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It’s Only A Pen

Posted by Dirck on 1 August, 2013

A while ago I was reading a thread on a forum enquiring whether, at the time of production, a particular model of pen would have been treated with the degree of reverence which it currently seems to draw.  As is ever the case on the internet, there was a diversity of opinion with various degrees of heat underlying them.  I didn’t participate, having previously uttered heretical views on the model in hand.

I was, however, put into a frame of contemplation.  I suspect there isn’t really a uniform answer the to question, since it examines human behaviour.  Whatever the possession in question, some people will pursue a policy of careful maintenance, others a course of indifferent neglect, and a few will thrust for the pointy bits of the bell-curve through both idolatry and focussed exercises in destruction.

I add to this generality some observations of films made in ages past, and likewise of pens.  The films somewhat bear out my general appreciation, since in general whatever writing they include is not really the point of the narrative– even in the first days of cinema, one didn’t find “A Clerk Engaged Upon His Writing” drawing crowds– so whatever writing goes on will be largely informed by the habits of the actor rather than the specific dictates of the director.  The way the pens were treated depends somewhat on the context, but that treatment ran from careful through to negligent tossing of a malfunctioning Parker in Hell is for Heroes.  This appreciation of the ways of past pen treatment is coloured somewhat by a knowledge of actors, both from reports and direct encounters; if the scene isn’t about the treatment of the pen, or the character isn’t given to care and precision, there’s a tendency towards negligence.  So that result is skewed.

There is also the matter of materials.  The early hard rubber pens, although somewhat less brittle when fresh from the factory, were not super-sturdy, and the way they feel underlines this aspect of their nature.  I have one that I’ve described as having inverse weight, and even newly made hard rubber pens, of which there are some in the world, have an aura of organic frailty about them.  One doesn’t (usually) cringe from handling them, but neither does one with even a fragment of mindfulness toss them briskly down on the desk when the note is done.  Celluloid is a little less disaster-prone, and has a similar way of informing the fingertips about its relative durability.  Modern plastics, for all their alien, factory-born nature, do likewise (and yes, I’m aware that the same phrase can be applied to cellulose nitrate and vulcanised rubber; but each still bears some wisp of tree-ness about it).

That last notion interacts somewhat with the individual sense of how to handle possessions, of course.  A more careful person will notice fragility sooner than the carefree.  I imagine that there were, back in the day, people who firmly tossed their hard rubber pen onto the desk once note was writ, but they are apt to have given up on pens in favour of pencils after the expense of that kind of habit bore in on them.

In a different place, I liken fountain pens of days gone by as rough equivalent to today’s smart-phones.  Some are more desirable than others, all are more or less expensive tools of communication.  Did people treat pens with deference back in the day?  Well… I think the answer might come from watching the way people treat their phones.  Careful maintenance, indifferent neglect, and all stops in between.  You might make allowance for the relatively recent notion of disposability in that observation, though; people in the ago didn’t expect to have to replace expensive things at anything like our current pace.

Today’s pen, not getting a lot of neglect to date: Pelikan Souverän M600, although…
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc Racing Green  has been in it for rather a while.

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