Crayons: The Problem with Being the Best

As I was hunting for any stray colored pencils that might be hiding throughout the house, I decided to reorganize our huge collection of crayons. ("Because why not start a big, messy project when you're literally in the middle of doing something else!" I always say.) 

I'm not kidding when I say we have a huge collection of crayons. Back in 1995 when I started teaching, I had a small collection of crayons - a few small sets, plus the big set with the built-in sharpener. I kept one set at home, but dumped the rest into a crayon bin for the classroom. The school issued every student a box of crayons each year. Most kids kept their crayons in good shape all year long, but for the 3 or 4 kids who lost them or otherwise needed more, they could take what they needed from the bin. At the end of the year, I told them they could take home their crayons or dump them into my bin. Most dumped them into the bin, knowing they'd get fresh crayons when the new school year started.... one week later. (For my first few years as a teacher, our school was four-track year-round. My section started in August and ended in July, with September, January, and May off. When school ended in July, we had one week off before the new school year started in August. Our school eventually switched to a modified traditional schedule, but almost everyone still dumped their old crayons in the bin.)

We did a lot of crayon art in the classroom, but still the collection grew. There were kids who dumped crayons they didn't use at home into the bin. Eventually, one large bin became two. 

When Trevor was born and I moved out of my classroom, I left one bin behind and took one home. Over the years, more crayons have come into the house as gifts, manufacturer samples, party favors, and with kids' menus. All that to say, we have a huge collection of crayons. 

Now, a question. At the top of this post is a photo of eleven blue crayons. What brands do you remember seeing? 





Chances are, you remember seeing Crayola (or guessed correctly that it was among the eleven). In fact, two of the eleven crayons are Crayola. They're from different eras, so the logos differ a bit. You might also remember seeing Prang or Cra-Z-Art, as there is one of each. But I guarantee that's all you saw. Why? Go back and look at the photo. 

The remaining seven crayons are not branded. Instead, they have the word Crayon(s) in fonts that are intended, in varying degrees, to fool you into thinking they're Crayola. Distinctive Crayola font? Check. Black oval around the text? Check. Black bands at the ends of the wrappers? Check and check. 

I chose the four blue crayons whose branding were most obvious Crayola rip-offs and put them to a color test. The results speak for themselves. 

The problem with being the best is that everyone else wants to be like you. Some manufacturers do that through hard work, developing their own superior products. Others do it by pretending to be the best only long enough to fool people into thinking they are getting a great bargain on a great product. You couldn't complain to these manufacturers if you wanted to, because there is no manufacturer information available. 

This is a problem beyond just crayons. In the craft industry, it is a major issue with pricier items, like metal dies or clear acrylic stamps. The reputable brands produce high-quality items with popular designs, then unethical manufacturers swoop in and put those designs on their own low-quality materials and sell them for a fraction of the cost. And the consumer who thought they were getting a bargain has something that breaks or otherwise doesn't work like the name-brand product. Know what you're buying, and know who you are hurting when you buy a knockoff. Chances are, you're also ultimately hurting yourself. 

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