Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paean to a pen - The Bic Orange Fine Point

Last night, I bent down to grab a catalog that had fallen on the floor in front of the couch; my wife had been reading it before she dozed off in front of the TV. As I hunched over, I felt a sharp pain in my thigh. A Bic Orange Fine Point pen in my pants pocket had gotten jammed between my gut and my upper thigh.


No damage done, though, except this morning when I emptied my pocket before putting my pants in the dirty clothes basket I saw the barrel of the pen had shattered.


The ink hadn't leaked - which is fortunate - but I was dismayed. I had ordered the pen in a box of 20 from a technical supply company in the U.K. and had it shipped from overseas.


You see, these are special pens.


When I was a little kid, growing up in Massachusetts, as I learned how to read and write, these were my favorite pens. You probably remember them, too; narrow hexagonal solid orange barrels with the typical conical Bic cap (the color the same as the ink). A few years ago, when I researched the subject, I learned the reason the pen was a trendsetter was because it was the first model when Bic started using tungsten for its ball points, as opposed to steel.


It was originally called the medium fine point and was introduced in 1961. The pen wrote well and had a good feel. I've always thought the traditional medium fine point pen had too thick a line, more likely to smudge. It's a great disposable pen, though, the biggest seller in history.


But I liked my orange and black pen.


I suppose the reason it was called the medium fine point was because as Bic introduced tungsten tips it went a bit too far and came out with what was called the Accountant Extra Fine Point - an extremely fine point. It had a white barrel and the conical plastic cap had no little clip sticking out. Instead it had a wire clip.


I tried those too, but they weren't worth the extra money, and they were so fine, the ink tended to jam.


Reading between the lines, after those Accountant Extra Fine Point pens were dropped I guess they called the orange pens the fine points and the "Cristals" - one thing that had always distinguished those pens is that they have clear barrels - became the medium fine points.


I used the fine points all the years I was in school and college; because I could write so small I always found them very handy for taking notes.


I don't know about you, but I never noticed that sales of the fine points were discontinued years ago. Back in 2003 I started as editor at a weekly paper in Winnsboro, and while looking through my desk I found one of the pens. That's when it hit me that I hadn't seen one in years. I got on the internet and learned they haven't been sold in the U.S., Mexico or South America since 1995.


I suppose after being sold in such large quantities for over 30 years Bic decided it was old hat, or something like that.


Finding the pen prodded the thoughts that led to my short story "Pen Pal", which Jayme Blaschke published at Revolution SF in 2004. I essentially recount my thoughts and recollections upon finding the pen in the story, which is still available online here. The art I've included with this blog entry illustrates the story; I always thought it was very good. It was done by Robert E. Mansperger, Jr. of New Hampshire.


I later found another pen at the office, and then a couple of years later I went to work at a semi-weekly in New Boston. Like many small town papers in the past, it had also had an office supply business, which they were in the process of phasing out. It was probably an indication of how slow things has been in office supplies, but I found seven of the pens there, and I bought them all.


Over the past few years I've been concerned about the pens because they seem so fragile, and last year I decided that - international commerce being the way it is - I should be able to buy the pen from some overseas supplier and have some shipped here. Here is the page from Bic's own web site about the product: http://www.bicworld.com/en/products/details/8/orange-fine


But as you notice, it is still not available here in the U.S. and when I contacted foreign office supply companies, they said they didn't ship to the U.S. I finally was able to buy a box of 20 of the pens when I found them in the catalog of a technical supply company in the U.K.


Ok, getting back to the broken pen, I had a thought as I readied to throw it in the trash: Transplant its ink supply into one of the old pens that had run dry. It only took a few minutes, with the help of pliers, but I was able to make the switch.


I took stock of my supply now. I have 22 of the pens - six of the old ones (including the one with the transplant) and 15 new ones. I have given a few away (one went a few months ago to my collaborator Ed Morris). I gave Jayme Blaschke one of the original old ones in 2004 at ArmadilloCon.


There is a slight difference between the pens, the older ones are faded a bit; the biggest difference is that the old ones have an airhole halfway up the barrel. I would think it had something to do with equalizing air pressure. The new ones also have the Bic logo on them and the word "Fine". The old ones are blank.


I carry one of these pens all the time, and people have noticed. I was at a con earlier this year and when a fellow panelist asked for a pen to make note, and I offered mine, she was surprised: "I haven't seen one of these in years!"


I am thinking about getting a table at the next ArmadilloCon to peddle my collections; "Pen Pal" is in both "Fantastic Texas" and "Texas & Other Planets", so maybe I will thrown in a pen with any purchases.


I recommend the pen. It is light, thin, hard and durable and it just feels good in your hand. the The ballpoint is just the right width and it writes in smooth, easy strokes. If you want one, let me know.

8 comments:

  1. I remember these pens but never really cared for them. I used fountain pens when I was in high school and college. I would however happily take one if I was able to attend ArmadilloCon.

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  2. Anonymous10:56 PM

    These pens are still available up here in Canada. BIC never stopped supplying Canada with these fine points. Because we are more like the UK than the US we get alot of the same items as the UK. These fine points are used mostly by editors and accountants of course. As a writer of SF and horror I use them to edit my hardcopy before sending out stories.

    We have the BIC fine point (all orange barrel) red, blue and black. The green is only available in the UK. Anyway here they are sold in boxes of 12 OR you can get two packs (two in a plastic pouch baggie) at many convenience stores. If you check out bic canada catalog (through bic world) you'll see a sample.

    George.

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  3. I just ordered a dozen each(blue and black) from http://www.wheresmybic.us/writing/ I usually am a zebra pen junkie but I really like these. I wish I could get the red ones without ordering from overseas.

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  4. Anonymous7:30 AM

    I would love a dozen of the blue. please email me and let me know how I can get them. curvacious819@yahoo.com

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  5. Anonymous3:21 PM

    I can appreciate your pen love. I was on line seeking my own favorite pen, the beautifully extra fine white stick Bic that I used to buy a couple dozen at a time (mine never clogged). Just can't bring myself t pay $6.95 on e-bay for one (capitalism!). I was going to settle for the orange, but my local stationery store can't get it. The rest of the pens are just disappointing. Guess I'll try Canada!

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  6. I stumbled upon your site as I was as o looking for these pens. I wrote with them in high school as well and did like the extra fines.
    like you, I think the medium points are way too thick.
    sad to learn they can't be purchased domestically any longer.

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  7. Hi Lou,

    I am also a fan of fine point Bic pens, I use them to write and draw. Did you know that they make them with a cristal barrel? I like them because you can see the ink level through the clear orange plastic.

    http://www.bicworld.com/en/products/details/6/cristal-fine

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  8. Anonymous5:35 PM

    The Cristals and Orange Fines sold in Europe are mostly manufactured at Bic's factory in France. They are little different than the ones originally made in the US and now Mexico (sold in Canada). The French version has a different nib/cartridge that until recently was fused to the barrel of the pen and could not be removed. The caps were more elongated, and the barrel was round at the non-business end of the pen. I've always thought the French version (in both fine and medium) wrote better and seemed to have a smoother nib than the Mexican versions. You can buy almost all of the European Bic pens (including the Orange Fines and transparent Cristal Fines) from eBay and Amazon.

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