In the world of offbeat and obscure holidays and observances, today is National Ballpoint Pen Day, 2021. Who’d have thought there’d be an observance dedicated to something so lame and mundane as a ballpoint pen, of all things?
But when you really think about it, the ballpoint pen isn’t lame and mundane. Not when you consider how it came to be. According to the Wikipedia article, there were ideas going around for a ballpoint pen dating back to the 1880s. The one who filed the patent, John J. Loud, wanted something that could write on rough surfaces. It worked on leather, but nothing else, and the patent lapsed.
Fountain pens remained as an alternative to pencils until World War II. A Hungarian-Argentinean by the name of Laszlo Biro came up with the idea after he got sick and tired of the time it took to fill up fountain pens only for them to make a total mess and ruin everything. He noticed that the ink used in the newspaper printing process dried in a jiffy, and he came up with the idea to collaborate with his brother, who worked as a dentist and knew his way around chemistry, to develop the ink used in the prototype.
While fountain pens are still a thing, they’ve fallen out of favor in popularity once the ballpoint pen got its’ foothold in the market. After the war, other companies came up with their answer to what became referred to as the Biro pen. Some of those companies folded due to market saturation by the end of the ballpoint pen bubble’s end in the early 1950s.
It is around this time that the Bic pen came to the market, with the Cristal, their bestseller. There’s a reason why it’s a bestseller, imo. Other brands came to the market, both disposable and reusable varieties, along with the styles that had multiple colors.
Later on came the infamous erasable pen that graced every school supply list for middle school. At least it did for mine. Seriously, those erasable pens didn’t exactly live up to their name, nor did they erase as cleanly as a pencil and eraser did.
Besides, the way they handled and wrote sucked donkey balls., At least that’s the way I felt when I had to use ’em in middle school.
Up until 5th grade, pens weren’t on our school supply lists, and they weren’t allowed in the classroom at all. If someone had a pen, it was taken away, and sometimes even thrown away. It didn’t matter if it was being used for their own stuff and not the in-class assignments. Rules were rules, after all.
5th grade came along, and my school supply list included ballpoint pens. Only black or blue, no other colors allowed. We, or at least I, ended up rarely using them. The black pens I had were promotional ones from a family member’s job at the time, and the blue pens I got were the Pilot Better Ballpoint.
Those are nearly impossible to find in the stores these days, especially in the green colorway.
Middle school was far less draconian about using pens in schoolwork, but I continued using pencils. I’m guessing that was a holdover from elementary school, and halfway through 7th grade, I discovered the joy and fun of Gelly Roll pens. Those, along with other companies’ answer to them, like the Pilot Milky (loved those to bits, btw!)
I went on a mission to find every color I could when we could afford them, and when I took up journaling on a more serious level, that was what I used exclusively.
High school came, and their approach outside of standardized tests and subjects where pencils were still needed, it was laissez faire. When the Gelly Rolls became harder and harder to find in the stores, my go-to pens ended up being the Bic Cristal and the Bic Shimmers (‘member those? Pepperidge Farm remembers!).
Those Bic Shimmers were so much fun to write with. My only complaint was that there weren’t more neon greens included, only that one loner out of the blue, pink, and purple ones. From what I’ve gathered, the Bic Shimmers line was discontinued, and the colors that were once part of that lineup is now part of the Cristal line instead.
Most of the pens in that repurposed jelly jar in the above image are Bic Cristals in black, blue, and red, used for my day job and for the blog. There’s a pen with streamers off to the side I couldn’t pass up on a trip to Wally World awhile ago, along with a Smencil pencil. The orange pen in the foreground isn’t actually orange, but it’s one of those promo things you find as freebies on demo tables.
I do, however, have some ballpoint pens that write in orange ink, though.
Outside of the occasional pencil I’ll use for old time’s sake, ballpoint pens are my go-to when it comes to writing stuff down in my travel notebook, for the blog, and the day job. Since finding green pens on their own outside of those office supply store displays are a tall order to hunt for, it’s blue and black for me, along with whatever other colors I’ve amassed over the years. For journaling, I’m currently using the rollerball pens, and have been for the past several years.
Over to you, readers. What are your favorite ballpoint pens? Got a favorite color you use? Sound off below, and let’s talk.