The Papermate Advancer

Terry Traub

September 26, 2004
Updated March 28, 2008

UPDATE: see below for the latest communication from Sanford Corp.!

The Papermate Company recently came out with a new kind of mechanical pencil, the Papermate Advancer. Designed to "self-advance" so you don't need to push a button, it looks like your ordinary mechanical pencil, colorful and stylishly shaped and available at such standard outlets as Staples and The Harvard Coop.

Since I'm taking some science classes and I need lots of mechanical pencils lying around, I picked up a 5-pack from Staples that was effectively free with the rebate. I'm waiting for that rebate check with more than the usual anticipation.

The reason is that as soon as I got home and opened the pack, I noticed the word "Non-refillable" printed on the back of the package, about the 3rd item down, under stylish and convenient or something similar. Yes, this is a plastic, non-biodegradable, self-advancing mechanical pencil that cannot be refilled.

I experimentally tried to insert a stick of 0.5mm lead into the pencil, but putting the lead into the empty well behind the eraser did nothing; nor could I push the lead into the mechanism from the direction of the tip.

It has nearly all the advantages of a mechanical pencil--doesn't need sharpening, and actually you can replace the eraser, though it does look like a non-standard size. The single advantage that it lacks is refillability. It's like buying a car tire without an air valve; it can be used only until the air runs out; then you must replace it.

Actually, it's worse than that, because once you have advanced the lead it cannot be retracted; some sort of clever sphincter mechanism allows the lead stick to move in only one direction. If you happen to tap the pencil against a hard surface, encouraging more of the lead to come out, it will stay out and you must break the excess lead off before putting it into your shirt pocket. Thus, you will probably use up the pencil a lot faster than you would think based on the amount of lead.

If you are looking for the definition of planned obsolescence, this is it. Seldom have I seen such a cynically conceived product. What business school produced the marketing person who came up with this idea?

In retrospect, I'm grateful that I got these pencils for virtually nothing, but I noticed that the Harvard Coop is pushing them on unsuspecting students for $1.35 each; there's a colorful collection of these useless pencils in an impulse purchase display box next to the cash register where you pay for your textbooks.

There is some good news, though; you can in fact refill the lead. Here's how to do it: simply grasp the clear plastic mechanism firmly in your teeth (or with a pair of plyers) as close to the colored barrel as you can get, and yank it out. Don't use your teeth if they are not strong. Once you have removed this mechanism, you can insert a fresh stick of pencil lead from behind until you see it advance into the tip. Then, snap the mechanism back into the barrel and you have restored your Papermate Advancer to its pristine state! Take that, Mr. or Ms. Papermate marketing genius!


I wrote a complaint to Papermate regarding this product; I suggested that this type of product is deceptive marketing and stains their fine reputation. Actually, it's Sanford Corp. that owns Papermate now. Here is how they responded:
Hello Terry,

Sanford appreciates hearing from our consumers as this helps us to ensure
that our products maintain the high quality and standards that we expect.
We pride ourselves in delivering the brands that you depend on everyday -
through performance, style and dependability. Your continued support is

Perhaps the retail store will give you an exchange or a refund on the

Have a good day, Terry, and thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Sanford Consumer Affairs

December 28, 2004

I have received some feedback from fellow Papermate Advancer users out there in internetland and I thought others might enjoy reading what they had to say.

Chris Johnson wrote on October 18, 2004:
I was able to refill an advancer by removing the clear tip using small
pliers, and you can then push the lead back in. thus refilling it, I don't
know how many times until the retaining mechanism loosens up, but it
certainly helps recuperating the dollar something they charge for it.

Anyways the only reason I got to your page was to figure out if it could be
done before figuring it out on my own and typing papermate advancer in
google will pull up your link as 1st.

Anyways.. Happy writing !
Then Aimee Staats wrote on October 29, 2004:
Dear Terry,

This week, I too had a devastating experience with a Papermate Advancer. My college bookstore sells them individually and unpackaged, without the "non-refillable" warning. They come in an array of colors, have the nifty self-advancing mechanism, and for $1.35 each, seem like a pretty good deal-- until after two days of math homework, when the one piece of lead has run out and the shocking truth is revealed.

I would like to thank you for publishing your solution to this injustice. I can't stand to waste money, no matter how small the amount, and now my pencil is worth the price I paid! I can actually remove the plastic tip with my fingers now, so I won't have to gnaw on the pencil in class.

I am surprised by the response you received from the manufacturer. I once wrote to complain about the uneven ratio of Chocolate Parfait Nips to Original Flavor Nips in a variety bag I had bought, and in return, I was sent a gift certificate for $2.60 in Nestle products. I will probably steer clear of Papermate products in the future for their lack of proper customer service.

Thanks again for your help and for your entertaining web page. I loved your foreign penpal letters!

Then there was this great suggestion from Jenny Dixon:
Dear Terry,
After agonizing over this pencil for about 20 minutes I passed it on to my husband, who's nickname is Mr. Fix-it. In about 3 minutes he had refilled the pencil for me. Just to give you another alternative to refill your pencil, take out the eraser and drop the lead into the middle of the inner tube. Take something long and thing, we used a nail with a flat head, and tap the lead gently down into the spring. There you go, all fixed. Thanks for the heads up that it is technically not a refill, which stinks.

Here's a useful tip from Jim Harris in Kentucky:
I figured out how to push excess lead back into the Papermate Advancer. Use a finger nail and slide the metal sleave around the lead into the pencil. While holding that in, push the lead back into the pencil.

So, we can see that suffering brings people closer together. If only this type of cameraderie prevailed in such hotspots as the Middle East!


The good people at Sanford North America (a Division of Newell Rubbermaid) sent me today a package containing a brand new pencil: the Papermate AutoAdvance 0.7mm refillable mechanical pencil. Here is an extract of their letter:

Dear Terry,

In the past you have contacted Sanford's Consumer Affairs Department regarding the Paper Mate Advancer Mechanical Pencil and expressed your concerns. We at Sanford, pride ourselves on the brands we manufacture and listen closely to feedback from our consumers. Sanford strives to learn more about the potential challenges with our products so we can continue to provide the highest quality, performance driven products on the market today.

In our continued efforts to introduce new and innovative quality products, we have added a new mechanical pencil to our Paper Mate brand portfolio. This product is the Paper Mate Auto Advance Mechanical Pencil, the first REFILLABLE, self-advancing mechanical pencil. Key features of the Auto Advance are:
We are enclosing a sample of the Auto Advance for you today. We hope that you have a good experience and please let us know what you think.

I have to say, it's a very nice pencil and I would recommend it, though my personal taste runs to 5mm rather than 7mm. Basically, this pencil addresses the concerns which I and others have had. It's very nicely designed, and I have to hand it to Sanford for listening to their customers. --T.T.

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