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Mechanical Pencil Month – Day 5: Rotring ArtPencil sets

It’s Monday and we all probably need a bit of cheering up, so today’s post is completely free from obscure patents, overcomplicated mechanisms and wacky design features (unless you count that spring on the tail end).

Yes, it’s that most soothing of clutch pencils, the Rotring ArtPencil. Simple and reliable, with near-perfect balance, the ArtPencil was styled to complement Rotring’s 1984 ArtPen, a successful line of calligraphy and sketching fountain pens that sadly appears to have been recently discontinued, but remains available to buy new from various online stores for the time being. The ArtPencil was introduced shortly after the ArtPen, but was only sold until around 1998 when Rotring was taken over by Sanford who jettisoned much of their range.

To my knowledge, the ArtPencil was available in three different packages, all of which appear in today’s photographs. The most basic contained a single pencil (Art. 250 300) housed in a cardboard box with plastic window.

This seems the most difficult to find today, probably due to the flimsiness of the packaging. According to the 1990 catalogue there was also a retail pack of 10 ArtPencils (Art. 250 310) which I have never seen, presumably as it was usually broken up for individual sale.

The next step up was the ArtPen Sketch Combi-Set (Art. 250 092) in which the ArtPencil was paired with an EF nib ArtPen.

The clearview box also included a pack of ink, B20 eraser and a handy plastic lead pointer, the latter very useful for anyone who didn’t want to invest in the dedicated ArtPencil lead pointer (Art. 251 310; the ArtPencil does not work well with most tub sharpeners).

Finally there was the ArtPen Sketch Set + ArtPencil (Art. 250 091) which came in a hinged plastic clearview case, nicely presented in an outer cardboard box (still with its original price label for £18.70 – ah, those were the days).

This set included two ArtPens in EF and F, along with a pack of ink cartridges. The rectangular space with a graphical representation of the set’s contents was occupied in the larger ArtPen calligraphy sets by a small Arkansas whetstone for shaping the nibs.

Of the three, the ArtPen Sketch Combi-Set seems the best all-round option, not least because of the lead pointer – the official ArtPencil sharpener is even harder to find than the pencil itself!

One of the things I find most amusing about Rotring’s ArtPen/Pencil range is their uncharacteristic decision to use an off-the-peg handwriting font for the logo, especially jarring for a pen aimed at calligraphers and developed in collaboration with Hermann Zapf.

The typeface in question is called Slogan, designed by Helmut Matheis (1917-2021) and first released in 1958. In turn, Slogan seems to have been inspired by Roger Excoffon’s ubiquitous Mistral, which predated it by about five years. Mistral was to become one of the defining typefaces of the 1980s (not to mention small businesses in Montréal), before making it onto Microsoft Windows circa 1992.

Rotring stuck with Slogan for several years before finally updating the ArtPen logo with something even uglier around 1993. Strangely enough, even though the ArtPencil was still being sold in 1996, I have never seen one with the updated logo. Does such a variant even exist?

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