Our Global Design Director explains the evolution of the iconic Cross style. My passion for the legacy and history of A.T. Cross, as well as the brand’s commitment to quality craftsmanship, is poured into every new fine writing instrument I design. The inspiration for our iconic Ballpoints, Rollerballs, Fountain Pens and Mechanical Pencils is a very historically rich and evolutionary one that dates to the 19th century.
Back then, people wrote with a quill, which was typically made from the hollow shaft of a wing feather from a large bird. The shaft was shaped into a nib with a thin slit that allowed ink to flow to the tip by capillary action. Writers would periodically dip the quill nib into an inkwell before laying ink onto paper. This quill writing technology eventually evolved with the invention of the dip pen, which consisted of a metal nib with capillary channels like those of a fountain pen nib mounted to a handle or holder. In the 1870s, one of our founding fathers, Alonzo T. Cross, patented several revolutionary inventions, most notably the Stylographic Pen and the Propel-Repel Mechanical Pencil Mechanism. Alonzo’s Stylographic Pen was a cased reservoir tube for ink with either a tapered, hollow cylindrical needle writing point or a more traditional nib writing point. These inventions laid the stepping stones for our modern day Ballpoint, Rollerball and Fountain Pen technologies.
Prior to the 1930s, the design of most Cross Writing Instruments was heavily influenced by jewelry and the new creative capabilities that came with the steam engines during the Industrial Revolution. These designs were primarily cylindrical and very ornamental in nature and used materials such as gold, sterling silver, enamel, vulcanized rubber, mother of pearl, engine-turned patterns and many other jewelry-influenced materials and techniques.
The cylindrical and sometimes square tubes had very ornate engravings, and the Fountain Pen nibs were made of precious gold material with design shapes still heavily inspired by the quill nibs of the 19th century. It was not until the 1930s and ‘40s that a Cross family member would develop a Propel-Repel Ball Pen, which was a thin metal cylindrical shape with a conical top and a shovel-style clip. This significant invention was the precursor to the now globally recognized Cross Century line. The sleek and elegant Art Deco/Mid Century Modern design became the hallmark and most iconic representation of the Cross brand for the rest of the 20th century and is still our best seller today.
Most of the Cross Ballpoint, Rollerball and Fountain Pens we offer today feature many of these vital historic design principles such as the conical top, streamlined shapes, shovel-style clip, gold and jewelry inspired finishes. Even the Cross Lion logo on our pens and nibs is an evolution of early lion logo drawings created in the early days of Cross. As a lifelong design enthusiast with a long tenure at Cross, I hope this brief history of our iconic style has made you curious to know more! Read more about our storied history here