The Escoda company has been making fine brushes in Barcelona, Spain since 1933. Their marketing web site explains that the company was founded by Josep Escoda Roig and his wife Rosa Sabatés, who during the Great Depression scavenged and pieced together the raw materials and tools necessary to start their own brushmaking factory. Some of those tools are still used today, as a sign of craft tradition and determination, by the second and third generations of the Escoda family and their 60 local workers. The company produces over 1.5 million brushes a year, almost two thirds of all the brushes used in Spain, and exports to more than 20 countries worldwide. Distribution in the United States is limited, although I have found Escoda brush kits or individual brushes offered by a half dozen online retailers, including Rochester Art Supply — search on Google for a current listing (and note that prices vary widely). Escoda also makes some of the beautiful sable brushes sold by Cheap Joe's, for example the "The Magic Dragon."

Kolinsky - The Escoda 1212 tajmyr kolinsky sable round is an extremely well made brush at a great price. (Tajmyr is a huge peninsula on the north coast of Siberia.) The handles are burgundy lacquered wood, thicker than usual, with a triple crimped gold-plated nickel ferrule. Total length of the #12 round is 22.5cm. The tufts are beautifully shaped of fine and evenly sized hairs, tightly packed at the ferrule edge (you cannot open a gap between the hairs and the ferrule with moderate pressure), but smaller than usual — 28mm long and 26mm around at the ferrule, with a 8mm belly when wet. There is a snappy core that gives the brush resilience, and the brushes snap to a beautifully precise "needle" point. Best of all, these brushes are amazingly inexpensive as sable brushes go, so they are a great value if you want to experience what natural hair brushes have to offer. Sizes range from #00000 to #18. Prices: #6, US$10.00; #12, US$35.00.

The Escoda 1316 kolinsky sable flat, with nickel plated brass ferrules and short blue handles, is unfortunately hard to find in the USA, but Rochester Art Supply (linked above) sells a custom brush, the Escoda Akwarela flat that is an excellent alternative. These are well balanced, with deep red lacquered wood handles, nicely tapered (total length of the 1" brush is 23.1cm). The slightly stiff tuft is very chunky — 7mm thick at the ferrule — and has a very rounded, 10mm wide belly when wet (it looks like a watercolor round when viewed from the side), which gives it good capacity and solidity. Even so, the brush is great for wash applications where the softness of the hairs is important. The tuft in the 1" brush is 30mm long and 27mm wide at the ferrule, somewhat tightly packed at the ferrule edge. When wet, the tuft snaps to a slightly tapering shape, with sharp corners and a crisp "chisel" edge. These durable brushes handle nicely, release paint with an even flow, and clean up well. A superb value for the price. Prices: #12 (1/2"), US$25.00; #20 (1"), US$90.00.

Escoda 1212 tajmyr kolinsky sable round (#6 & #12); Escoda Akwarela flat (#10 and #20)

Other Sable - The Escoda 1210 red sable round is the second tier in their natural hair brushes. Nickel plated brass ferrule with a regular sized blue lacquered wood handle. Sizes run from #00000 to #18. Escoda also makes short taper sable detail brush and a rigger/lettering brush. Prices not available.

Synthetic - Escoda makes a good basic range of watercolor brushes in Toray gold, Toray white and Teijin synthetic fibers, including rounds, brights, filberts and lettering brushes. Sizes generally range from #6 to #16 for flats or angular flats, and #0 to #24 for rounds. I've found some of these in retail stocks, and wasn't greatly impressed with the quality; the filbert fibers seemed trimmed with a papercutter. Prices not available.

Finally, Escoda also produces several pony, ox hair and squirrel rounds at different price points, and a variety of wash brushes and a beautiful little folding travel brush with golden brass ferrule and metal cover. Of special interest is the Escoda 1927 mongoose round, a good alternative to squirrel hair brushes. All are worth investigating.

I tried the Escoda sable brushes on the advice of a reader, and enthusiastically pass that recommendation on to you. The more I learn about art products, the more impressed I am with companies such as Escoda, ABS, Kalish and Rekab that offer fine materials and diligent craft without the steep markups we pay to subsidize the marketing hype that is an expected cost of business for many art materials manufacturers.