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Pen Names

Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 5/6/21

Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 coined the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” He used it to profess that communication, in this case with a writing implement, was more effective and …

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Pen Names


Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 coined the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” He used it to profess that communication, in this case with a writing implement, was more effective and powerful than violence. It was a line from his play about Cardinal Richelieu.

Actually, it is a little ironic since one of the Cardinal's most famous quotes is “give me six lines written by the most honorable of men and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.” In any event Bulwer-Lytton's play was probably written with a fountain pen since the IBM Selectric typewriter or the Commodore 64 computer did not gain prominence until the late 20th century.

Historians agree that the modern-day pen had its origin around 3000 B.C. To write on papyrus and parchment, ancient Egyptians fashioned a reed pen by using tubular marsh plants like bamboo. One end was carved into a nib while ink was poured into the hollow tube. According to Charles Vanderwalt, a noted expert of writing implements, a nib refers to any pointed thing, such as a spear. In his book “I'll Use the Spear” he postulated that in a violent battle the pen is not that mighty by comparison.

The reed pen with its ink filled tube, must have made quite a mess. The Egyptians, who created and improved many things, did not have the time to develop a better pen. They were probably too busy figuring out the design of the Great Pyramid and how to spell the word Sphinx.

The reed pen continued spilling ink on paper until around the 6th century. That was when the quill pen was developed in Seville, Spain. After locals suffered too many cuts and bruises trying to grab porcupine quills, they resorted to plucking feathers from more non-aggressive animals such as turkeys, swans and geese. One's economic standing was evident by which bird's feather you used as a quill. Writing with a swan feather showed you were a person of means.

Once the feathers were dried, one end was carved into a point letting me again use the often-neglected word, nib. The nib was dipped in ink filling a small portion of the feather. With the nib stroking the paper and the feathered end of the quill wiggling around one could write with less of a mess.

Speaking of writing, the quill pen changed the way people wrote. Prior to the invention of the quill, people only wrote in capital letters. Since the quill was able to glide quickly on paper, people began adding lower case letters and eventually cursive to their missives and documents. John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence would not have had the same impact if he had used a reed pen and signed in block, capital letters smudging ink all over the document.

Eventually quill makers grew tired of chasing after geese and swans. So, in 1822 John Mitchell developed the steel-point pen. Able to be mass produced they were cheaper to make much to the delight of America's fowl population.

Five years later, frustrated by having to constantly dip pens in ink, Petrache Poenaru invented the fountain pen. With its ink barrel it did not need to be dipped. Unfortunately, the design was flawed causing either too little or too much ink to flow.

In 1884, Lewis Waterman perfected the fountain pen that finally solved the ink distribution problem. Finally, there was a pen that was easily transportable.

All those previous inventions led to the ballpoint pen. Invented by Lazlo Biro it incorporated quick-drying ink with a ball-tip. The patent for this device was bought by Marcel Bich in 1945 who went on to sell over 100 billion ballpoint pens.

In fact, I am certain all my readers have at least one in their possession. To make the name of his pen easier to remember, Marcel swallowed his pride, dropped the last letter of his name and called it a Bic.


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