Homo Scribitus’s Day

Homo Scribitus’s Day

On January 23, Handwriting Day, a somewhat unconventional holiday, is celebrated. This “red-letter holiday” was invented by the US Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA).

Handwriting Day was created to remind us of the role and importance of handwriting, to think about how to preserve old traditions and to talk about the uniqueness of every person's handwriting.

It is almost impossible to find a person on our planet who has never used a pen. It is not by chance that this everyday tool was titled as the Queen of Writing Instruments.

For me, as a pen collector, Handwriting Day has a special meaning. More than 30 years ago, I was seized by a particular burning passion, namely, stylophilia. My first day as a new correspondent of a major newspaper began with the solemn ceremony of handing of a notebook and a branded ballpoint pen. I immediately started using the notebook but decided to keep the pen with the golden inscription on its casing as a souvenir. Since that day I have continued to keep the pens that were bought, donated, found at flea markets, and, frankly speaking, "pocketed." Today, I have about 7,000 pieces of writing instruments from almost all over the world.

From Cutting Tool to Microcomputer

We know who invented the telegraph and television, who invented typing and the electric light bulb, and who built the steam engine and the computer. But we are highly unlikely to find out who were the authors of the most ingenious inventions such as writing tools. For thousands of years, ancient people have been communicating with each other through sounds and gestures. The invention of a pen was one of the major steps of humanity's transition from primeval backwardness to civilization.

The story of the pen began with a sharpened cutting tool made of stone. With its help, ancient people made pictures, signs and symbols on cave walls and rocks. The first mention of writing system in the Bible is associated with the story of the Ten Commandments inscribed on a slab.

About 4,000 years BC people began to use thin rectangular clay plates to convey messages. A wooden or bronze stick or a bone served as a pen. The words were written on the surface of the soft clay. Then the plates were dried in the sun. Archaeologists found entire "libraries" of these clay tablets.

The ancient Egyptians invented hieroglyphs. They were written on papyrus with reed brushes. Paintings on the tombs of the pharaohs preserved the images of these simple tools. The Egyptians wrote with ink made from the sap of plants infused with certain kinds of insects. Later on, people learned to make parchment from animal skins. Along with it, a cane pen was invented. A stick with a sharpened and forked end became known as calamus.

The Romans improved the writing utensils further. They wrote on wax with an oblong metal rod. One end of it was sharpened and the other ended with a spatula. If it was necessary to correct the record or remove it completely, wax was smoothed with the spatula heated in advance. The Romans called this rod a stylus. This is where the word style comes from. The Roman poet Horace gave advice to aspiring writers, "Turn over the style more often," thereby stressing the need for careful editing of what was written. Interestingly, the word “stylus” came to us through the ages. Today, it denotes a tool for working with a personal computer.

The greatest discovery took place in the Russian northwestern city of Novgorod (currently, Veliky Novgorod) on July 26, 1951. The first birch-bark writing plate was found there. A scratched text of 30 lines was barely visible on the blackened bark. It was about the duties of a number of villages in favor of the unknown Foma. Then other birch-bark writings were found. Along with them, there were a lot of metal and bone rods with a point on one end and a spatula on the other. Thus, the pisalo, an olden Russian version of the stylus, became known to the public.

Homo Scribitus’s Day

From Goose Feather to Microcomputer

Bird feather has existed for record-breaking long time in our ancestors' life – since VIII century A.D. up to the end of XIX century. Spaniards were the first Europeans who started to pluck geese, swans and even turkeys to get the so much needed writing materials. The "technology of production" was perfected down to the fine points. In spring, one of five feathers had to be plucked from a strong young goose. To be more precise, from the left wing in order not to obscure the text during writing. Then the feather was burnt in hot sand. As a result, it became dry and stiff. Finally, the tip had to be sharpened with a knife. The English word pen was derived from Latin penna (quill). In those ancient times, a lot of feathers were needed. In XVIII century up to 27 mln pens were annually sent from Russia to England.

There are a lot of mysterious and sometimes funny cases related to the writing tools that are more familiar to us. The first metal pen was patented in France in 1803.

However, only three decades later, it got recognition on the market. The English were particularly successful in the production of steel quills. In the second half of the 19th century, the Birmingham plant alone produced 1 mln such quills a year.

According to a corporate legend, in 1883, while Lewis Edson Waterman, an US insurance broker, was signing a very profitable contract, the ink supply in his pen failed. The deal was called off. Waterman, who was angry at the whole world, quit his profession and a year later invented a prototype of the modern capillary pen. However, according to scientists, Waterman was beaten by the ancient Egyptians. A lead tube with a pointed end was found among the treasures of the famous tomb of King Tutankhamun. A reed was placed inside it, and a dark liquid was also poured into it. The tube itself was inserted in a copper handle. The liquid seeped through the reed, accumulated on the tip and thus "smeared" the papyrus.

The ballpoint pen had a similar history. It is known for certain that the reporter Laszlo Biro and his brother George were its inventors. In 1943, the first commercial samples of the ballpoint pen were made. On October 29th, 1945, a total of 10,000 of these pens were sold out at once in New York. Curiously, they were advertised as "underwater writing pens."

Meanwhile, Armenian scientists reconstructed the very real ballpoint pen used by the scribes from the drawing dated 1166. It was a bamboo stick, consisting of two halves. In the middle of it, the hollow ball filled with ink was placed. In the manuscripts, preserved in the depository of ancient manuscripts in Yerevan, a certain scribe Stepanos said that once dipping the pen, he had wrote 900 lines at a time. This was about one sheet.

There were also crises in the glorious history of writing tools. Namely, the printing press invented by Gutenberg, the invention of the typewriter, and, finally, of the computer. In this confrontation, pens not only have survived but they have continued to serve people.

Present progress only helps pens getting better. Here is, for instance, a note about the notebook pen from the Internet. It is reported that "a mechanical happiness" which converts your handwritten ideas to a digital format was created. But it requires special paper. Authors of the project put a processor and a mini video camera in the pen. They register the pen's movements, analyze the data and save up to 80 pages of text.

Korean designer Ruben Peng created a pen that enables the user to text and send emails. All you have to do is to write a message on paper, to encircle the name of the recipient, to switch on your cell phone and to send the letter. The US designers went even further. The information about the development of a pen-phone was published on one of the websites. Among other things, the device is equipped with an MP3 player and voice recorder.

World is Blooming With the Point of Pen

There are many examples in the history of humankind when writing instruments and writing itself influenced the course of history in one way or another and determined the destinies of entire peoples and individuals. Just a few examples from my collection of "pen" stories.

Homo Scribitus’s Day

Parker pen, with which the Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov put his signature under the act of surrender of Germany. It is kept in the museum on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow.

Let’s take a look at the famous Parker pen, for instance. In 1898, the Peace Treaty, which ended the Spanish-American War, was signed with this pen. In the victorious 1945, the act of unconditional surrender of Germany was signed by the Victory Marshal Zhukov with the Parker pen. In 1973, the U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers signed the agreement using Parker that ended the war in Vietnam. Custom-made Parker 75 pens were used for the signing of the nuclear arms control treaty by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

However, there are some real but different stories. The manager of a small Russian trading company supplying frozen seafood made 2,000 pens with the coordinates of his company for presentations. Somehow, one of the pens made a long trip to Kazakhstan and was left in a room of a local hotel. There, it drew the attention of some other businessman who soon ordered three truckloads of products from the firm. So, a writing tool worth 10 rubles ($0.13) brought the company $50,000 in profit.

Apparently, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had bad luck. The pen worth $ 1,750 that was presented to him by a businessman almost cost his career. The law forbids Israeli civil servants to accept expensive gifts. Meanwhile, as the local press found out, the Israeli Prime Minister was an avid collector of expensive writing implements.

In the early days of pen collecting I could not have imagined that these inanimate and, at first sight, primitive objects were admired by prominent poets and novelists. Now I know that I am in a good company with the Roman poet Horace, the sonnet writer Francesco Petrarch, the Russian Nobel Prize winning writer Ivan Bunin, and Uzbek poet and historian Muniz Khorezmi. The latter has dedicated an entire cycle of poems to writing, calligraphy, pens and fountain pens. The Chinese poet Ai Qing wrote a beautiful poem about writing instruments.

Look at the leaf – there is a person's mark.

With point of pen world is blooming

Look again at the instrument of writing.

It has no soul of its own.

Look again. You can see that

There is a war hiding in them.

And yet the tools themselves

have no value.

They have no feeling, no consciousness.

Instead of Afterward

For many years Glen Bowen from the US was considered the owner of one of the richest pen collections in the world. But then he sold his famous collection of writing tools. With the help of this money, he began to issue a magazine about the history of pens. At one time, there was even a Russian-language version of the magazine. Bowen once called a fountain-pen "an elegant mechanism, marching through the centuries and heating human feelings and imagination.”

It is so true! I can only add that the "writing man" is also a reliable link between times and generations.

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