Final Thoughts on the Dixon Ticonderoga – Part IV

OK, so I will admit that I may have been a bit too intense in my examination and review of the Dixon Ticonderoga. After all, this is just a simple pencil, right? Well, yes and no. It’s not anything like analyzing plane wreckage and decoding the black box recording device but we can certainly learn a lot about materials and manufacturing in general from this. Just how far will a manufacturer compromise on process, consistency, and quality in order to produce an acceptable product for the intended market? The Ticonderoga gave a pretty good answer to that. Could the Ticonderoga been made better? Certainly, but it also could have been made worse.

The Ticonderoga is a decent pencil despite all the physical shortcomings that I found. Sharpen it and it will write. Turn it around and rub the other end on paper with markings on it and the markings will disappear. It holds its point for a reasonable amount of time and the eraser is superb. Who can complain about that? How many times have we drawn a line and felt something like sand rub against the paper? Think of the erasers that shred paper and smear the markings instead of gliding on the paper and remove the markings. The Ticonderoga works as advertised and would serve well as an office work horse, an artist’s sketching instrument, or a student’s tool in learning.

Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder if it could have been better. When I look at the crimped ferrule and the contrasting green and yellow color scheme I realize that it’s all for show. The vertical crimp markings are nothing more than decorations. Gone is the idea that the shape and structure of the ferrule gives strength. Now all I can think about is the uneven crimping pressures, ooey-gooey lacquer oozing out, and off-axis leads (if not warped pencils). We buy so many things in life that come short of expectations only to let it all go because it’s disposable: the $500 commuter car for school, the $0.99 hammer at the discount store, and the $9 shoes from Walmart. Society has learned to accept mediocrity. It certainly doesn’t bring life to halt and our wealth and access to more consumables distracts us from thinking about it.

Consider the price of the Ticonderoga. Pricing helps position a product. Rolex watches can cost several thousands of dollars. Besides being a timepiece, it is a piece of decorative jewelry. Does it really cost several thousands to make a Rolex? No, of course not, but those several thousands of dollars spent puts the watch into a league of it’s own. You pay for the exclusivity, the experience of ownership, and the service you should receive from the jeweler and Rolex. In all reality, you are buying a watch that will never keep time very well and is rather fragile. So how does this relate to the Ticonderoga? Compare it to the Rolex. Does the Ticonderoga offer something more than the generic Asian pencils flooding the office supply stores? Is there some jump in quality or appreciation in ownership experience? Do I feel any more exclusive or inspired by using the Ticonderoga? Unfortunately, my answer is no. Granted, $3.44 is not the same as $3,440.00 but the idea should translate. That is what Dixon is counting on.

I wanted this.

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But I got this.

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I wish the Ticonderoga could have been better. I wish I could hold the Ticonderoga as a token of American heritage and say, “Look, here is an American pencil. Like all things American, it is better than anything in the world.” But I can’t say that. All I can say is, “Look, here is an American pencil! Like many things American, it has been outsourced and denigrated into a cheap commodity.” It may sound like American arrogance but which nation isn’t proud of its identity and presence? Who wants to see their national icons fall to the wayside? I hear rumblings that Ticonderoga still produces an American made pencil for export only. If it is true then it is a great irony that there are “Made in USA” pencils being sold all around the world except here where they are made. Does the world really have more faith in American products than Americans do?

I have been using the Ticonderoga since I purchased back in mid February during a business trip to Phoenix, AZ. Since that time, I have yet to finish going through one pencil. I haven’t broken the lead yet and there’s plenty of eraser left. The pencil has been with me through meetings, brain storming sessions, and many drafts of power plant equipment. After all this usage and after this review, I would summarize the Ticonderoga with one word: wanting.

One very good thing that came out of this review was the setting up of a standard. Now I have something to compare my other pencils to. Hopefully I can develop a fuller scale and understanding in grading pencils. I think my future reviews will be shorter too since I laid down a lot of my foundations while examining the Ticonderoga.

So now what do I do with all these left over pencils? Do I clump them together and hide them in a little box like new found porn? I don’t go through pencils fast enough to warrant keeping so many on hand. Probably the best thing I can do is stash them away along with any other excess pencils I get and simply donate them to the local school at the start of year.

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7 Responses to “Final Thoughts on the Dixon Ticonderoga – Part IV”

  1. Thank you for this in-depth look at the new, outsourced Ticonderoga. Yes, it is still a functional pencil, but it is noticeably inferior to the American original of years past. It even feels lighter and less substantial than before, and the details have become shoddy. Can the gradual decline of a civilization be detected from the decline of its pencils? I wonder…

  2. pencilgrinder Says:

    Thanks for the comment! When a product is outsourced to another country, we are not only sending the jobs elsewhere but we are also sending the knowledge and expertise away as well. The questions now become, 1) do we care if we lose this knowledge, and 2) do we still retain some of it for future applications? There’s lots of things that get outsourced and it’s perfectly OK. Consider the manufacturing of clothes. No big deal. Trust me, it’s like anyone is ever going to forget how to run a sweat shop. Other outsourcings have stronger ramifications. America once made televisions and now it does not. There is a good chance that America no longer knows how to make a high quality big screen TV from design to manufacture to selling. Does America care that it doesn’t know how to make a TV? Is America putting that knowledge aside to pursue other things that nobody knows about at all?

    At some point, when a civilization is too dependent on its neighbors or slavery, it will collapse and be taken over. We see this in the West’s dependence on oil. The high cost of energy due to the sinking dollar is really putting a damper on things here. However, in the Middle East, money is overflowing hand over fist.

    A very careful balance must be struck between outsourcing and independence. The pencil may not be the defining benchmark of the strength of a civilization in our digital and internet world but it may be reflective of an overall trend.

  3. A great series. Well done.

    Fort Ticonderoga has played an important role in French, British, and especially American history. It played a landmark role in the American revolution. The Ticonderoga pencil has been named and marketed such that its essence and identity are inextricably bound with America and American history.

    The problem with making this pencil elsewhere is that the pencil is now alienated from its intrinsic identity.

    Dixon, dating from the 18th century, was itself a part of American history. Had it not been purchased by Fila, would overseas manufacturing have been chosen as an option? Was there a misunderstanding by the new owners of what Fort Ticonderoga represents?

  4. pencilgrinder Says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I agree with your comment and Dixon is really missing out on a great marketing opportunity. They could certainly leverage that historical link like nobody else can. I’m sure there were many factors that influenced Dixon’s and Fila’s choice to break this connection and it would be interesting to see their supporting data. Do they think that the public is generally so out of tune with history that nobody would understand it or even care? I wonder how long it will be before the marketing teams decide to revert back to the “retro” schemes.

  5. Dixon Mexico Says:

    Dear Pencilgrinder:
    It’s the first time I read your report (unfortunately a little late), but I will like to mention some things about the Tic’s:
    We use a fast dry glue for the ferrule and eraser, that’s why the erasers has those lines on it and the ferrule pops out the lacquer. Nevertheless and as you are saying, we have to pay more attention to that.
    Regarding the off centered leads, it’s regularly on the start up process when you are adjusting the equipment that the blades are not centered into the wood.
    We will pay more attention to all what you have said in your report to bring again the pencil quality that you are looking for.

  6. Great review!

    However, I think you are a little hard on the Ticonderoga in your final opinion. Yes, the quality has degraded over the years, and a true collector my desire a Ticonderoga manufactured in years past. However, I challenge you to find a better writing pencil. I guarntee you will not find one.

    Some cheaper brands such as Roseart and PaperMate will make decent pencils but none compare to the quality of the lead used in the Ticonderoga, past and present. I know there is more to it than just the lead quality, but in terms of performance, this is the most important aspect, next to eraser quality.

    I don’t believe I have ever experienced a better writing pencil than the Ticonderoga. It writes smoothly, (albiet it requires shaprening more often), accuratley, doesen’t crumble, and sharpens well.

    On a side note, I think you will be very disappointed when you get around to testing out the Eagle USA pencils. Eagle brand pencils are simply awful. They are made out of recycled paper, which is great for the environment, and makes them probably the most durable, most difficult penil to break. However, the quality of lead is insufferable. It seems you have to push down extreemely hard on the tip to write even a very light line, due to the hardness of the lead, leading to quick fatigue. Imagine trying to write an essay under time pressure with one of these things…. They sharpen well and are virtually indestrcutable, but besides their durability, an Eagle is the worst pencil you can buy. Not to mention, the eraser is rubbish.

  7. some office supplies are low quality that is why you should always check your store if they offer high quality products -”-

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