Wednesday, 11 May 2022

BIC 4 colour pen, part 1

I really enjoy using my BIC 4 colour pens.

My collection of BIC 4C pens.
Image credit: Katherine Pell  

They are incredibly useful when you need a quick change of ink colour, which I do often as I am forever writing colour-coded lists of jobs that need to be done in the museum. And I am not the only one around here who appreciates these iconic plastics pens. The lovely Tracey Pawley from AUB Finance is also a big fan and you can read all about her collection in next week’s blog. MoDiP also has several examples including my favourite, the original 4C.

BIC was established in 1944 by Marcel Bich and Édouard Buffard.
Image credit:

Originally invented in 1969, the BIC 4 colour pen was based on an idea by company founder Marcel Bich, although the name of the actual designer is unknown. It was first released in France in April 1970, advertised as '3 francs for four colours', writing in black, blue, red and green and available as a blue barrel/medium tip or an orange barrel/fine tip.

Launch advertisement in France, 1970.
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The ink colour is selected by depressing the correspondingly coloured plunger at the end of the pen. Small lugs on these trigger mechanisms serve to displace the current ink tube (which returns to resting position) whilst pushing down the new cartridge (via an internal spring) and locking it into place. Here’s one of mine that I broke earlier (not deliberately):

It got trodden on!
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The 4C had a unique solid ball moulded into the end of the polystyrene cap, representing the head of the BIC boy logo and, anecdotally, this was commonly used to turn rotary telephone dials. The ball is now pierced to allow a cord to be thread through, enabling the pen to be hung around the neck for easy access.

The BIC boy logo was created by Raymond Savignac in 1961.
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The colour of the blue polypropylene plunger used to match the shade of the polystyrene barrel but in 1999 it was changed to navy to better represent the ink colour. Designed to write 8 kilometres, 2k per colour, the 4C celebrated its 50th birthday in 2020 with the release of a number of new designs. The range now includes almost thirty variations with 200,000 pens being produced every day, sold across 160 different countries.

Saâdane Afif’s pens for
Galeries Lafayette.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

In 2013, artist Saâdane Afif created his own version of the BIC 4 colour pen that he called ‘Noir c'est Noir’, writing in only one colour: black. Two years later he produced a second pen with a white barrel and plungers so that the user would not know which coloured ink they had selected until they wrote. This one he named ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’. Finally in 2016, a third pen was introduced, ‘Faux-semblant’, that had the appearance of the original 4C but with the colour cartridges mixed up so the plunger would not offer the expected ink. MoDiP has recently acquired all three and these, along with all of our other BIC pens, can all be viewed in the museum on request.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer 

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