Thursday, September 2, 2021

Newest Acquisitions (Virtual "Show & Tell") ~ part 249

"Back to School" Pens ~ Part 3

Back to our "school pens" sub-theme now....and today we're featuring (courtesy of VPCer Trevor) a writing instrument brand very familiar to many students, both past and present!

(All text + last three photos courtesy of Trevor; the other photos are from Amazon/Google/eBay ~ please click on images to enlarge)

"Cheap Chic - A retrospective of sorts:

Have you ever thought little of something? Like REALLY little? So little, in fact that it is barely a blip on your radar, only to have it suddenly consume your very existence?

Let's take a trip, shall we?

Back in the 1980s I was an elementary school student. I remember distinctly a day in grade 4. Not the particular day, but the events of it. We, the students, were told to put down our pencils and the teacher passed out pens to each of us. A Pen! So exciting! I’d used pens on occasion at home, but the rule for school was pencil. But now, all that was changing. The pen handed out to each of us was the ubiquitous BiC Cristal. It had that familiar hexagonal clear plastic body, blue cap and blue plug in the end. The writing tip, that classic gold plastic surround with the chrome writing surface containing the tiny metal ball. The ink level clearly visible through the clear body. The size of the pen was similar to that of the Berol pencils I seemed to end up with, so it was immediately comfortable. I distinctly remember the teacher telling us that we would have to learn control as a ballpoint pen will feel slipperier on the paper than a pencil does. I don’t recall if I ever noticed that in reality. I’ve always found ballpoint pens to offer a lot of friction.

Over the years many of those BiC Cristal pens have passed through my hands. Most of them getting chewed on, caps lost, broken in half… I’m not even ashamed to say I tried running the odd one through a pencil sharpener. Ah the destructive mind of a child… As school progressed, I of course would ask for more elaborate pens. The BiC 4 colour ones were a favourite amongst my classmates, so of course I needed one too."


"Being the “Follow the beat of my own off-time drummer”, I of course had to trade the blue body of my 4-colour pen for the orange one another student had."


 "I also would beg for the Paper Mate EraserMate2 ballpoints..."

...and my personal favourite, the Venus brand ones that looked like the BiC Cristal, but the ink always seemed a bit smooshier. I always felt like they wrote a bit darker and the colour was more saturated. I’ve always preferred soft lead pencils for the same reason. During this time period I also had my first foray into fountain pens, but that’s a story for another time.

When I got to high school, my grade 8 English teacher had an affinity for the BiC Cristal, or BiC Pen as he called it. He was a prolific storyteller in class, and one of his most famous around the school was the "BiC Pen Story” in which he was forced to hitch hike thanks to a water pump failure, and he was prepared to use a one such pen as a weapon in the event that the kind folks who picked him up and gave him ride were to turn violent.

After that, in my mind they were just cheap pens and I had moved on to things digital, and when I needed something to use when I became an industrial parts sales guy in the early part of this century, I found the Uni-ball Signo and used them for many years, finding them comfortable and consistent. "



"Let’s jump back to present day. I am running full bore into the “Nice, but affordable” part of pens and their use. My love of the Parker Jotter ballpoint style and Sheaffer NoNonsense fountain pens is well known in the Vancouver Pen Club, Lady Luck has smiled on me a couple of times to find some more expensive pens at great prices, like my Parker 75, found at Value Village for $10 and a $35 Sheaffer Intensity Ferrari that is normally over $100. But then…"

"On one of my daily Amazon window shopping excursions, I spotted a pack of BiC Cristal pens with Bold tips… in a bunch of bright colours! My eyes almost fell out of my head! It was an 8 pack for $16ish dollars. That seemed rather unreasonable, and I didn’t buy them. In my head, these were still supposed to be super cheap pens. Well… let me tell you about all the hours I spent thinking about those colours… There were lots of them. Hours that is. Then one day, I’m in line for the postal outlet at my local pharmacy, and the line happens to run down their little but well stocked stationery aisle. I’d found the rare refills for my Paper Mate Profile here once, so I’m always on the lookout for interesting things here. And what do I spot? The same pack of 8 Bold Cristals. 1.6mm tips, 8 colours… It was difficult to contain my excitement. $4! SOLD! I grabbed one from the peg and once finished with my post office business, I proudly took those pens to the check out. When I got them home I tore into their plastic prison and gave each one a try. Thick lines, saturated colours, smooth feel against the paper. I was shocked. I was impressed.

So, my old memory and brain kicked in. Am I remembering wrong? Are these “cheap” pens maybe better than I remember? Have they improved? Was I just a picky kid? Have I entered a dream world? Is this a dream within a dream?

At Staples a few weeks later I find a pack of Cristal Fashion pens4 colours, 14 pens, $3. 1.2mm instead of the 1.6mm of the other ones. Does size matter? Is that the key?"

"Get them home and they are pretty nice too. Hmm. Now I’m getting dangerously close to diving in headfirst. Later, on another trip, I resist the temptation to buy a 97-cent pack of a dozen standard blue ones. The pack with blue, black, and red is a harder one to resist. I buy pencil crayons instead. Phew… dodged a bullet there.

A few days later I’m on Amazon again and likely because I’ve been looking at all these Cristals for the last few days/weeks, I’m presented with a recommendation: a BiC Cristal in matte silver metal."

"WHAT? What is this madness? Delving into it, it’s a 2020 release, not touted as limited or anything, but metal body. The epitome of disposable pens, but refillable. The mind boggles. Amazon want $20, Staples shows at $6. I rush out immediately and buy one. I have to, right? That’s where I am in this rabbit hole now. The size is the same as the plastic ones, the shape too. But the weight is the key. 14g compared to the 6g of the plastic ones, and perfectly balanced in my hand. I use it so much the silver paint has been scratching off the cap. I ordered a second one to keep nice along with a pack of Cristal UP pens."

 "White bodies and colour striped caps denoting the colour ink. I’m weak and couldn’t say no, but I’m enjoying every line, scribble and letter made with them. Kudos to BiC for staying true to the form and making this iconic line of pens."

Many thanks to Trevor for this great trip down Memory Lane! 😊 We've got one more installment of our "Back to School" Pens feature, and we'll post it here on Saturday!

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