A Return To Normal Service?
We were pleased to observe that in the recent pictures of President Biden signing his first Executive Orders in the Oval Office, he was using a proper pen; a Cross Century II Rollerball to be precise. As it happens his predecessor also started out his tenure with a Cross but quite quickly switched over to a Sharpie, those chunky thick marker pens which are so useful but somehow rather un-presidential. Apparently, Donald Trump claimed the Cross was “a horrible pen, and it was extremely expensive” and persuaded the makers of the Sharpie to produce a black version with his name inscribed on the side asking them “Can you make it look rich?”.
Now, of course, Donald Trump’s time in the White House has featured many breaks with tradition but sticking with pens for now, what, we wondered, is the tradition where the President’s pens are concerned? What pen does the President usually use? And what about other world leaders? Do they choose a pen manufactured in their own country? Are they free gifts? Is it their own pen? Well after a little research, it seems the answers vary quite a bit but for sure, the pen has been present at many interesting occasions, often proving the maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword.
The Treaty of Versailles, which brought an end to the First World War, was signed by Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, with a Waterman Ideal fountain pen, or so Watermans claimed in their advertising. Whilst they certainly did produce some pens for the occasion, it is not certain whether they were ever used and there is some evidence that the signatories actually used their own pens to sign. A Waterman Ideal was definitely the writing instrument of choice for King Edward VIII in 1936 when he signed his abdication though; it was auctioned in 2001 still in its original box for around $8,000. Neither of these men were presidents though and where presidents and top-ranking generals are concerned, the Parker Pen is king.
Parker Pens - Choice Of Presidents Past
Parker was the original pen of choice for US presidents. An American company (though now the pens are made in France) they pop up at many key moments in history. A Parker 51, considered by many to be the best pen ever made, belonging to General Dwight D Eisenhower, later President Eisenhower, was used to sign the treaty that brought about the end of World War II in Europe. Such was his disregard for the Nazis though, he refused to be in the same room as them and had the pens sent in to be used.
Parker pens were also used on board the USS Missouri to agree the surrender of Japan a few months later. The Parker Big Red Duofold was used by General MacArthur, though it was said to be his wife’s pen. He had it specially sent out to him to use for the historic signing. Admiral Nimitz used a trusty Parker 51 for his part in the signing.
Parker pens went on to be used to sign arms reduction and peace treaties into the seventies, eighties and nineties. President Nixon was made a gift of three Parker 75 pens, made in titanium which may have come from the Apollo 15 moon mission; certainly the plaque attached to them contained actual moon dust. Nixon gave two away on a trip to China but kept one for himself and one of the pens later turned up at an auction, selling for over $22,000.
Parker also provided four special pens for the signing of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Arms Treaty. The pens were sterling silver with gold accents and had the signatures of both Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev engraved on the barrels. Reagan apparently asked for their titles to be added underneath but then went on to use a felt tip for the actual signing, perhaps foreshadowing a certain Sharpie-wielding successor?
Parker’s involvement with peace in the Middle East continued with the Oslo Accords of 1993. Though negotiated with Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s Yasir Arafat, the actual agreements were signed with a Duofold Centennial rollerball at the White House by Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas. Peres, Rabin and Arafat went on to gain the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts though Rabin was assassinated the following year for his support.
The Ceremonial Use Of Pens
Pens are also used in a somewhat ceremonial capacity to sign bills into law by the President. Because of the historical nature of the event, several pens are used and then donated to those who have helped create the bill. This is a White House tradition that dates back many years. Barrack Obama signed the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) with 22 pens and Bill Clinton used 40 pens in 1997 for the Taxpayers Relief Act, all the pens then being passed on as gifts.
Astonishingly though Lyndon Johnson was said to have used as many as 75 pens to sign in the Civil Rights Act in 1964, all for one signature! Lucky recipients of the barely used writing instruments included Rosa Parks, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Unsurprisingly perhaps, JFK would write out his name in full, to make the task of using all those pens a little easier. George W Bush however preferred to use just the one pen for signing, hanging on to it and then sharing the unused pens as souvenirs.
Lately though the Parker has been dropped as the go-to pen. German manufacturers Montblanc were said to be very unhappy when Bill Clinton not only used a fake Montblanc to sign in a bill, but then gave out other fakes as souvenirs. American brand Cross (mostly made in China these days) has been the presidential pen of choice for a while now which brings us neatly back to the 46th President.
For now it seems that a Cross rollerball is the weapon of choice for reconnecting the USA with the Paris Climate Accord, re-joining the WHO plus a host of other welcome initiatives. Whether Cross were relieved about the temporary break with their brand given the contentious use their pens were being associated with is anybody’s guess. Politics aside though we can probably all agree that a Cross black lacquered rollerball with gold trim, though no Parker 51, is an acceptably presidential writing instrument and the Sharpie, great little pen that it is, can be quietly returned to its labelling duties.