These Portuguese Pencils Smell Like Luxury Fragrance


If I'm ever in need of a pick-me-up, I go to a stationery store. There's no logic to it, and I rarely even write on paper anymore, but the rows of writing tools and notebooks are soothing and lately I need to be soothed. That's how I found myself at CW Pencil Enterprise last Sunday, being greeted by pencil enthusiast and shop owner Caroline Weaver. After a quick Purell I eagerly started picking up pencils, inspecting the varying color and shape of each and imagining how it would feel to use it for cursive loops. Anyway, that was before I saw the fragranced pencils. Pencil smell is fantastic already, but never before had I wondered if it could be improved upon. When I started turning over a pack in my hands, Weaver explained that those pencils actually had a bit of a funny history—her store is one of very few in the US that carries them.

The pencils are made by Viarco, the only pencil manufacturers in all of Portugal. It was founded in 1907 when a Portuguese politician called on a French engineer to make Portugal a global pioneer of writing tools. They opened up a factory together and were successful for about a decade—after that, Portugal entered World War I and was subsequently hit hard by the Great Depression. The business stagnated until the '30s, when it was purchased and reinvigorated by a famous hat maker looking to diversify his profile. His family built a legacy crafting the kind of innovative (and often bizarre) pencils Viarco still makes today, and some of their inexplicable current offerings include pencil tips for your fingers, blocks of pressed pigment like colored pencil bars of soap, and these scented pencils, which are fragranced by soaking the wood in essential oils. The collection is titled Quintais e Jardins de Portugal, which translates as The Backyards and Gardens of Portugal. Weaver told me she’s tried requesting certain scents (particularly a rose pack, “because it’s the state flower of New York”) but Viarco’s refused. The collection is supposed to smell like Portugal, and apparently Portugal smells like jasmine, lily of the valley, peony, orange blossom, lavender, fig, and nothing else.

I got the fig scent because I’m a sucker for that bright green sweetness—Diptique Figuier is probably my favorite candle, and Premier Figuier Extrême from L’Artisan Parfumeur is heavy in my spring/summer fragrance rotation. Weaver told me that some of her customers like to put the pencils in a jar and leave them out in their bedroom to perfume the air, diffuser-style. But I perfer to use them for actual writing—if I hold one to my nose between sentences, I get alternating whiffs of those delicate fig tree notes and a leathery smell that must be the wood itself. I wish someone could bottle the combination so I could give every surface and object the Vicaro treatment, but for now, fig scented pencils are my weekday treat. If only I could have used one to write this review.

—Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG