In 1947, a new writing instrument – the Biro – was introduced to the British public. Up to that point people wrote with either fountain pens or cartridge pens. These held a reservoir of liquid ink that was liable to either dry up or suddenly deposit an unwanted pool of ink on your beautifully scribed letter.
The Biro was so innovative in its design that advertisers had to explain in considerable detail how it worked and point out its many features and positive attributes:
- Writes an average of 200,000 words without refilling.
- Writes on a ball bearing with a velvet touch and a smooth gliding action.
- The ink dries as you write.
- Does not smudge even on wet paper.
- Makes at least six perfect carbon copies. Pressing firmly on a traditional reservoir pen in order to produce legible carbon copies could have scratched or torn the paper and/or caused the pen nib to splay and drip large quantities of ink.
- A boon to left-handed writers. This would have been a big selling point. As ink took some time to dry, left-handers often adopted awkward writing positions to avoid smudging their work.
- Does not leak at any altitude.
There were further developments. Traditional reservoir pens had caps that either screwed or clipped onto the shaft. The Biro introduced the retractable pen, so novel, that its operation had to be spelled out in advertisements:
‘The nib is hidden away in the barrel and emerges from the case in response to gentl pressure on the stud until it clicks. A further pressure allows the point to retract smoothly into the case.’
Biro service dealers emerged – 10,000 of them by 1949 – providing refills and, well, not much else.
What is astonishing for the modern reader is the price of this new writing instrument: 55 shillings, equivalent to a touch under £100 today. This quickly reduced as the new pen took hold and within two years was selling for half that price.
They even had a strap line – a pen for your thoughts.