Tombow Mono 100

From what I understand, even in Japan wood-cased pencils are considered a niche product. Mechanical and drafting pencils are more prevalent among people who use pencils, which means there are fewer high-quality wood-cased pencils available. Perhaps the most notable among them are the Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni and the Mono 100 by Tombow.

It’s difficult to imagine a more perfectly manufactured wood-cased pencil. Even if you favor other brands, you have to admit that the quality of the Mono 100 is exceptional: the cedar sharpens perfectly, the imprint is clear and crisp, and the lacquer has no flaws or chips. Each pencil has a plastic end-cap, which tapers slightly and is precisely aligned. It’s the kind of pencil that you hesitate to sharpen for the first time. There’s a single-mindedness about the design of this pencil and it shows, from its performance all the way down to the packaging.

It’s nearly impossible for me to choose between the Hi-Uni and the Mono 100, though I’m sure advocates for each brand could describe what they consider to be the vast differences in quality between the two. Since I prefer slightly darker pencils (and as a result, pencils that are smoother), I’ve tried a 2B and a B. On smooth stock there is very little difference between the two, but on rougher paper I tend to use the B since it wears a little better.

 

Even though I have a great deal of appreciation for these pencils, I still have the feeling that there are things I’m taking for granted. My feeling is that, while both German and Japanese pencil manufacturers have a deep sense of tradition associated with their pencils, there is something different about the Mono 100. I don’t at all mean to slight other manufacturers, but I would characterize it this way: The pinnacle of German pencil-making craft and European traditions have resulted in perfected versions of the Castell 9000 and the Lumograph. Whereas Japanese tradition and craft have culminated in perfected versions of the pencil in general, as demonstrated in the Mono 100 and the Hi-Uni. Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that there seems to be a shared spirit between high-quality Japanese pencils, above and apart from individual brands and competition.

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19 Responses to Tombow Mono 100

  1. Beautiful photos, Sean. The pencil seems to float above the page.

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  2. Kevin says:

    Sean, you’re right about the reluctance to sharpen these beautiful pencils. I purchased a case of ‘B’ Mono 100’s a year ago, and I’m still finishing the first one in a pencil extender – not wanting to sharpen a second one, whereas my favored FC 9000’s, having used them for years, are like an old friend and are in constant use, and as a bonus they are already sharpened (so no sharpening decision need be made), in the Non US market at least. I find the Mono 100 easier to sharpen than the Hi-Uni and the gloss black is visually much more appealing to me, in sketching mode at least, than the Maroon Hi-Uni. The quality of the plastic cases of both Mono 100 and Hi-Uni pencils is superb and a great selling point.

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    • Sean says:

      I do like the maroon color, but like you, I think the Mono 100 edges out the Hi-Uni.

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    • Sean says:

      Kevin, what extender(s) are you using?

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      • Kevin says:

        Late reply…I use the FC plastic junior perfect pencils. I like to spend my money on nice pencils rather than the more upmarket editions of the PP. I do have some vintage A.W. Faber 4502 extenders, but these are only useful with very short stubs, because they are quite long, even without the pencil stub.

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  3. Andy Welfle says:

    I have but one Mono 100, so I don’t use it often, but it is always a joy to use. I usually prefer an eraser at the end of my pencil (It really provides a nice counterbalance that I appreciate), but the lightweight feel this pencil has is pretty great.

    Do you know where to buy these in a retail store in the US? Blick in San Francisco has some of the other Tombows, but I haven’t seen these.

    Great photos!

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    • Sean says:

      I’ve always gotten mine from Jet Pens. I wonder, though, how much they actually retail for in Japan.

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      • Wesley says:

        Pencils.jp sells both the Mono 100 and Hi-Uni for 140 yen ($1.40) a piece. I think when I order a Carl desktop sharpener from either them or Bundoki, I’ll buy a few of both.

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  4. John says:

    Beautiful photos! These are near the top of my wishlist, after test-riding the Hi-Uni recently. If they even come close (and it sounds like they do more than that) to the Hi-Uni, well, heck… 🙂

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  5. Matthias says:

    The Mono 100 is really great. It’s black surface is unlike any other pencil and it is a smooth writer. Most writing I do with pencils is in diaries and notebooks and I find that the graphite of the Mono 100 transfers easier between pages than some other pencils do, for that reason I tend to use it only on single sheets of paper, which means that in the end I don’t use it so often, even though I always got one next to me in a “Mars Tiegel” I got from Lexikaliker.

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    • Sean says:

      Based on what you said, I’d say that the Mono 100 has a lead that is slightly more waxy compared to the Hi-Uni, which leads to the issue you mentioned (transferring). It’s only a hunch, but perhaps the Mono 100 is just ever so slightly softer than the Hi-Uni.

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  6. Gunther says:

    Great photos, Sean! The Mono 100 is indeed an exceptional pencil. – Regarding your thoughts about the differences in German and Japanese pencil making: Where do you see the shared spirit?

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    • Sean says:

      Thanks, Gunther. It’s difficult to explain, and it may be that I am extrapolating an almost Shinto-esque ideal from the pencils, but my sense is that the Hi-Uni and the Mono 100 observe both the past and the present in their design. There is more material to the Japanese pencils (including the plastic end-caps and thicker lacquer), so for that reason those pencils are adorned in a way that the German pencils (Castell, Lumograph) are not. It’s a different aesthetic, though I am uncertain about how to label them.

      I think the German pencils are a product of the (positive) things that are associated with German design: accuracy, logic, efficiency, functionality, consistency, etc., but that the goal of those things is embodied in the pencil itself, not so much with the user’s relationship or experience with the pencil—that comes later. In other words, it’s as if they’re saying “If we build the perfect pencil, then your experience in using it will therefore be perfect.” This is in contrast to the idea of first asking “what is the ideal user experience?” (including look, feel, performance, and traditions) then building a pencil that meets those conditions.

      While the Japanese aesthetic certainly has things in common with German design, namely accuracy, detail, and consistency, it seems they are taking into account other things than just the design and function of the pencil itself. I think the most tangible evidence of that in this case are the end-caps: they aren’t functional at all. It’s difficult to imagine such non-functional aspects of a design lasting very long on a German drafting board. 🙂

      (By the way, there is a musical joke about something similar: When French composers write silence [rests] in their music, it’s ornamental. But silence in German music is structural.) 🙂

      Most importantly, please take all of this with a grain of salt — I’m speaking only as a consumer of pencils, not as an expert in design (Japanese, German, or otherwise).

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      • Andy Welfle says:

        That was super poetic, Sean, philosophically if not technically! Thanks for that.

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      • Gunther says:

        Sean, thank you for your explanation! Your thoughts are very exciting, and it is now much clearer to me. Yes, the differences you have described are important, and I would also say that they aren’t limited to pencils. The user experience you have put at the centre of your observation may indeed be the crucial factor, and with this in mind one can look very different at Japanese items. – Of course I am neither a design expert nor familiar with Japanese culture but your words are plausible and show Japanese stationery in a different light.

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      • Matthias says:

        I also think that’s a great explanation and can relate it to some small observations I have made about these pencils, e.g. FC 9000 water-based varnish vs. Mono 100 thick, nice layer of paint or FC 9000 simple card board box vs. Mono 100 (relatively) complicated plastic box….

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  7. Sean says:

    Thanks, Andy.

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