What we call the ‘Biro’ should just be called the ball point pen, László Bíró being the manufacturer and patentee of the first practical and successful ball point pen. The first known one was 50 years earlier by inventor John J. Loud.
Laszlo’s new design was based on a more viscous quick drying ink that printers use, the ball being coated by the ink as it rolls, effectively a miniature printing roller. The latest pens use more thixotropic type inks that liquefy as the ball rolls and shears the ink, but generally they need to be under internal pressure to get to the ball, so are sealed units, quite often nitrogen, the ball acting as a stopper and roller and the ink a more viscous balance helping to seal it. This tendency to higher viscosity and using relatively inert components allows a much longer shelf and use life. You see some of this thixotropic effect when you use a squeeze bottle of tomato ketchup or brown sauce that you store upside down. It needs pressure and shear madness to get it going, sometimes the madness making it travel further than intended. A lot of abstract wall art probably started out this way.
But what about pens in general? A ball point pen consists of a refill and a casing. The mains fact is though that the pen is really only as good as the ink and/or refill that is used. To give the definition of the pens usefulness you need to just concentrate on the durability of the pen and what a refill or ink is worth. Everything else is really just a matter of incidental design, decoration and ornament.
We will concentrate on refills for pens, bottles and fountain pens producing a good look but they don’t add to the situation unless the writing is artistic calligraphy. Writing some Shakespeare, a countries constitution, or a biblical passage does not gather more power or intent by being written by a machine rather than a person and even the best is usually inferior to a printed item, people giving value to things that are craft produced, and freely discarding better representations simply because of the effort that was involved. Sadly we are now in the territory of anything that has been produced in the past can be improved by computer involvement. Those that usually say otherwise can quite often be fooled at any time by a good machine produced one, or can’t tell the difference. They usually claim to sense the difference but quite often sense things that aren’t there, just what they think, or want to be there. 1 plus 1; I sense it is 3, but will never be. Only 2 is true.
If imperfections are what makes a person or art why do we strive to improve our skill? In most cases to reduce our mistakes, old age often giving us experience but lessening control.
Myself I use a Miles Martin ‘Biro’ casing for everyday writing. It doesn’t have the original refill that disappeared long ago. I use a small sleeve and a small bung to adapt a black fine point Fisher Space Pen refill to fit it properly. It’s not an original, a thing that can be thought of as just an ornament these days and having no value except to look at, but I think the manufacturers would be happy to know that their pen produced in about 1946 is still in use and writing as good as most modern ones, better than most. But there is the question of what is original. Original means that with what it was supplied with, so unless say a car came with a set of original bulbs, no car is 100% original, utilising newer parts. Even a change of refill in the case of pens is always using a later produced part.
But we I would propose that a item cannot be considered original unless it is actively used for the purpose for which it is designed, a lot of ‘original’ museum and collectors pieces being ‘ornamental,’ not original in any way, restored just being an alternative way of saying remanufactured. A painting for example, it now looks good, but was the same purity of water or the same type of oils from the same species of plants, or rocks from the same area made to the same specification and method used, no. Re-manufactured to appear as good as the original. Making paint is an intricate process and I have made my own from materials I collected myself, and things like modern purity walnut oil. I’ve tried crushing my own modern species of walnuts to extract it but the result was pretty poor.
My biro; I use it for the purpose for which it was originally intended.