Twenty-Six Old Characters, The (1947)

Sheaffer Pen celebrates the art of writing, highlighting (predictably) the technological advances of the fountain pen. (Thanks to Ryan Trauman, who posted this on techrhet.)

Near the climax of Death of a Salesman, Biff confesses that he has totally blown a business opportunity because he stole a big-shot’s fountain pen. When I first read the play in high school, the significance of this theft really didn’t penetrate my brain. But I learned, as part of my dissertation work, that during the late 40s (when Miller wrote the play), an executive’s fountain pen was a status symbol, so that a modern-day Biff would probably have to steal a PDA or smartphone in order to be as serious.

I’m thrilled to find this pre-digital celebration of the development of writing. Wish I’d known about this last spring when I taught a “History and Future of the Book” class.

The gender roles depicted in the scene in which a businessman dictates to a female secretary are very clear. (He ends dictating and dismisses her, presumably to get on with his real work.)

According to the film, a good pen is a lifetime investment, your handwriting is deeply personal, and if you bring a sample of your handwriting to a store that stocks fine pens, the clerk will be able to recommend the right point for you. (Reminds me of “the wand chooses the wizard.”)