Return to Pen Makers and Their Works


Cross is a bit of a conundrum, being a very long-standing maker of writing instruments, but a slightly intermittent and late-coming maker of pens.  The company was founded in 1846, producing metal-bodied pencils.  This early start makes them about the oldest maker of writing instuments in North America, and there are few in the world that can claim a similar length of unbroken production.

The second generation saw the first pens, starting in 1879 (the current A.T. Cross name of the company comes from the son of the founder, Alonzo), with what we may technically call a fountain pen, but which was a rather different creature– a stylograph.  The company was sold in 1916 to Walter R. Boss, and has apparently had someone from that family on the board ever since (which must lead to some confusion when someone says, “I need to speak to the boss!”).

The first fountain pen in the currently understood mold appeared in 1930, and was conceptually not unlike the initial production of the Wahl company– something meant to accompany a pencil, and made using much of the same process.  This initial foray into fountain pens seems not to have lasted through the end of the decade, although the pencil business remained strong.  In 1946, they came out with the Century model of pencil, which has remained in production, with small amendments.

There being not much difference between mechanical pencils and ball-point pens, it seems natural that Cross would get into the new technology early.  The ball-point consort to the Century pencil appeared in 1953.

The company became publicly traded in 1971, which in a rarity for pen-makers appears to not have been the announcement of illness if not zombification.  They returned to making fountain pens in 1982 (almost exactly the middle of the worst time ever for fountain pens), and have apparently not suffered for it.  They have, like all other American pen makers, moved production to a less expensive locale, but maintain the head office in the company’s Rhode Island birthplace. Update:  In July of 2013, Cross announced that they were selling their accessories division, in which their pen existence vests, to a nebulous private equity firm, while retaining in their own name the eyewear colossus they’ve apparently focused their energies upon.  While such a sale is not necessarily fatal (similar has happened to Sheaffer and Pelikan in the past), the problems of Parker and Waterman under control of a similar diversified owner suggest the possibility of rough times ahead.  Another update: By mid-2015, there was no evident loss of focus at Cross, and it seems I may have misunderstood the nebulous equity firm, which seems to be largely devoted to stationery.  Cross also bought Sheaffer in August of  2014, which apart from increasing the concentration of pen-maker ownership in fewer hands also seems to have had no serious ill consequences.

As a note of trivia, Cross apparently provided some props to the television program Mad Men, and the sharp-eyed viewer will see at least one highly anachronistic Cross fountain pen (in Season 2’s “For Those Who Think Young”) in addition to the more likely pencils and ball-points.

Models I’ve examined:

Alphabetically By Date
  • c.2006 – 2012
  • 1996 – present

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