Presidential candidates have had specially imprinted campaign pens since at least the turn of the century, but specially imprinted pens or pencils for the president did not come about until President Truman. In fact they began as a gag when in the fall of 1947 an 'unknown admirer' of President Truman gifted him with a box of ball point pens imprinted "I swiped this from Harry S. Truman". The pen became quite the rage, even making the New York Times, and since then every president has had them.
Its been a half century since that gift of pens to President Truman and today the 'presidential pen' has become an integral part of the trappings of office, extending beyond the president to the vice president, their respective families, and offices closely associated with the president such as the presidential helicopter, Air Force One, Camp David, the Secret Service and even the White House Food Service. In all varieties, today these specially imprinted pens and pencils, past and present, number into the few hundreds and this book, based principally on the author's collection,* is both a history and an annotated, illustrated catalogue of these writing implements.
The Presidential Pen - What is it? 'Presidential pen' is one of those terms that today references rather than describes, for in fact today a 'presidential pen' need be neither 'presidential' nor a 'pen'.
In the beginning however, the term was descriptive and encompassed specially imprinted pens ordered by or donated to the White House of four general types.
The first type, known as bill signers are specially imprinted pens used by the president to sign legislation, veto messages, proclamations and other official papers. The pens actually used are usually given out as gifts following the signing ceremony. I have seen a newsreel of FDR using several plain dip pens in a bill signing ceremony of the mid 1930's but the first specially imprinted bill signer pen was introduced by President Eisenhower in the late 1950's. President Johnson introduced the practice of having a special presentation box for bill signers, a practice followed by every president since. Bill signer pens may sometimes be found with papers attesting to their use** but in fact most all bill signer pens found today were never actually used as such and rather were given out as gifts straight from the White House closets.
There is no objective way of determining from the pen itself whether or not it was actually used for a bill signing. Thus whether any given bill signer was actually used for bill signing is at bottom simply a question of how strongly one believes in the supposed provenance of any given pen. Since the author's skepticism is apparent from the previous sentence, allow me to add that before parting with significant sums for a pen supposedly used for a bill signing, the reader should remember that papers may be forged or duplicated, that whether authentic, duplicated or forged, papers may be married innocently or otherwise, with any otherwise correct pens not actually used for the pertinent bill signing, and that even if you are a 'believer' that is no guarantee that others will be. Lastly, some undoubtedly authentic papers are comparatively common, e.g. those of President Johnson (unsigned typed slips of paper), and do not give rise to significant value in most cases.
The second type of presidential pens are specially imprinted pens or pencils from the White House specifically intended for presidential gifts. The first presidential pen, President Truman's described above, is of this type. Again beginning with President Johnson these gift pens have often come with special presentation boxes.
The third type of presidential pens are specially imprinted pens or pencils ordered for presidential or staff use either in the office or as gifts. These constitute most of the presidential pen types to be found and are known since the Truman administration.
The fourth type of presidential pen, least often seen, are pens imprinted for special occasions such as presidential trips or a White House Easter Egg hunt.
The idea of specially imprinted pens quickly spread. Vice President Nixon had them made up for his use, a tradition embraced by each of his vice presidential successors. And when Nixon became president his vice presidents, like all since, had their own presentation boxed bill signer made up. Technically, a vice president in the capacity as president of the US Senate does sign bills but the fact is that official presentation boxed pens are excellent gifts for vice presidents aspiring to a different presidency.
The presidential pen then moved beyond the nation's two executive officers. President Johnson had specially imprinted pens made up for his wife and daughters, and Vice President Humphrey followed suit for his wife. More recently, pens have been specially imprinted for the presidential Camp David retreat and services such as the presidential helicopter and Air Force One. Since these latter pens are sometimes used for presidential gifts in association with a visit or trip taken with the president they too must be considered presidential pens.
Today then the term presidential pen refers to a (i) writing implement, (ii) specially imprinted, (iii) for one of the nation's two executive officers, their families, their staff, or a closely connected executive office, service or facility.
These pens are the focus of this book. It is organized by presidential administration and generally speaking the pens of each administration are dealt with in the following order: bill signers, gift pens, office/gift pens, 'other' pens, vice presidential pens, and lastly family pens.
Prototype and limited run pens: Occasionally a manufacturer will make up a small run of presidential pens for factory or White House review or simply for donating to the White House for the prestige of saying its pens are being used therein. To the extent these pens reach the White House they will often as not be used by the White House as gifts or otherwise (even in some cases for actual bill signings) whether or not subsequently ordered. Somewhat similarly, sometimes the White House will order a small number of pens and then after receipt change its mind and not reorder. It is virtually impossible, even in contemporary situations, to determine the correct category for certain seldom seen pens and likely there will never be definitive answers.
Varieties: A principal issue involved in any cataloguing is determining when one object differs from another. As regards presidential pens some distinctions are easy. Different manufacturers, different non interchangeable pen or pencil styles, different imprinting intended to be different, different colors intended to be different, all qualify as being distinct. However, as indicated by the preceding emphasis two aspects present decision points.
Many modern pens have interchangeable parts, most notably there are pens that can take different types of writing points (e.g. many Parker pens) or that have interchangeable barrel, cap or trim parts (e.g. Autopoint ball points). I have taken the view that when such interchangeability does not involve the imprinting on the pen or pencil that that interchangeability may be noted but does not give rise to different varieties.
A number of pens may be found with slightly different placement of imprinting on the barrel or cap or slightly different shades of color that in either case are noticeable only in comparison. Here I have taken the view that different varieties arise only if either (i) the difference is uniform and consistent (e.g. the result of two distinct manufacturing runs each consistent within the run) or (ii) the difference is pronounced.
Seals: Presidential pens and presentation boxes often are imprinted with a seal or pseudo seal of office. The presidential seal is an eagle with spread wings, wing tips pointing up ("wings up") surrounded by words indicating the president. Initially the vice presidential seal was an eagle with spread wings, wing tips pointing down ("wings down") surrounded by words indicating the vice president. However, during the Rockefeller vice presidency the vice presidential seal was changed to a wings up eagle. Thus today the presidential and vice presidential seals are quite similar, essentially differing only in the surrounding words and an inner ring of stars that only surrounds the presidential eagle.
In addition various offices associated with the presidency often use a seal with a wings up eagle surrounded by wording indicating the specific office. The Departments of State and both houses of Congress also use an wings up eagle seal but with a circle of stars between the wing tips and appropriate wording surrounding the eagle. There is also a presidential and vice presidential inaugural seal which bears the picture of the Capital together with the year of the inaugural.
One will also find pseudo seals, by this I mean an eagle, invariably wings up, but with no surrounding words. I refer to this type of pseudo seal herein as an 'eagle seal'.
Terms and Symbols: When a description under a picture herein begins with a manufacturers name within parenthesis, e.g. (Autopoint), that indicates that the pen or pencil was manufactured by that entity notwithstanding that the pen is not so branded. Pen or pencil model names (as distinct from the manufacturers name) are in quotes, e.g. Parker "Jotter". Many pens made today, especially Parker pens, are capable of using a variety of writing points, e.g. a Parker "45" can be configured by the owner as a ball point, a roller ball, a fountain pen (and a few other points) and a Parker "Jotter" can take either a ball point or a mechanical pencil insert. Since these different configurations do not go to the special imprinting on the pen they do not give rise to different varieties for purposes of this book. I describe these pens herein as "Multi Point" pens.
Completeness, Errors and Updates: This book is largely based on the author's collection but there are a number of pens and pencils pictured or referenced belonging to others or which 'got away' leaving only a scan or a fax. In a few cases this has meant that what is pictured is a scan of a fax image, not a pretty sight but all and all better than none. And of course it is axiomatic that 'there is always another'. I believe that virtually all if not all of the principal varieties of presidential pens are pictured herein and that perhaps 90% or more of the total population of all presidential pens are shown or referenced. But then again every couple months a new one is discovered.
Being the first to address this topic, there are most certainly numerous errors and omissions in this book. And this is further compounded by the fact that the author has served as his own editor. The reader's indulgence is begged and with the recognition that the intent of what follows is not a 'coffee table' book but the conveyance of information where heretofore there was none.
In order to encourage readers to assist in correcting and updating this volume and to pass that information along to others an errata and update web page will be maintained by the author at: http://www.loringpage.com/attpensetc/penbookupdate.html
Prices and Rarity: Presidential pens of any sort prior to the Johnson administration generally trade for not less then $150 and frequently significantly more. Beginning with those from the Johnson administration (including the Esterbrook bill signer) most presidential pens trade in the $25 - $200 range although some trade for more. Since I am primarily a collector as opposed to a dealer I have not attempted to price each pen or pencil herein. This is especially because president pens are cross collectibles, there are pen collectors, political items collectors, status collectors (i.e. those looking for items that suggest they are 'connected') and of course, presidential pen collectors and so the same pen may be of differing value depending upon which type of collector is valuing. Throughout this book however, I have attempted to suggest the relative rarity of various pens and pencils and point out those that in my experience are truly rare. The reader however, is twice cautioned in this regard. First, rarity does not always translate to value, e.g. a rare vice presidential bill signer may not be as valuable as a less rare presidential bill signer and a rare office pen may not be as valuable as a less rare bill signer. Second, rarity can sometimes be transient. For instance it is not unusual that staff members at the end of an administration will take several presidential pens as they depart. Years later those pens may surface in the market in one fell swoop making, for a time, a previously difficult find, easy.
Related Pens and Appendixes: There are a number of specially imprinted pen types related to the presidential pens. Candidates for office have used imprinted pens in campaigns dating back to the 19th century. Occasionally presidential inaugural committees will make up official inaugural pens for sale to the public during the inaugural period. More recently, Cabinet and other Executive branch offices have had pens, as have both houses of Congress, individual members, and state governors. And in the 1990s some 'Reagan' and 'Clinton' pens have been commercially produced completely independent of the White House for retail sale to the public. A selection of these various pens, excepting campaign pens, are found in the first Appendix of this book. The selection probably encompasses most Inaugural pens but is only a small sampling of the other categories. Commercial 'Reagan' and 'Clinton' pens are pictured as such in the main body of this book for comparative purposes.
A second "Finder" Appendix goes to the fact that not all presidential pen imprintings indicate to which administration a pen belong. The second appendix cross references these non administration specific imprintings to the correct administration.
© 1999 John C. Loring
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