Cross pens, old and new

Cross Classic Century pens: vintage 12k gold-plated & new chrome-plated

When my maternal grandfather died, I somehow ended up with his gold-filled Cross pen, which was probably a retirement gift because I don't remember ever seeing him use it. My notes say, "Grandpa's Cross pen: 1970, 12kt gold-filled #6602 (needs refill)." He had worked as a power company lineman and so was more of a working-class gentleman pottering around the yard in his retirement uniform of long-sleeved plaid shirts, green khakis, work boots, fedora, and chamois-leather work gloves—not a gold-pen-in-business-suit-pocket kind of guy. I remember my slender, white-haired, balding-on-top grandfather, who was sensitive to sun from once being blown off a power pole, using pencils and carrying a shovel, not a gold pen. But still, it was his pen. And now it's mine. And I remember him through the object.

I stopped buying disposable pens years ago. In fact, one day I gave away all my cheap plastic ballpoints to Goodwill, hand-me-down pens, promotional pens, pens I never wanted in the first place and somehow had inadvertently collected. I had enough cheap plastic pens in a drawer, organized, most of them blue, to last a lifetime. But I figured, Life is too short for cheap pens. I did keep one red pen for editing and two Uni-ball gel pens, one gold, one silver, for gift-packaging. The handful of Japanese fine-point Uni-ball Vision roller ball pens I've been slowly using up and then throwing away, husks for the landfill. (I like pens that create thick, dark black lines, which probably means I shouldn't ever be using a ballpoint at all.) So instead I have just three pens (aside from the special-occasion red, silver, and gold ones): the Uni-ball and two reusables, an inexpensive stainless-steel Zebra F-301 ballpoint and my grandfather's gold Cross. I carry the Uni-ball with me in my purse because it's capped, while the Zebra is a clicker that could start scribbling all by itself inside my accessories bag, and because the Cross pen's sentimental value means I wouldn't want to lose it, toting it around. But I'm on my last of those nonrefillable Uni-balls. So I needed a new travel pen.

But good pens are not things I find when thrifting, though I do occasionally come across brand-new ballpoint refill packages at Goodwill. One does find packages of cheap ballpoints like those I myself gave away, but that's about it, other than once when I found an unused vintage pencil-and-pen set from the 1960's, steel and blue plastic in its original box, then given away as a gift.

Because a private-clinic student had given me a gift card several months ago, I figured I could either save that $20 for future copy-paper or printer-ink needs (how boring and unsentimental!) or I could buy a travel pen that would evoke memories of that student, a sunny-faced middle-schooler. So one day after dropping a bunch of unwanted stuff off at Goodwill and selling some books at Powell's, I walked down to Office Depot and asked to see their Cross pens. An older clerk pulled out a plastic tub from under the counter, and when I said I specifically wanted a Cross Classic Century pen in chrome (having looked all this up ahead of time online), he helped me dig for it saying, "Ah yes, the pen everyone gives graduates." There was only one left, it being June. I said it was a shame that everything was made in China these days, and he said, "Yes, especially this pen."

new Cross Classic Century chrome pen with logo

You see, Cross is an American company founded in 1846, the first American writing implement company and one that later challenged European domination of the world pen market for decades. The Classic Century is their mid-century anniversary design from 1946, which currently comes in a range of finishes and prices from low-end chrome plate to chrome-and-gold to sterling silver to 10k, 14k, and even 18-karat gold—if a person happened to want a ballpoint pen costing $2,625. Most pen designs nowadays are fat instead of slim, but I dislike feeling like I'm five years old and writing with a chubby crayon. I'd rather have a classic, sleek modernist design with history (even if Cross is now owned by a private equity investment company based in New York). Cross pens still come with a lifetime warranty.

vintage gold Cross pen logo

vintage gold Cross Classic Century pen circa 1970, made in USA

Unfortunately, though my grandfather's gold pen was made in the U.S., the current Cross crop is made in China, like everything else these days. My new chrome-plated Cross pen feels solid enough but less weighty than my grandfather's gold pen; and though gold, of course, weighs more, that by itself doesn't explain its smoother, quieter retracting twist compared to the new Chinese-made pen. The Amazon reviews of this design all essentially say, This is a good pen, but it used to be even better.

new Cross Classic Century chrome-plated pen with box, made in China

But who uses pens anymore, anyway? Everyone these days uses a touchscreen for notes except the older generations, and even they no longer send letters but e-mails. I've seen comments online to this effect: Who needs pens anymore? Like paper, pens seem to be going the way of typewriters: quaint technology collected and used only by antiquarians. Most people write with pens so infrequently now that even a cheap one lasts years. No wonder Cross had business troubles and moved production to China in the 2000's, though, still, as yet another loss for American manufacturing, this makes me sad—the end of the fedora, the end of the pen—unless we bring them back.


  1. Anonymous27/5/16 19:36

    Enjoyed your writing. Sorry I'm not more expressive. Hoping to get a good cross pen myself.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. If I hadn't had that gift certificate, I would have bought a used Cross pen on eBay, so you might try that route for a vintage one. Sadly, I lost this pen at a store one day when I got a phone call requiring note-taking (slaps forehead), so I had to replace it with another. Good luck in your pen search!


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