Back to school supplies are filling shelves across the country. The shelves are being emptied almost as quickly as school children (and those of us out of school but still enamored with the supplies) restock our own stores for the coming year.

A variety of pens and pencils

Over the years, things have happened to pens and pencils. I wrote about the first time some genius added an eraser to the end of the pencil. This happened slightly before I was born. In 1858.

I haven’t written about the first mechanical pencils, so I have no idea when they were invented. I can’t even tell you if it was in my lifetime or not. I remember them from long ago, but that doesn’t really mean anything. I do remember fighting with pencils trying to either load the lead, which is really graphite, or trying to get it to stay. It was then I learned the substance comes in two sizes and you must have the correct size.

Pens have been around in a variety of ways for eons. I’m grateful I didn’t have to use a quill. They look pretty, but from what I understand, they were difficult to use. You hand to keep sharpening the point and when you used enough of the tube of the feather, there was nothing more to hold ink and you had to find another feather to use. And they probably didn’t have them by the dozens at the local office supply depot.

I do remember fountain pens, but the ones I used had little pre-filled plastic reservoirs full of ink. I think Dad had one where you actually used a little ratchet on the side of the pen to pull up ink from a bottle into the reservoir.

With these types of pens, the nib could get worn or bent or nasty. And the ink flowed whether you were writing or not, so you could not  just pause over your paper while you searched for the perfect word or you would have a blob of ink there. They had blotting paper as well, to keep the ink from smearing all over. You didn’t write something and fold it away until it had dried.

I also remember the pens with the clicker, handy spring, and refillable cartridge for the ball point. A big improvement on the ink flow, although still prone to globs of ink attacking your paper at inopportune moments.

Gel pens came out much later and are supposed to be the best thing ever, but I have not found them to be so. I have purchased them in a variety of colors to play with and then not played enough and they dry out and then are useless.

What I look for in my writing implements today is the feel of the pen or pencil in my hand. I like a streamlined, thin tool. At work, we have about 150 pens that are the size of the pencils we used in first grade when first learning to write. I shun these routinely. I want a smaller pen in my hands.

The casing is important, too. I like the coating that is silky smooth but has a soft feel to it. I suppose it has a name, but I have no idea what it is. Some plastics feel sticky and I don’t like those types of pens or pencils. I want the sleeker, more like suede feel.

For a real pencil, rather than a mechanical one, I prefer the six-sided pencil over the completely round one. I don’t really care what is printed on the outside, but patterns are less appealing than solid colors. The yellow we all grew up with was originally meant to signify the pencil came from China – THE place for pencil manufacturing.

So when I go out to purchase something as simple as a pen or pencil (and today they always come in packs because they are apparently frightened of traveling alone) I have all these things running around in my head. Buying even the simplest tools turns into a difficult task.

This is the curse of over abundance. (Good grief, I didn’t even discuss the eraser qualities and haven’t touched on the paper itself.)