WHEN THE 44TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES takes office January 20th, he will assume a tradition that has existed through all administrations since President Washington: that of signing bills into law using a very special pen. From quills to ball points, the writing instruments used to sign national documents have been prized and preserved as federal collectibles.
A quill pen was used by John Hancock and other signers of the American Declaration of Independence. President Lincoln used a quill pen, as well, to sign the 13th Amendment into law, freeing the slaves and outlawing slavery in the nation. In more recent times, fountain pens have been used to sign treaties and armistices. In an entertaining Presidential hi-jinx, “Give ‘em hell, Harry” passed out boxes of ball point pens engraved “I swiped this from Harry S. Truman.”
Pens do more than just write; they write history.
The story of writing pens goes back 6,000 years to when the cave man used sharpened stones to make pictures on cave walls. The ancient Greeks wrote with a metal, bone, or ivory stylus. Romans used a reed-pen for writing. Around 700 A.D., quill pens came into use, some beautiful, but most of them ungainly instruments made from bird feathers. The word pen is in fact taken from the Latin penna, meaning feather of a bird.
Quills continued in use until 1884, when L.E. Waterman introduced the first fountain pen. This was a remarkable advance in writing, and launched a wave of new pen enthusiasm. Buyers were enthralled with the new instrument that allowed them to smoothly write an entire page without having to touch an ink bottle. The art of writing was likewise enhanced, and “having a good hand,” or being able to write with flair and elegance became an envied talent.
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BUT THEN, IN 1944, came another major writing revolution. The ball point pen was introduced and with it the passion for writing soared. This was smooth, comfortable, easy writing! So easy, in fact, that for some time, many traditionalists completely eschewed it, clinging instead to the old pen-and-ink writing habit.
Notwithstanding that pocket of snobbery, the sale of ball pens really took off. All types of ball pens were rushed onto the market, running from promotional pens selling for just a few cents each, to luxury pens with price tags comfortably in four digits. Pens also captured the consumer’s imagination, and were frequently valued far beyond their price tag. Men carefully clipped a pen to their shirt pockets. Women squirreled them neatly away in handbags.
Today, practically everyone carries a pen, and owns several.
PENS ARE STATUS ITEMS. People increasingly seek out pens that are well designed with an attractive casing they can show off. Both men’s and women’s pens are big sellers in office supply stores, as well as small boutiques and department stores. Designer pens offer new designs and embellishments, giving a heightened level of beauty and personality to the basic writing instrument.
Gold pens raise eyebrows. Silver pens attract quiet admiration. Pewter pens are sophisticated and chic. There are even specialty stores originally established for the exclusive purveyance of fine (and often very expensive) writing instruments. And even today, when the computer and the IPod have taken over so many routine data jobs, the pen is still a favored, important personal accessory.
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CONSIDER A PEWTER PEN with a tulip sculptured design, beautifully boxed in a velvet case. It makes an appreciated gift for anyone. This is just one of numerous nature-oriented pens picking up on the high popularity of nature themes.
Customers will also be attracted to a “best friend and flowers” theme, while enthusiasts of tropical climes will find a bamboo designed pewter pen a delight to carry and use, bringing with it floral images of the spectacular South Pacific. Just about everyone will value an attractive, classic flowering vine designed pen.
These high caliber writing instruments come in a wide variety of themes to fit many interests. Fishermen will find the sea life design highly desirable, and golfers will delight in pen designs that feature golf bags, clubs, balls, etc
Amateur and professional astronomers and astrologers will appreciate pens with celestial themes portrayed on the casing, with the sun, moon, and stars handsomely crafted in pewter. And how about academics? A fun alphabet writing pen is a natural for them!
One of the most intriguing designs – and one that will surely capture the interest of those with a taste for Far East art and mystery – is a sculptured writing pen featuring a spit-fire dragon asserting his timeless power and charisma. This pen is an adventure unto itself!
We invariably take pens for granted and, while we may be particular about their functional qualities – comfortable feel in the hand, smooth writing, easy movement — we often overlook the marvels of the pen itself.
Pens have been around on this planet almost as long as mankind has existed.
And that is incredible!