An article, with some updating, originally published in the Pen World magazine.
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THE PRESIDENTIAL PEN
It began as a joke. Imprinted pens and pencils, long a campaign item, had always been left behind at the White House door. Until that is, President Truman began handing out the first American ball point, a junior ‘Reynold’s Rocket’, imprinted "I Swiped This From Harry S. Truman." In the half century since that tired joke, the Presidential Pen has become an integral part of the presidential trappings, has been adopted by vice presidents and presidential and vice presidential families and has found a place as a momento of inaugurals, presidential retreats and even presidential helicopter rides. All told there are about two hundred varieties, including a limited edition (500) black Parker Duofold International fountain pen issued for President Bush’s inauguration, but otherwise lesser pens distinguished by their imprinting and the fact that they were manufactured for White House use. Broadly speaking, these pens may be divided into three periods: the early administrations beginning with Truman and culminating with Johnson wherein the Presidential Pen attained its classic form; the classic period from Nixon through Carter; and the Contemporary period beginning with Reagan and marked by a proliferation of pen varieties.
Presidential Pens are cross-collectables for both pen collectors and collectors of political memorabilia, equally a great many are treasured by non-collectors because they were personal gifts from a president or vice president. The highest regarded Presidential Pens by these collectors and non-collectors alike are ‘bill signers’, that is, pens, usually Parker models with presentation boxes, intended for use by the president and vice president at signing ceremonies. Every president since Kennedy and every vice president since Agnew has had one and presidents have been known to actually use upwards of twenty or more of these pens for a single signature on an important bill. And while in fact most ‘bill signers’ are simply gifts unassociated with any actual signing it is not uncommon to find the real thing, a ‘bill signer’ beautifully framed together with an official White House photograph of the signing ceremony and a letter from the President or other administration official thanking the recipient for assisting in passage of the legislation.
The first specially imprinted 'bill signer' was introduced late in President Eisenhower's administration, continued in use by JFK, and for a while by LBJ. This first ‘bill signer’ was a clear plastic topped Esterbrook dip pen engraved "The President - The White House" and is known in three imprinting variations, none of which can presently be tied to anyone of the three administrations with any certainty. LBJ however, wanted something different with a special box, and so for most of his administration he used a silver capped blue Parker - Eversharp felt tip imprinted with "The White House" and his signature and presented in a white box imprinted with the presidential seal and signature (there are two slightly different variations of this pen and three box variations). Two LBJ pens commonly believed to be ‘bill signers’, a gold capped Parker-Eversharp felt tip and an aluminum capped black Scripto 200 felt tip imprinted with the presidential seal and his signature, were in fact exclusively used as Presidential gifts.
It was the LBJ Parker - Eversharp ‘bill signer’ as modified by President Nixon, that set the tone for presidents and vice presidents through the Bush administration. Typically the classic ‘bill signer’ pen is a silver capped Parker 45 (through the Bush Administration with the exception of Carter) or the very similar Parker Systemark (Carter and Reagan Administrations) with a roller ball insert imprinted with a signature and either "The White House" (Presidents Nixon through Reagan) or the presidential or vice presidential seal (Presidents Reagan and Bush and all vice presidents) and presented in the wide flat box generally then used by Parker for commercial purposes but trimmed in gold metal for a president and silver metal for a vice president and imprinted with a seal and signature. Pen and box colors vary depending upon the individual office holder but generally are a blue, black or green with gold, silver or white imprinting (most often gold for a president and silver for a vice president). There are however, several variations on that theme. With respect to the pens for instance, Nixon used both a blue and a silver capped Parker 45 fountain pen as well as a roller ball, Vice President Bush occasionally used a Parker 95 fountain pen, Vice President Agnew’s ‘bill signers’ are found in two colors, green and black, Vice President Rockefeller’s pens are found in three varieties - with the old ‘wings extended’ vice presidential seal, the new ‘wings up’ seal, and without any seal at all, the later Carter pens have no imprinting (they are known only by their presentation box), President Reagan and Vice President Bush used both Parker 45s and Systemarks with several imprint variations, and Vice President Quayle apparently used a Parker Classic ball point. With respect to the presentation boxes, imprinting sometimes is limited to the presidential or vice presidential seal and other variations include two box colors for both President Reagan and Vice President Bush, as well a brown box without metal trim bearing both the vice presidential seal and the Parker logo which most probably was used by Vice President Bush.
While ‘bill signers’ are the most regarded, the majority of Presidential Pens are either specially imprinted pens intended for both general White House use and as gifts or more recently, presentation boxed pens or pen and pencil sets intended strictly as presidential or vice presidential gifts. Since President Truman’s Reynold’s Rocket every president and vice president has had specially imprinted ball points, typically with just a signature but often with a seal or other nomenclature as well. Ike had a white Paper Mate, Vice President Nixon had two tone ball points, Vice President Johnson had several varieties made up by U.S. Pencil and Vice President Humphrey had at least two varieties each of Scripto and Fisher ball points. President Kennedy had Parker and Sheaffer ball points , as have, with respect to Parker, a number of other presidents and vice presidents. Most often these Parker ball points are Jotters having a dark blue or black barrel with a silver cap but Reagan also had an all silver one and there is also an all silver Jotter with a metal vice presidential seal afixed to the clip that was probably used by Vice President Bush. Vice President Quayle had Jotters in five colors and President Clinton has them in six (although in each case most of the colors may have been prototypes). Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had Parker 45 ball points and President Johnson also had several varieties of Scripto felt tips and a Paper Mate ball point. But it is doubtful that any administration will ever match the Reagan Administration, which seemingly carried the entire Parker line, including for the President: Parker Classic, Arrow and Jotter ball point and pencil sets in presentation boxes, two varieties of blue Big Reds, a flag draped Vector as well as a number of ball points from other manufacturers.
The longest continuously running Presidential Pen model however, is not a Parker but rather an inexpensive all metal ball point originally made by Autopoint, generally gold but sometimes silver toned and imprinted with a signature and occasionally a seal. These pens were first used by LBJ in at least five varieties including a silver and gold toned one for his ranch. Nixon continued the usage, having them made up not only for himself but for his wife and daughters as well. From LBJ to Bush every president used this ball point model as did several first ladies and vice presidents. Another long running ball point model, probably by the same manufacturer and generally associated with vice presidents but with some presidential usage as well, has a plastic barrel, metal top, a plastic ‘push’ sharply angled to one side and is typically imprinted with a seal and signature. Vice President Ford appears to be the first to use this pen and Vice President Bush the last.
More recently, beginning with the Reagan Administration, Bradley and Alexander have made up presentation boxed ball point and pencil sets. Typically the Bradley has a metal seal affixed to the clip and comes in a felt box with an imprinted seal and/or signature on the inside lid. The Alexander typically has a multi colored seal under clear plastic on the top of the pen or pencil. President Bush had Alexander sets made up as White House, HMX-1 (the presidential helicopter) and Camp David momentos and for his first day in office President Clinton used an unboxed Alexander ball point as his ‘bill signer’ (it was quickly replaced by the Parker Insignia and relegated to being a gift pen).
Another trend beginning with the Reagan Administration, although probably unintentional, has been the foreign manufactured pen - a Nancy Reagan West German ball point, a President Bush, Hong Kong ‘Duofold knockoff’ ball point which pairs quite well with his English made Duofold Inaugural fountain pen and Clinton pens include a Hong Kong ‘Mont Blanc knockoff’ Inaugural ball point, a ‘Waterman Expert knockoff’ White House ball point and an inexpensive mechanical pencil which in its commercial form (without any presidential imprinting) bears a ‘made in Taiwan’ legend.
The growing popularity of Presidential Pens has also led to the commercial production of some unofficial pens intended for sale to Washington DC and Kennedy Library visitors. Most serious in that regard in light of the value of a true original is the Kennedy Parker Jotter (although there is now a serious question as to whether there ever was an "original" Parker Jotter, that supposed pen arguably being in fact a Parker '45' ball point). Unfortunately most supposed JFK Jotters are in fact reproductions (some labled replica, some not) done by Parker for the Kennedy Library gift shop. A quick way of determining authenticity is to verify that the cap is of the early 1960’s variety (i.e. no logo on the ‘push’ and metal threading) and then, least caps have been switched, that the barrel is threaded for a metal threaded as opposed to the newer plastic threaded caps. More recent is an all gold metal ‘Mont Blanc knock off’ ball point with the cap imprinted with Reagan’s signature and the "The White House" and a similar black metal model with the same imprinting except that the signature is Clinton’s. There is also a series of unofficial Sheaffer ‘Big Red’ type ball points in a number of colors with a picture of the White House and either Bill or Hillary Clinton signature or "The White House". Lastly, there is the ‘official unofficial’ Sheaffer "Socks The 1st Cat" ball point, which while commercial is apparently is popular enough with White House staff that it is often thought to be an official White House pen. However, notwithstanding some initial confusion the advent of commercial pens should not pose a continuing problem in that most official Presidential Pens now bear either the presidential or vice presidential seal which is protected by law from commercial use and older Presidential Pens, while often lacking a seal are both datable by the nature of their manufacture (e.g. the Kenndy Jotter) and well enough known to spot future interlopers. (Unfortunately however, during the past few years the legal ban against the commercial use of the presidential seal seems to be honored in the breach.)
In sum, what started as a presidential prank has evolved into a pen collectable area that offers a pen collector a reasonable shot at a ‘complete’ collection (at a comparatively modest cost) that not only offers a bit of presidential history but also a sampling of the popular writing implements of the second half of the twentieth century.
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