First off, the temporary gift box packaging they are currently shipping with is awfully pretty. Simple and sleek, it wouldn't jump off the shelf at anyone who didn't know it was a Blackwing without reading the gold band, but for online orders I would keep the pencils in this package.
*the smurfs unload the first pencil under the watchful eyes of their Azure Overlords.*
Upon opening the box, the scent of cedar hit me and I admit to a little nerdish twinge of glee. I sharpened one of the Blackwings with my old school pencil sharpener and proceeded to create a quick sketch that involved lots of random pencil strokes just to see how smooth the lead was on the paper. I was surprised at how well the point did glide across the paper, not miraculously so but more than I can remember from any other pencil I have used. The eraser performed remarkably as well, completely erasing all but the deepest gouge. Also, as to their claims of no crumbling graphite I found that even when pressing so hard as to worry about breaking my lead (leaving the aforementioned gouge) there were almost no errant flecks of lead to smear my work. Living up to promises, I am impressed.
Still living off of my Legend of the Guardians high, I drew a grumpy old horned owl as my first Blackwing artwork.
Really, the only cons are stylistic and financial. $20 for 12 pencils seems a little on the high side. I am too much of a Missouri boy to see spending $1.66 on a single pencil as a deal. Of course, that said I just purchased a single original Blackwing from an exceptionally talented writer for the New Yorker at almost the same price as a box of the new pencils, so perhaps I am a hypocrite.
The stylistic issue could be considered minor if not for being so closely associated with the Blackwing name. I am referring to the motto that used to be stamped onto the side of every Blackwing. 'Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed.' It just doesn't feel quite like the real deal without it. The owner of California Cedar posted something about their reasoning having to do with it not being scientifically accurate, you cannot physically get something at twice the speed with half the pressure. And half the pressure as compared to what? How would they measure such a thing? Personally, I think someone messed up in the trademark department and they weren't able to successfully get the old motto and now they are putting out some silly jibber-jabber explanation as to why. I hope that future runs of the pencil end up with the golden motto, if for nothing else to ensure the new pencils carry on the long tradition without being a mere 2nd best replacement.
The Boston Globe did a great article on the Blackwing which you can see here.
Micheal Leddy did a review of his Blackwings as well.
My overall review is a A- with high hopes that a simple change or two could put them at the head of the class.