If you haven’t seen it, this video of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to swipe a presidential pen is pretty funny, and not just because he gets ratted out by fellow Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer:
Bam! Reid later explained that he wanted to get a pen as a souvenir for his wife, Landra. As the video shows, Obama literally gave Reid the pen out of the president’s own pocket.
And it turns out, that’s a real nice gift.
Back in the day, presidential pens were cheap. John F. Kennedy, for example, reportedly loved the Parker Jotter, a relatively inexpensive ballpoint that can be had today for about $8. The president’s signature and the words “The White House,” however, added a bit of value to an otherwise ordinary pen. (You can buy them today at the museum store at the Kennedy presidential library, for $10.)
President Lyndon B. Johnson used a variety of relatively cheap pens, in the tradition of his predecessors. (In-depth information on presidential pens can be found here, collected by the only person in the world seemingly more obsessed with the topic than I!)
Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter used Parker pens, somewhat more expensive models than had been used up to that point. That continued through President Ronald Reagan, although a variety of models were used. During President Bill Clinton‘s administration, Cross pens came to be used. (They were similar to the standard Cross pen you might give a college graduate.)
But it was during the administration of President George W. Bush that the presidential pen took on new heights, with the adoption of the Cross Townsend Selectip, a heavier, more expensive pen that can be loaded with a ballpoint tip, a rollerball or a felt marker. They retail to the public for about $130, although you can find them on Amazon.com for about $99.
(I happen to know a lot about this particular model, since I own one myself. It’s a very nice pen, even if mine lacks the presidential seal and signature.)
President Barack Obama continued in Bush’s footsteps, electing to use Townsend Selectips in black. Here’s a close-up of one:
According to Time magazine, Obama used 22 of these pens to sign the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, continuing with a long presidential tradition of giving pens away to key people who helped shepherd various pieces of legislation into law. But that also added to the national debt, since even at Amazon prices, that’s at least $2,200!
Here’s an interesting (to me, at least) video of a presidential clerk preparing the pens necessary to sign the health-care bill.
So when Reid reached for one of these pens, it wasn’t the same thing as pocketing a guest pen in your hotel room or swiping a logo pencil from a nice hotel; it’s a serious piece of government property! Good thing the president was in a generous mood that day.