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19 February, 2024

Pens Through the Ages: A Look at Iconic Pens that Shaped History

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but how much do we really know about this everyday item? A fascinating journey through time reveals how pens evolved and which brands became icons that left an indelible mark on history. We will explore ten influential pen houses whose products revolutionised the way we write.

1) Parker Pen Company: The Birth of the Quink Ink

Parker Pens

The Parker Pen Company, founded by George Safford Parker in 1888, has been a cornerstone of innovation in the world of writing instruments. Known initially for their groundbreaking "Lucky Curve" feed system, Parker continued to push boundaries, culminating in the invention of the quick-drying Quink Ink in 1931. This was a transformative innovation, eliminating the need for blotting paper and setting a new standard for both fountain and ballpoint pens. Another iconic creation from Parker was the "51," released in 1941. Heralded as the 'world's most wanted pen,' the Parker 51 became a symbol of the American dream post-World War II and remains a collector's item. The brand also introduced the Jotter, the first high-quality ballpoint pen with a large ink cartridge, which became incredibly popular and further solidified Parker's reputation for innovation and quality.

2) Montblanc: The Pinnacle of Luxury

Montblanc Pens

From its establishment in 1906, Montblanc has epitomised luxury in writing culture. Its Meisterstück (Masterpiece) line of fountain pens, introduced in 1924, set an unprecedented standard in craftsmanship and attention to detail. Made from high-quality resin and adorned with gold or platinum accents, the Meisterstück is often considered the pinnacle of luxury writing instruments. Over the years, Montblanc has diversified its offerings to include rollerball and ballpoint pens, but the essence of luxury craftsmanship remains the same. Each pen undergoes rigorous tests and is meticulously crafted, involving up to 100 different steps to ensure quality. Montblanc pens are the preferred choice for many statesmen, business leaders, and professionals. The brand's iconic six-pointed snowcap emblem, inspired by the Mont Blanc mountain, has come to symbolise the pinnacle of writing culture.

3) Cross: American Longevity

Cross Pens

Founded in 1846 by Richard Cross and Edward W. Bradbury, A. T. Cross is the oldest surviving pen manufacturer in the United States. Initially, Cross was known for producing gold and silver casings for pencils, gradually evolving to include fountain pens and later ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils. One of their most famous creations is the Century, a sleek, elongated pen that comes in both ballpoint and fountain pen variations. This model was known for its elegance, longevity, and most importantly, refillable ink cartridges. Cross has maintained its emphasis on durability, even in an age dominated by disposable writing instruments. The brand has the unique distinction of being the pen of choice for various U.S. Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, who have used custom-engraved Cross pens to sign important legislation. This tradition adds to the brand's storied legacy and places it in a unique position in American history.

4) Pelikan: A German Marvel

Pelican Pens

Founded in Hanover in 1838 by Carl Hornemann, Pelikan started as a company producing ink and watercolours. It wasn't until 1929 that they launched their first fountain pen, which featured an ingenious piston-filling system. This patented innovation was groundbreaking for the time and became a standard for future fountain pens. The piston mechanism allowed for a larger ink capacity and a smoother writing experience. Pelikan quickly became a staple in academic and professional circles in Germany and globally. Over the years, the brand has expanded its offerings to include ballpoint pens, rollerballs, and even mechanical pencils. However, their Souverän line of fountain pens remains the flagship, admired for their classic design and intricate craftsmanship.

5) Lamy: The Vanguard of Design

Lamy Pens

Founded in Heidelberg in 1930, Lamy might be younger than some of its competitors, but its impact on the pen industry is unquestionable. Their game-changing contribution came in the form of the Lamy 2000, designed by Gerd A. Müller in 1966. This pen completely revolutionised the concept of writing instruments. Drawing inspiration from Bauhaus principles, the Lamy 2000 focussed on functional design, doing away with any unnecessary ornamentation. It was lauded for its ergonomic form, brushed stainless steel body, and semi-hooded nib, becoming an immediate icon in both design and functionality. The company has since continued its tradition of innovative design, offering a wide range of pens that suit various needs but always adhering to the principle of form following function.

6) Pilot: The Japanese Innovator

Pilot Pens

Pilot Corporation, established in 1918 by Ryosuke Namiki and Masao Wada, has been a pioneering force in the world of writing instruments. Hailing from Japan, Pilot blends traditional Japanese craftsmanship with modern technology. They made waves in the industry with the introduction of the Vanishing Point, the world's first retractable fountain pen, which combined the elegance of a fountain pen with the convenience of a retractable nib. Another remarkable innovation was the FriXion series, which featured thermo-sensitive ink that can be erased, blending the permanence of ink with the flexibility of pencil. Through these and many other innovations, Pilot has demonstrated a commitment to functional, user-centric design backed by the precision of Japanese craftsmanship.

7) Sheaffer: The Lever-Filled Revolution

Sheaffer Pens

Founded in 1912 in Fort Madison, Iowa, by Walter A. Sheaffer, the Sheaffer Pen Company brought a significant revolution in the world of fountain pens with the invention of the lever-filling system. This innovation dramatically improved the reliability and convenience of ink filling, setting the brand apart from its competitors. Over the years, Sheaffer has diversified its offerings to include fountain pens, ballpoint pens, rollerball pens, and mechanical pencils. The brand has carved a niche for itself by catering to a wide range of consumers, from students looking for budget-friendly options to professionals seeking luxurious writing instruments. Special collections like the "Legacy" and "Prelude" ranges have solidified Sheaffer's status as a brand that combines innovation with luxury. Today, Sheaffer is viewed as one of America's enduring gifts to the realm of fine writing tools.

8) Waterman: The Pioneer of Flow Control

Waterman Pens

Established by Lewis Edson Waterman in 1884, the Waterman brand has been a pioneer in writing technology. Waterman's three-fissure feed system, a novel invention at the time, was engineered to provide better control of ink flow, thereby eliminating issues like blotches and spills that plagued fountain pens of the era. This technological marvel made Waterman pens an instant hit and attracted the patronage of renowned individuals like Mark Twain. The brand has been committed to maintaining traditional craftsmanship, focusing on classic and elegant designs like the "Carene" and "Hémisphère" collections. Even in the contemporary era, Waterman has continued to be synonymous with quality and tradition, underlined by its luxurious writing instruments.

9) Uni-ball: The Contemporary Innovator

Uniball Pens

Emerging in the 1980s under the umbrella of the Mitsubishi Pencil Company, the Uni-ball brand has been a disruptor in the modern pen industry. Their Uni-ball Signo series, featuring proprietary gel ink technology, offered a novel writing experience that blended the smoothness of a fountain pen with the handiness of a ballpoint pen. But Uni-ball's innovation didn't stop at ink and design; they also pioneered in the realm of fraud prevention. They introduced ink that chemically bonds with paper to create a permanent record, deterring check washing and other fraudulent alterations. This combination of technological advancement and practical problem-solving has placed Uni-ball at the forefront of contemporary writing solutions.

10) Tombow: Bridging Art and Writing


Established in 1913, Tombow is a Japanese brand that has carved a unique niche for itself by intertwining the realms of writing and art. Although it started as a pencil manufacturer, Tombow rapidly expanded its portfolio to include a wide array of art supplies, office products, and pens. Their iconic dual-tip brush pens, known as the Tombow Dual Brush Pens, are a staple in the art community and have gained immense popularity among calligraphers and illustrators for their versatility. The dual-tip feature allows for fine and broad strokes, seamlessly facilitating the shift between meticulous details and bold brush effects. This innovative design has made Tombow a go-to brand for artists who require tools that can adapt to their varying needs. Moreover, the water-based ink used in these pens is blendable, offering a palette-like experience that artists find invaluable. Beyond brush pens, Tombow has continued to innovate in the writing space with products like their rollerball and ballpoint pens, underlining their dedication to quality and versatility. Their Mono series, for instance, highlights the brand’s commitment to excellence, delivering high-quality writing instruments suitable for both artistic and professional use.

Conclusion: The Pen's Might Through History
Pens have come a long way from their humble beginnings as reed sticks dipped in ink. They've been the tools used to draft constitutions, sign peace treaties, and create works of art. The six pen houses we've discussed represent a microcosm of the larger evolution in the world of writing instruments. Each has contributed uniquely to the art and science of writing, demonstrating that the pen is not merely a tool but a cultural and historical artefact that profoundly shapes our world.

The Pens Only Team