Never take a pen for granted; in every way, it has a colourful and highly influential history.
Its origins date back even further than that other brilliant human invention, the wheel, first recorded in Mesopotamia in 3500 BC. In many ways, it holds equal status with the wheel in terms of its role in assisting the development and progress of the human race.
A pen therefore (to borrow from Margaret Thatcher) is not just a pen, is not just a pen. It is both a writing tool and a powerful device for displaying information.
Think about it: pens are picked up and handled, twirled, tapped, pointed, thrown, used as itch scratchers, even coffee stirrers, and – importantly -- are often studied intently for inspiration before being put to paper by millions and millions of people every day.
More of that later, but first a brief history of the pen:
The modern word ‘pen’ is derived from the Latin penna, meaning feather.
But the first pen was likely called a digitus, or what we would call a finger. The ink would probably have been plant juices or blood, animal or . . . human.
The second pen would have been called a petra or saxum, better known to us as rocks, sharpened ones, that cave dwellers used to scratch etchings on their walls (or reminder notes to put the pet sabre-toothed tiger out at night).
In short, the history of the pen is almost as ancient as humankind itself. We – pens and humans – have come a long way together. We have recorded history, declared war and peace; written constitutions, created democracies (and dictatorships); expressed deep love – all manner of human events – with strokes of a mighty pen.
Mighty? Indeed. Over the centuries the powerful words and ideas written by fingers that held the pen have inspired great and heroic human feats. In that sense, the pen has so often proved mightier than the sword.
The evolution of the modern pen began around 4000 BC when the surface of moist clay tablets was scratched with primitive bronze or bone tools. By 1300 BC the Romans, apart from setting out to conquer the known world, had developed the art of scribing with reed pens onto thin sheets of wax, which could be melted and re-used.
In about 1000 BC, not long after they invented gunpowder, the clever Chinese began using fine brush pens made from camel or rat hair. It is uncertain what happened to the rats in the aftermath of their plucking.
Between 500-300 BC, the equally innovative Egyptians further developed the writing tool – which after all is exactly what a pen is – by using thick calamus or bamboo reeds with split, frayed or carved ends. This ran parallel with the development of writing surfaces where the Egyptians turned papyrus reed into thin paper sheets that accepted fine lines of coloured liquid. Perhaps Cleopatra put reed to papyrus and sent Mark Antony a cheeky invitation to sail over and see her sometime.
Circa 500 AD, Christian monks throughout Europe used quills -- goose feathers -- to record doctrines, church history and other religious text on scrolls of parchment. Think of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Feathers, like reeds, were hollow and able to be split and shaped for various writing styles – thick or thin -- and then filled with dye. The writing life of a fresh quill however was brief; it needed constant re-trimming with small, sharp knives (enter the pen knife).
From 600 AD to 1800 AD goose quills became the most popular writing tool across the globe, although swan, turkey, crow, owl and hawk feathers were also used. US President Thomas Jefferson raised his own geese to keep himself in supply of quills. The Russian city of St Petersburg created a flourishing export business by supplying 27,000 quills annually to Great Britain. Each adult goose supplied about 12 quills, probably not of their own volition
Quills however had their problems. Questionable durability and the need for a ready and costly supply of hungry geese aside, they held so little ink they needed constant re-dipping.
In the late 1800s, the mass production of metallic pens and nibs began, much to the likely relief of the world’s geese. Metal nibs however appear to have very early origins: a pen with a bronze nib was found in the ruins of Pompeii dating it at 79AD and there are references to bronze pens in Europe in 1465 and again in 1548. Catherine the Great of Russia, 1729-1796, is quoted as referring to her ‘endless quill’ meaning that she probably possessed an early fountain pen.
The invention of the first practical fountain pen is credited in 1884 to Lewis Edson Waterman, an American insurance broker. Waterman was about to sign a lucrative contract and had bought a new fountain pen for the occasion. The contract was on the table and the pen in the client's hand -- but it failed to work and spilled a large, messy inkblot all over the paperwork. Waterman quickly returned to his office and obtained a fresh contract but by the time he returned the miffed client had signed a contract with a rival broker.
Understandably, Waterman vowed ‘Never again!’ and with typically American ‘can do’ designed his own fountain pen that gave the ink a smooth, blot-free flow. Waterman also saw the benefits of advertising and sales of his pen increased rapidly. In 1900 he built a factory in Montreal, Canada to manufacture the pens on a mass scale. Of course Waterman’s fountain pens still bear his name today.
The fountain pen dominated the first half of the 20th Century as the preferred writing utensil and also serving prestigious gift items (and are still considered valued and highly valuable gifts; the most expensive fountain pen currently retails for about $60,000).
And then in 1943 along came the revolutionary (in every sense) ballpoint pen.
Although the ballpoint pen dates as far back as 1888, early prototypes displayed numerous failings and consequently never caught on. The first model to overcome these problems was patented by a man whose family name should be familiar: Laszlo Josef Biro.
Biro was a Hungarian journalist living in Argentina after fleeing the Nazis in Europe. The idea of a pen using quick drying ink came to him when visiting a print shop and seeing how fast the printing ink dried after it came off the presses. Realising an ordinary nib would clog up using thick printers ink, he worked on the idea of using a tiny metal ball rotating in housing filled with printers ink.
In 1943 Biro and his brother, a chemist, took out patents for the first commercial models, although (somehow!) they overlooked the small matter of patenting them in the United States thereby forfeiting the opportunity to monopolise that country’s vast, highly lucrative market. The British Government bought the rights for the first Biros. Because of their ruggedness they were ideal for military use; the RAF used them extensively because, unlike gravity-fed fountain pens that flooded, they wrote at high altitude.
On October 29th, 1945, the ballpoint pen – an exact copy of the unpatented Biro model -- was finally launched in America. It was promoted as ‘the first pen to write underwater’ and, extraordinarily, sold some $US100,000 worth on the first day at Gimbel's Department store in New York.
Despite their astonishing success, at $US12.50 each, ballpoints were very expensive.
It was not until 1953 that the first cheap ballpoint pens became available when an enterprising Frenchman, Baron Marcel Bich (take off the ‘h’ and click, what do you get: Bic!), developed a process for manufacturing the pens en masse that lowered the unit cost dramatically.
Thus the modern version of Biro's pen had arrived.
Today the ballpoint is used in every country in the world: from the steppes of Mongolia, to the heights of Tibet -- and from the pampas of Argentina to the mosques of Qom. Wherever there are people, there are handy, hardworking ballpoint pens, billions of them. They are hooked on shirt pockets, lapels; stuck behind ears, jammed into jars; left on desks – almost wherever you look¸ there is a ballpoint pen somewhere nearby.
The numbers sold globally are astronomical. 14 million Bic Crystal ballpoints alone are sold every day.
In any sense, the ballpoint pen has a very high profile; in fact they are more like permanent fixtures – a very real presence -- in our everyday lives. Which is where we, your pen pals,
Effective Advertising, come in. We imprint your business name and details of your products and services on ballpoint pens.
means exactly that: cost-effective, high presence advertising – your vital promotion -- all on a ballpoint pen.
Think about it: unlike advertising flyers, brochures and newspaper advertisements, people do not throw ballpoints away. Neither can they turn a ballpoint down or off, like a radio or television.
POP (presence of pen) advertising makes powerful sense. And saves cents as well; your message can be imprinted on a ballpoint for less than 25 cents.
offers a comprehensive portfolio of ballpoint pens but if we haven’t got the one you require, we will order it in for you.
your friends . . . in pens!