since bulk boxes come up frequently enough on eBay. More than one Berol box of Scarlet Lakes showed up, but not Sanford.

Whenever random lots came up, I expanded images as large as I could to examine logos and colors. Nope.

Occasionally I brought it up in casual conversation with fellow vintage Prismacolor collectors. “You don’t happen to have a spare, unsharpened Sanford Scarlet Lake, do you?”

As these things happen, the grail suddenly appeared one day: A lot of maybe six or seven unsharpened vintage Prismacolors was for sale, and the buyer could select no more than three colors from the lot. It seemed an odd selling requirement, but I didn’t care – there was my Sanford Scarlet Lake!

Above: sharpened Scarlet Lake that came with my set; below: the grail


More than a year and half after purchasing the set, it was finally complete with all 120 unsharpened. In case you’re wondering – no, I haven’t sharpened and used them (yet). I may eventually, but after all that work, I’m gloating for a while.

10/11/23 Sketched with Sanford Prismacolors. . .  but not the ones that came in the set of 120.
(Earthsworld reference photo)

13 comments:

  1. Hilarious, as always!๐Ÿ˜… "I’d like to believe that I’m not a “completionist” or an otherwise obsessive collector". You just go on believing that, sista. Now you've got me back to ebay, again, because I KNOW that I don't need more colored pencils, but I keep noting that my prismacolor collection has so many holes. Not Scarlet Lake, oddly enough. Anne HwH

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  2. In that set of 120 could there be a duplicate pencil in there? ๐Ÿ˜‚ you know me !

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    1. I checked! ;-) But anyway, the Scarlet Lake wasn't missing!

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  3. I had a box back in the day that looked just like that! It wasn't 120 though, it was a smaller set. I got excited thinking "I could get a box on ebay like the one I used to have" and then I remembered I never really liked that box ๐Ÿ˜… the pencils were hard to take out of the tray if it wasn't fully extended out...

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    1. Oh, I hate the box, too -- I always put the pencils I'm using in more useable containers.

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  4. I'm always on the hunt for DecoAqua! I am down to a few stubs. We pencil people need what we need.

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    1. The 60 Scholar Set on E-Bay has an almost perfect deco aqua, but Prismacolor calls it light green. (It is NOT the same light green as the premiere line.) I have even color-swatched it! https://lifeonkansasstreet.com/2022/01/26/prismacolor-1016-deco-aqua-and-me/

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  5. I love this story! I will now start my curiosity only 'watch' on ebay. Watch only 'cause my eldest son will throw a bit of a fit if buy more pencils. I have a couple of sets on my Christmas wishlist, his response "I can't be party to condoning more pencils". bahaha!
    Lisa

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    1. If he investigates here on my blog, I know nothing. ;-)

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  6. Hello!
    I've recently discovered your blog and consequently the beauty of vintage pencils/colored pencils. You have provided me so much useful information and I want to share my gratitude! I can't tell you how many times I have been perusing vintage lots and listings to then open another tab to see your insight and advice!!! <3 I was curious if the 1999 Sanford 120 set has the coveted metallics like the previous Berol "New 90s Colors" 120 set? I've found a full set but it's a bit pricey and I'd rather not take the plunge if they arent in there. I'm pretty sure it has the Deco and Neons but why there are only swatches on the box instead of numbers is strange and annoying!
    Anyway, thank you so so much again! I hope you have a safe and blessed New Year!
    <3 Trish

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    1. If you mean the 104X series of metallics, NO! My Sanford set does NOT include those! I think they got discontinued right before that set. And the Berol set you refer to with the "new 90s colors" is still on my wish list! I must say that I don't see if often on eBay, and when I do, it's way overpriced!

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