The other day I made a curious discovery at my local Mosca. In a corner of this shop there is a locked glass cabinet holding such desirables as Cross and Lamy ballpoint pens, Parker Jotters, and Pentel P205 mechanical pencils in an array of plasticky colors, and inside it I spotted an unfamiliar Pentel box. It turned out to be 2mm colored lead refills, exactly two to each plastic container. The colors were vivid and enticing (red, yellow, green, blue, purple, black), and the leads were curiously shaped – short, with a metal protector on one end. I asked if they had any Pentel leadholders that would use these, and was told no. The only 2mm leadholders they had were from Sabonis. Thinking I could call up my Staedtler 2mm holder in a pinch, I bought a couple, came home and looked up this lead.
There was a reason this lead looked so funny. It turns out that the Multi8 leads are dedicated refills for the Pentel Super Multi 8 pen, which has eight slots for the lead of your choice. Why does Mosca sell refills for a pen it does not carry? Not the strangest question I have asked myself so far in this country. I ended up ordering the multipen from home, along with some colors I hadn’t seen in the store.
There are actually several versions of this pen. The PH802 is “for checking” and holds only colored lead: the set comes with red, blue, green, yellow, orange and brown leads, plus two kinds of non-copying leads. The PH803 is a true multipen, with red, blue and black ballpoints, graphite lead in HB, plus fluorescent yellow, fluorescent pink, red, and one non-copying lead. You could conceivably get either and use it for whatever refill or color you want, except that the refill names are printed on the body of the pen and you might not like the legend over the purple lead saying “ballpoint”.
The pen is not really attractively designed; I wouldn’t have noticed it or recognized it for what it was on a display stand. Maybe it was fortunate that I saw the lead first. I don’t need any more 2mm colored lead holders; I prefer to use up my colored pencils whenever possible, and I wasn’t tempted by the Caran d’Ache or Koh-I-Noor holders up till now, but there was something very appealing about using Pentel lead, the granddaddy of polymer leads. I also liked the idea of being able to carry around multiple colors in one instrument instead of an unwieldy tin.
The leads are on the soft side, and although they come with a lead sharpener, I don’t see myself using it. The non-copy leads are very faint and not very pleasant to write with. Also, you have to be careful when you rotate the clip to select the lead – the plastic parts don’t feel very sturdy.
The “instruction manual” is very strict. Note where it says “Practice selecting and advancing lead” ;)
All told, this pen, with its complicated insides and provenance, has come to signify something larger than itself for me. I was reminded of this, funnily enough, when (re-) reading Adam Gopnik’s essay on the culture of coffee in Iceland. Did you know that one of the more fanatical nations on earth, when it comes to coffee, is faraway Iceland? And has been so for several hundred years? Or what about the fact that the Frisian islands (off the northern coast of Germany), of all places, always come out tops for tea consumption per capita? As Gopnik says:
…unconscious cosmopolitanism is the key to civilization—when you don’t bother to stop to think how much your way of life depends on distant places, intricate trade, and hidden chains of supply. Going to a beautiful, remote place reminds us, above all, how relentlessly interdependent the world is and always has been in supplying pleasures that are, almost by definition, imports.
Wouldn’t you think this applied to stationery too? The small, ingeniously designed pieces that delight us with their varied function and the often exotic thinking behind their design? Living in a very protectionist part of the globe, I sometimes wonder what kind of world we would find ourselves in if only coffee-producing nations were allowed to drink it.