On his first day at work at the White House this year, newly sworn-in US President Joe Biden began his tenure by signing 17 executive orders, tackling a range of issues, from the climate crisis to covid. Photographer Jabin Botaford captured him seated at his desk, donning a black mask, for The Washington Post, a pile of leather-bound folders lying next to him and a box in front of him sporting a line of pens. Journalists soon unveiled Biden’s pen of choice: the Cross Century II rollerball pen made by the legendary stationery maker, A.T. Cross.
Presidential pens have long enjoyed the status of relics in American history and A.T. Cross has been a favoured brand among US leaders. George H.W. Bush, George Bush, and Barack Obama all preferred various Cross pens. (Donald Trump opted for the humble Sharpie though he wanted it to be tweaked to “make it look rich”.) Following a hallowed tradition, the presidents have given away some of these pens to close aides, especially those who help formulate important policies and treaties. Such is the allure of a handed-down presidential pen that Lisa Brown, a senior White House staff, had to lunge to prevent a Congress member from nicking one off Obama’s desk, while the president was in the middle of a signing.
A.T. Cross was founded by Richard Cross, an American entrepreneur who went on to transform the writing industry, in 1846 and named after his son, Alonzo Townsend, who inherited the business and after whom one of Cross’ most popular lines is named. A.T. Cross’s opening gambit was the Peerless Fountain in 1846, with its hand-finished two-tone rhodium-plated solid 18 karat gold nib. In 1946, it launched The Century Pencil, a pioneer among mechanical pencils, to commemorate its centenary.
Apart from the finicky attention to detail lavished on each Cross product, the writing instruments are tested rigorously at every stage of production—at least 120 times, no less. Pens and pencils are also drop-tested several times by letting them fall from a height of 3ft and further examined for some 100 hours to ensure they are resistant to corrosion and colour fading. All these, along with a lifetime mechanical warranty, gives Cross pens an exceptional value, with their ability to outlast generations, if cared well. The Century II rollerball, which is a good starting point if you a collector, starts around ₹3,500 and goes over ₹10,000 in India.