Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Assignment #2: Object Historical Context of Bill's Pen

A fine writing pen conjures up many images in my mind, mostly of important business men in tailored suits. Or maybe of my grandfather, who used to carry a nice pen around with him, the same one he used for the crossword every morning. In my mind at least, a good, sturdy, maybe even a little fancy, pen is the mark of an era gone by. A time when people wrote letters, signed checks, and there was no such thing as emails or online shopping. In my all too vivid imagination, the quintessential owners of Montblanc pens were dignified professionals, or scholars, or business moguls. Montblanc pens were marketed, from the beginning, as finely crafted luxury pens1. So it stands to reason those who owned them were most likely upper middle class. I think this remains true to this day. These pens don’t run cheap, and the fact that so much can be done in our modern world without touching a pen to paper makes me think that those who own these pens still see them as a status symbol. You’re average Joe doesn’t carry around a nice pen, that he wants back when you borrow it. He uses a cheap Bic pen, one that’s chewed on the end, and came in a pack of twelve. Certainly looking at Bill’s pen, you can tell how well made it is, you can tell the quality of the materials used, that it was made to last, and this leads me to many of my conclusions about who might have owned a pen like it. Someone who cares about quality, that was thoughtful (or perhaps outdated) enough to still use a pen to get things done, and wants the distinctive Montblanc logo sticking out of their shirt pocket. 
However, there’s another way to look at this. What if, when I looked at Bill’s pen, I didn’t see the white star logo; I didn’t see the classic style of a by-gone era it reminds me of? What if I saw a writing utensil? What if I saw it in its most basic form? Then maybe its ownership has changed over time. The first pens, in that most literal sense, were ancient. The Egyptians were using hollow reeds and inks as pens more than six thousand years ago.2 Since then the technology of pens has changed dramatically, but so has their use and ownership. I’m under the impression, from my humble historical studies, that writing in ancient times was very rare, reserved for the scribe, and very few others. It was used for the most important purposes; whether it was creating records, or consolidating religious texts, its use was very official. Those who could write, who could fully put to use a writing instrument, a pen, would expand exponentially over time. In today’s world, people from all walks of life use pens. Today the pen is used by moody teenagers to record their angst in journals, by students to copy notes or a teacher’s words of advice, by a bored cashier to doodle on an old receipt, to scrawl a quick note in a get well soon card for a coworker, or to sign a mortgage for a couple’s first home together. It seems that once mankind found one use for a pen, we were determined to find them all.
  1. http://www.montblanc.com/history
  2. http://barnyard.syr.edu/~vefatica/writing.txt

No comments:

Post a Comment