Friday, March 23, 2012

Duke Ellington, Blackwing pencils,
and aspirational branding

Sean at Blackwing Pages offers a playful and erudite response to the latest efforts of a certain pencil manufacturer to associate its product with great artists, composers, and writers who may have used the pencil that said manufacturer has now recreated in replica form. You can guess the pencil’s name, yes?

Of particular interest to me is California Cedar’s identification of Duke Ellington as someone who used the Blackwing pencil to create “timeless works of art.” The sole basis for this claim would appear to be a post that I made late last year with a photograph in which Ellington has a Blackwing in hand. There are any number of photographs of Ellington writing music. In just this one, to my knowledge, is he using a Blackwing pencil. More important: there appears to be no evidence that Ellington had any particular attachment to the Blackwing pencil, or to any writing instrument. If there is such evidence, California Cedar hasn’t offered it. (If there is such evidence, I’d like to know about it.) Given Ellington’s indiscriminate choice of writing materials — hotel stationery, menus, napkins — in other words, whatever was at hand, the possibility that he had a favorite brand of pencil seems remote. For all we know, the pencil in the photograph may be a borrowed one.

To paraphrase something I said to Sean: it’s curious that as Moleskine steps back from the abyss of aspirational branding (“the legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, and Chatwin”), California Cedar has jumped in, head first, without even putting on a helmet.

March 29: I’m happy to report that Duke Ellington’s name no longer appears on the Blackwing Experience page. Thanks to Gunther and Sean for passing on the news.

April 10: Sigh. Ellington’s name still appears in what appear to be California Cedar press releases. Here’s an example. And the company now claims that John Lennon was rumored to use Blackwings. That’s nonsense.

Related posts
Duke Ellington, Blackwing balalaika user
Duke Ellington, Blackwing sombrero user
Duke Ellington, Blackwing Johnson’s Baby Powder user
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)
All Duke Ellington posts (via Pinboard)

[In Duke Ellington in Person (1979), Mercer Ellington describes the materials that came to form his father’s Music Is My Mistress (1973) as written on hotel stationery, menus, and napkins.]

comments: 2

Diane Schirf said...

It seems to me that if you're in the creative groove, what you're writing with and on isn't that important (unless it's a really scratchy, annoying pencil or paper). Having said that, I'm fonder of some stuff than others. :)

Michael Leddy said...

That’s it, exactly. :)