The mighty pen


2006 is the 100th anniversary of the Mont Blanc company, the company that made fountain pens a luxury item even while fountain pens were still the state of the art of pens.

Today is the 61st anniversary (according to CBS “Sunday Morning”) or 62nd anniversary (see Wikipedia) of the introduction of the ballpoint pen in the U.S., at Gimbel’s Department Store, in New York City. It was based on a design devised in 1938 by a journalist named László Bíró. Biro produced his pen in Europe, and then in Argentina. But in the U.S., a businessman named Reynolds set up the Reynolds International Pen Company and rushed to market in the U.S. a pen based on several Biros he had purchased in Buenos Aires.

On October 29, 1945 (or 1946), you could purchase a “Reynolds Rocket” at Gimbel’s for $12.50 — about $130 today, adjusted for inflation.

Today I continue my search for a ballpoint or rollerball that will write in green, reliably. I use a Waterman Phileas ballpoint, a Cross Radiance fountain pen, a Cross Radiance rollerball (Radiance was discontinued about a year ago), a full set of Cross Century writing implements, a lot of Sanford Uniballs in various colors, and a lot of Pentel Hybrid K-178 gel-rollers, and some Pilot G-2 gel pens (though the green ink versions are unreliable). I also keep several Marvy calligraphic pens for signing things with a flourish. I have a box of $0.10 ballpoints in a briefcase for students who fail to bring a writing utensil.

Jefferson probably wrote the Declaration of Independence with quills he trimmed himself. Lincoln probably used a form of fountain pen to write the Gettysburg Address, but he had no writing utensil with him when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. President Johnson made famous the practice of using many pens to sign important documents, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964; he made gifts of the pens to people who supported the legislation and worked to get it made into law.

And who said it? (Brace yourself)

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Lytton, in Richelieu, act II, scene ii, a play he wrote in 1839. Yes, he is the same Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the novel Paul Clifford in 1840, whose opening line is, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

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One Response to The mighty pen

  1. The Rocket came with a little rocket-launcher sort of stand. “Got a Rocket in your pocket?” was the slogan when my brother got his prized Rocket — pause for the usual If Only He Had Held On To It — in ’48 or ’49, when the price was below $12.50, but I don’t recall how much.

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