M-P, Writing

The “Write” Tools

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Once Upon a Time…

In the very distant past there was a need to show a thought, to communicate without words, to tally, to map, to represent and thus began a life-long affair with our writing instruments.

From the first mark in the dirt, on the cave wall, the clay tablet, papyrus and so many more mediums right up to the ballpoint pen, people have needed to communicate in a more permanent way than spoken words, in a way that complete strangers could understand.

I write. I collect pens. All types of pens. I play with ink.

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I bring all of this up because it is Ballpoint Pen Day. Perhaps I could write an ode to a ballpoint pen, but I feel more inclined towards a broader scope.

“There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.” – William Makepeace Thackeray

There is some controversy still lingering over the patents of ballpoint pens. Some say the original patent was to John J. Loud on October 30, 1888. However he did not “commercialize” it and his patent lapsed. In the 30 years following, there were approximately 350 patents for ballpoint pins, but like Loud’s never “commercialized.

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” ― Edward L. Wheeler

“Anyone who thinks the pen is mightier than the sword has not been stabbed with both.” – Lemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler)

See http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/ballpen.htm for a complete history of the ballpoint pen and the rivalries it inspired.

The most acknowledged and commercial patent for the ballpoint pen was filed on June 10, 1943. Thus June 10 is the unofficial ballpoint pen day.

“Pen-bereavement is a serious matter.” – Anne Fadiman

For most of history a “portable pen with its own ink” was merely a pipe dream.

There was the Greek stylus made of metal, bone or ivory made for marking wax-coated tablets.

“The pen is the tongue of the mind.” – Horace and “To hold a pen is to be at war.”- Voltaire

Horace, Voltaire, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson etc. – All wrote without the modern convenience of a writing instrument with its own ink.

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For most of history (since 700 AD) the quill pen reigned supreme.

I have a couple of quill pens (not the real deal, but close enough in looks and function) and some bottles of ink.

It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around an writing instrument which not only takes a long time to produce but also would only withstand about a week’s worth of work.

For something made through so many centuries there was a science as to what feathers to take from which birds. Goose feathers being the most common, swan feathers being the premium pens and crow feathers for fine lines and many others for specific purposes. Fascinating.

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The quill pen was eventually phased out in favor of the fountain pen patented in 1867 by M. Klein and Henry W. Wynne.

Fountain pens had an ink chamber that for a short time would hold an ink supply. Revolutionary.

Fountain pens are beautiful works of art and nibs for them even more so.

Pen design took off in the 1970’s and expanded to highlighters, permanent markers and many more types of writing instruments.

“You want to be a writer, don’t know how or when? Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.” – Paul Simon

Every pen is different and we all have our favorites: the ones that are just right. What is your favorite pen?  What makes it your favorite?

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For all of you writers out there, every now and then take a break from the keyboard, pick up your favorite pen and put it to paper. It’s a different flow, a different rhythm and a way to experience your inner world quite unlike the tap of a keys.

It’s also a great way to break through writer’s block.


“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

A great timeline of all writing implements http://www.ringpen.com/history.html
A very thorough history of the pen http://www.rickconner.net/penspotters/history.html
Pencil History http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blpen.htm
Ballpoint Pen history http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/ballpen.htm
Pen history http://www.ehow.com/about_4577279_history-pen.html

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http://www.fastcompany.com/1284673/ballpoint-pen-day “On this day in 1943, brothers Laszlo and Georg Bíró filed a patent for what’s now one of the world’s most common writing instruments. Others had tried to design a self-inking mechanical pen that rolled on a ball, with little success. The Bírós perfected the design, named it the Birome, and opened a pen shop in Argentina. In 1945, the pens went on sale in the U.S., at Gimbel’s in New York, for $12.50 each ($145, inflation adjusted). The store sold $125,000 worth on day one, and Bic, which bought the patent, has sold 100 billion-plus since 1950. Rolling, indeed. – ZW”http://www.fastcompany.com/1284673/ballpoint-pen-day

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