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John Lamb, Published June 09 2013

Pen pinchers: If you’re going to steal one, check these out

Fargo - In case you didn’t know, today is National Ballpoint Pen Day, a somewhat modest celebration of the ubiquitous writing tool.

The modern ballpoint was patented 75 years ago by Hungarian journalist Laszlo Biro. In 1945, when it became widely available, it cost $12.50, the equivalent of more than $150 today.

Ballpoints are cheaper today, and chances are you have one within reach right now. Chances are that pen has a business or organization’s name on it, and chances are you don’t work for that company and it’s not a pen you purchased.

Pens are something you acquire more than you buy. You may “accidentally” pocket a pen after signing a bill at a bar or writing out a deposit slip at a bank.

Now, no one is calling you a thief. Let’s be honest – businesses make customized pens because they want their name getting out in the world.

“A lot of times we notice people eyeing a pen and just tell them to take it. That’s fantastic advertising for us,” says Jason Laub, manager at the Hotel Donaldson Lounge.

Earlier this year a Mezzaluna employee bragged on Facebook about her restaurant’s pens. They were so nice, she said, you’d want to steal them.

It was almost like a dare, taunting you to swipe the stylus and indeed, that’s what happened.

“We go through so many of them,” says manager Joe Docimo. “Sometimes people just grab a bunch and run out.”

Which got us thinking – what are the best pens in town to steal?

The HoDo and Mezzaluna were popular choices when I posted to Facebook, asking friends what were the best pens to pinch. Other multiple vote-getters were Juano’s, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union and Sandy’s Tax Service. The overwhelming response, however, was Gate City Bank.

“We have more pens stolen than Mezzaluna,” laughs Jay Krabbenhoft, vice president and office service manager at Gate City Bank.

“We don’t like to say stolen at the bank, but we get enough pens in to give every man, woman and child in North Dakota three pens a year,” he says.

Krabbenhoft says he ordered 375,000 pens for the year to be used at all 33 Gate City Bank locations in North Dakota and western Minnesota.

By comparison, the HoDo orders about 6,000 pens every six months, meaning more than 32 walk away every day over the course of a year.

So what makes a pen to purloin? I took samples of all six most-wanted writing utensils to pen experts to have them try their hand with each and see which they preferred.

The result: Mezzaluna was right, they have a very covetous pen.

“I’ve got to vote for Mezzaluna. I like the feel of it,” says Greg Danz, owner of Zandbroz Variety, which sells pens ranging from $15 to $200.

“It has the best weight,” seconded his daughter and employee, Josie.

The other pens made their mark, however. Greg thought the HoDo’s looked the nicest. Josie said the Affinity Plus stylus “writes smoothly and feels nice in my hand,” though the HoDo and Gate City Bank varieties had a “less-substantial feeling.”

Josie is an admitted pen kleptomaniac and swipes writers from places she visits on vacation, “even if they’re not super swanky and stylish pens.”

Here in Fargo she collects Gate City Bank’s pens every time she sees a new color and got worked up when she was told the bank had a new green and gold variety that states, “Go Bison!”

“Oh my goodness, I’m so excited! It’s like a special collector’s edition,” she says.

Down Broadway at Art Materials, which sells pens from $26 to $500, the results were similar.

“The Mezzaluna one is the most comfortable,” says Eric Brown, store manager and pen aficionado. He liked the Mezzaluna, HoDo and Gate City pens on principal for being refillable and environmentally conscious.

Brown is openly a pen snob.

“I hate ballpoints. I don’t like to work when I’m writing,” he says, explaining how ballpoints can drag.

He keeps a $20 Retro 1951 Tornado rollerball in his pocket and another tethered to the counter. It is a fine pen, indeed.

His employee, Kathy Thiel, also likes the Mezzaluna for its heft. She tells customers to look for the pen that feels most comfortable in their hand.

“Fountain pens are coming back. There’s a lot of interest in that,” she says.

To get another opinion, I asked someone who signs his name a lot every day.

Dr. Robert Olson is a staff psychologist at Sanford Health, a clinical professor of neuropsychology at University of North Dakota and the official scorekeeper for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.

He also was over the moon for Mezzaluna.

“The HoDo is close; it’s got a nice flow to it, but it’s too light,” he says.

While Mezzaluna got the top marks in this unscientific test, it doesn’t rub HoDo manager Laub the wrong way.

“I once signed my tab at Mezzaluna with a HoDo pen,” he says.

“Every once in a while we get a HoDo pen show up here. I think they actually plant them,” says Mezzaluna’s Docimo.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533