…the pen: a collection

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Your favourite pen is a Pilot G-2 07.  Always blue.  It has a comfortable rubberized grip, a click mechanism so no lid to lose, and the ink gives fluidity to your thoughts as it glides across the page.

The male swan is called a cob, the female a pen.  Once they find their one true love they stay together forever, the pen incubating her eggs on a mound of sticks and leaves and moss.  Mute swans are not mute.  Their windpipes are looped within their breastbones and will make a triumphant call after driving a predator away from their beloved nest. 

There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up
a pen to write. 
William Makepeace Thackeray

The first pen was created by the Egyptians who filled tubes of marsh grass with ink, squeezing it through the sharpened nib.  They also invented eye liner.  They liked to draw on whatever surface they could find.

In the city of Lakeland, Florida, a family brought two swans to live on the nearby lake, but the swans didn’t know each other and didn’t like each other.  They were kept in a pen to encourage intimacy, but once released the cob flew away, possibly as a statement to the family rather than his penitentiary cellmate.   Finally he returned and they began dipping their bills to one another in courtship, but there is no record of a subsequent brood.

You buy your favourite pen from your favourite stationers, halfway up the cobbled street in your home town.  In this shop you can also buy artist’s materials and gift stationery, such as bicycle paper clips and journals whose covers are embossed with green and gold peacocks or maps of the world.  For more serious stationeers, there is a multicoloured collection of Leuchtturms, your journal of choice.

I don’t use a pen.  I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.    
Jay Dratler

With the invention of the quill came the first cursive writing.  You imagine living in this age, holding a goose feather for the first time, dipping its nib into the ink and feeling its movement across the page, one letter running into the next letter and the next letter and the next letter.  A whole new way of writing; a whole new way of being.  What a thrill that must have been!

The squid is a cephalopod with a vestigial internal shell called a pen, which is made of chitin.  This serves to protect their internal organs and muscular jet propulsion system.  ‘Suckerin’ proteins make up the squid’s tentacle suckers, which is similar to spider silk.  Both creatures like to capture their prey; the squid releases mucus and ink to avoid becoming the prey.  It is virtually impossible to keep a squid in captivity as they value their swimming freedom and have been known to jump out of their tanks.  They will also happily eat any pen-mate they have been gifted.

The fountain pen was patented by the Italian, Petrache Poenaru in 1827, but it was prone to drying and blotting.  Lewis Edson Waterman solved the problem in 1884 with three channels of ink.  Poenaru died in 1875, so he went to his grave either thrilled or disappointed that his design had not been matched. 

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own storiesEducation has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.  I will not allow books to prove anything. 
Jane Austen.

In the 19th century Birmingham was a hub for the pen trade, manufacturing 75% of the world’s pen requirements.   A disused pen factory on Frederick Street was turned into a pen museum, and still houses over 5,000 examples of the steel nibs, reeds, quills and other pen paraphernalia that passed through the city.  The majority of the factory’s workers were women.

You have been locked in the pen many times in your life. With work, with children, with friends and lovers, with deference and obligation. Always the ink on the page is the place where you fly away, explore new ways of being, avoid becoming the prey.

You like to believe that if you’d worked in a 19th century pen factory, you would have slipped a steel-nibbed fountain pen into your pocket and taken it home to a quiet room where there were books on the shelves, books tucked beside pillows in the armchair, books open on the desk beneath the window. You would have sat at that desk and opened the journal your wages paid for, you would have uncapped your stolen fountain pen, and proved your own existence.

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