PENS: Ballpoints I love

November 27, 2011 § 6 Comments

Photo by Cindy Jackson

I have to admit that office supplies fascinate me.  When I see office supplies displayed in a store, hanging in their tidy little bubble packs, my mind races with ideas of all the things I could produce, organize, and archive.  At home I have a drawer that is loaded with notebooks, clips, erasers, rulers, highlighters, markers, pencils, and pens.  I have a special affection for pens!

I recently read a blog post by Whimsy Dreams entitled Why I Steal Ink Pens.  Her honest description of her behavior prompted me to examine my own relationship with the ubiquitous pen.

As a child I learned to write with one of those fat pencils on grey paper with green lines that had a dotted line through the middle so you could see where the lower case and upper case letters should go.  Soon, I moved up to regular #2 pencils on wide ruled notebook paper.  Toward junior high school my teachers let me start writing with a pen.  I discovered that unlike pencils, there are many different kinds of pens.

Pens can be classified into four main categories:

  1. Fountain pens – Fountain pens are not commonly used today because they tend to be messy.  However, writing with a fountain pen is an elegant experience.  If you have never written with a fountain pen, try a Pilot Varsity and some good paper.  You won’t regret it.
  2. Ballpoint pens – Ballpoints are probably the most common pen on the market due to low price, durability, and versatility.  I find the ballpoint to be the only pen to be effective when filling out triplicate forms.  These are the unsung workhorses of the writing world.
  3. Roller ball pens – I find roller ball pens to be somewhere between a fountain pen and a ballpoint pen.  The writing experience is elegant and effortless, like a fountain pen, with the clean containment of an ink cartridge, like a ballpoint pen.
  4. Felt tip pen – Felt tips are almost a niche market.  A few manufacturers produce them.  Two I’m familiar with are the Paper Mate Flair pen and the Sharpie Pen.

For most uses I rely on a ball point pen.  There are three models that I have become particularly fond of.

Photo by Grant L. Jackson

BIC Cristal stick pen – My first experience writing with an ink pen was with a BIC Cristal.  It had a familiar size and shape, similar to a standard #2 pencil.  The ink supply is visible through its transparent hexagon shaped barrel.  I find it comforting to know how much ink I have to work with.  BIC makes the perfectly round ball out of tungsten steel and nestles it in a brass tip.  The ball is 1.0mm wide and deposits a 0.4mm line of ink on paper.  BIC claims the ink supply will last long enough to write a line for two kilometers.  That’s over a mile!  That’s a lot of writing for a 20 cent pen!

This is my favorite pen.  If I know I’m going to be writing for a while this is my tool of choice.  The writing experience is smooth and never scratchy.  Occasionally you need to wipe a glob of ink off of the tip but that’s a small price to pay for a comfortable pen.

Photo by Grant L. Jackson

Parker Jotter click retractable pen – While working as a correctional officer at the local county jail, I had to write my security checks on a clip board every half hour.  This documentation consisted of just a few characters.  There was a lot of taking the pen out of and putting the pen back into my shirt pocket.  It is that repetitive motion that makes this pen so satisfying.  The pocket clip on the Parker Jotter is strong enough to withstand years of pocket withdrawal and insertion without losing its spring tension.

Another noticeably satisfying feature of this pen is the click mechanism that deploys the ink cartridge.  There is an authoritative and distinct click sound that this pen makes when you push the retractor button in and slide your thumb off to the side.  Hollywood has recognized this distinct sound and has used it to their advantage.  Whenever you see an iconic “police officer writing a ticket” scene in a movie, you can bet she is wielding a Parker Jotter.

A third feature that makes this pen so popular with police officers is the capacity of the ink cartridge.  Parker does not advertise how long the ink will last but it seems to be forever.  Also, the ink cartridge is pressurized allowing the user to occasionally write on a vertical surface.  The standard ink cartridge is a high quality 1mm ballpoint.  As a side note, Parker offers a roller ball gel ink refill cartridge that transforms this $7 pen into a fine writing instrument.

This is my favorite pocket pen.  It is lightweight, sized to fit in a shirt pocket, rugged, and extremely reliable.  If you have a job that requires you to wear your name on your shirt, you need a Parker Jotter.

Photo by Grant L. Jackson

Cross Solo twist retractable pen – A wise man once told me, “A good businessman carries a handsome pen.  It sets you apart from the crowd.”  Since then I’ve had several fine writing instruments including brands like Montblanc, Waterman, Parker, Retro 51, and Cross.  I have sold most of those pens but I have kept my Cross Solo for over a decade.  When I want to make an impression, this is the pen I grab.

The design of the Cross Solo is simple and elegant with a black resin body and gold tone accents.  The twist mechanism is easy to manipulate with one hand and there is enough resistance that the tip does not retract while writing.  I once cracked the body somehow and sent it into the factory for repair under the lifetime warranty.  Cross returned it in like new condition with no questions asked.

This was not an expensive pen.  If I remember correctly, I paid about $20 for it new.  Cross introduced the Solo in 1995 and recently discontinued this model from their lineup.

There are several things I like about the Cross Solo.  It has a medium width body that comfortably fills the hand and lets you know your holding something.  The weight is balanced and is not too heavy to carry in a shirt pocket.  The ink refill screws into the body eliminating any rattles that often plague other retractable ballpoint pens.  Cross makes one of the smoothest ballpoints I have ever used.

My love of pens runs deep.  I posses an impractical amount of knowledge about my tools.  Even though I have my favorites, I still explore other writing tools looking for the “Holy Grail” of the writing world.  For example, I have heard a lot of buzz about how great the Sharpie Pen is.  What is all the hype about?  I will have to get one and see.

I do not lose pens.  I tend to keep them until they are completely empty.  Because I tend to switch pens fairly regularly, it can sometimes take years to use one up.  Other times I will feel like writing more and use one up in a couple of weeks.  There is something very satisfying about using a pen until it has written its last inch.  I feel like I have accomplished something.  Conversely, I get frustrated when a pen stops writing and I can see that there is still ink in it.

Do you have any quirky pen habits?  I welcome your comments on this post.


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§ 6 Responses to PENS: Ballpoints I love

  • Adam Jackson says:

    I too own a Parker Jotter with a full stainless steel barren and I love it. I’ve been using it on the job for 4 years and replaced the original ink cartridge about 6 months ago. I think I would actually have an emotional reaction if something happened to that pen. No crying or anything just emotional. Grant your love of the obscure facinates me.

    • I know the feeling.  I lost my Cross a few months ago.  I loaned it to someone and, in a rare lapse of attention, forgot to get it back.  The next day I asked for it and the guy said he didn’t have it.  I expressed my disappointment.About two weeks later, the guy hunted me down with pen in hand.  He said he saw someone else with it and asked, “Where did you get that pen?”  When the other guy didn’t have a good answer, he snatched it back for me.  I was grateful.  I though it was interesting that he took my lost pen so seriously.  I guess he didn’t think it was a big deal until he knew that I was disappointed.

  • Marla says:

    Good grief, Grant! Who knew that pens could inspire such an essay! I have to admit, though, that I am also a sucker for new office supplies. Must be a family thing. I find new pens especially inspiring. I’ve always loved the physical act of writing – a disappearing art in the computer age, unfortunately. I’m a fan of the Pilot G2 Roller Ball Retractable Gel Pen, so smooth and such a great array of pretty colors! My kids steal my pens so I never have time to get emotionally involved.

    • I’ve been handwriting a lot more lately. Mostly personal journals. My latest favorite is a Pentel Energel. It runs out of ink fast but it’s so effortless it’s like writing on air. The Pilot G2 is a good pen. It’s a little light for my taste but it’s a good disposable for your situation. Thanks for the comment!

  • Paulo Corrêa says:

    I recently purchased “in the wild” a ballpoint pen CROSS SOLO model. I liked initially for its color (actually bicolor) red and green. I was surprised to see written on its cap “JAPAN”. I did not know that CROSS had a factory in Japan. Well, in relation to the pen, I think it well balanced, beautiful and very practical. Unfortunately, no longer produced.
    Paulo Correa

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