You may have a piece of modern art on your desk, or in your bag, or lying forgotten on a table somewhere.
It isn't priceless. Chances are you paid less than 50 cents for it — probably even half that amount.
It is the simple Bic Cristal ink pen, first introduced in 1950 and in continuous production since then.
In 2005, Bic announced it had sold 100 million of these ballpoint pens.
“Design objects are not only [about] precious furnishings and silverware, but also hundreds of basic items from the daily lives of people around the world,” said Paola Antonelli, curator of the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Architecture and Design, when the New York museum added the Bic Cristal to its collection in 2004. “[We] seek a perfect balance between form and function that is best exemplified by the honest and disarming tea bag, the apparently simple Bic pen, the paper clip.”
Marcel Bich did not invent the ballpoint pen, but with partner Edouard Buffard he bought the patent rights from Laszló Bíró in 1945 and perfected a way to manufacture the pens at a low cost, convinced that the public wanted an inexpensive ink pen they could rely on.
His company, Societe Bic of Clichy, France — its name taken from a shortened version of his name that was less likely to be mispronounced — rolled out the Bic Cristal, designed by Decolletage Plastique Design Team with its clear polystyrene barrel and polypropylene cap in Europe in 1950, and in the United States 10 years later.
The firm now sells 24 million stationery products globally each day, and has expanded to include disposable lighters and sporting equipment. It still produces 88 percent of its products in-house, with 17 plants worldwide.