Sensa Stylist pens with gel ink and soft grips filled with "Plasmium" retail for about $40.
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msnbc.com

Not long ago I found myself in the market to buy a gift for a friend who was celebrating her bat mitzvah at the relatively advanced age of 42. Although bat mitzvahs more commonly are celebrated at the age of 12 or 13, I knew what I had to buy her to mark the occasion: a pen.

PENS, OF COURSE, are a classic gift to mark a rite of passage, and not a bad choice for a desperate last-minute Christmas shopper. (Sorry, it’s too late for Hanukah.) But pens, it seems, have changed quite a bit since my own bar mitzvah day in the 1970s, when a classic Cross gold or silver pen-and-pencil set was considered the standard.

At my local office supply superstore, I was confronted by a showcase filled with a bewildering array of ballpoint pens, rollerballs and fountain pens in a wide variety of colors, shapes and styles. Elsewhere in the store, display racks were filled with fancy gel ink pens, anti-gravity pens and multipurpose pens along with the more familiar disposable variety.

Pens, of course, are widely available in virtually any price range, from 10 cents for a disposable Bic to $5,000 or more for a rare collectible fountain pen crafted like a Swiss watch. The nice thing about pens is that for well under $100, even under $30, you can buy a fine writing instrument that will be appreciated by virtually anyone who writes. And while pens make an excellent antidote to the electronic gadgetry that often dominates holiday season giving, technology and advanced design have made their mark on the category.

For the younger crowd, you might consider the Ion (list price $25), a gel ink pocket pen launched last year by the venerable A.T. Cross Co.

This is definitely not your father’s Cross pen, but a palm size, 3-1/2-inch long, refillable writing instrument available in a rainbow of ink colors including orange, green and purple. Like many of this year’s most popular pens, the Ion uses gel ink, a relatively new development considered the biggest breakthrough in years for refillable pens.

“It puts down a more consistent line than traditional ballpoints, it lasts longer than a pure liquid rollerball or a fountain pen and it’s more fun to write with,” said Bruce Willox, marketing director for Cross.

Cross Matrix pens include writing points at both ends, plus a stylus for entering data on a PDA.
For a slightly more upscale gift, Cross offers the Matrix ($70), a five-in-one writing instrument in an anodized aluminum, black-and-silver casing. At one end of this ingenious instrument are two ballpoint pens, allowing you to choose from blue or red ink. At the other end is a gel-ink rollerball tip that can be replaced by a document highlighter. Flip the tip around, and presto — it’s a stylus for entering data on a PDA.

The Matrix also can be customized with a variety of ink colors or with a fountain pen tip instead of a rollerball.

Of course, Cross still offers that bar mitzvah standard of my youth, now known as the Classic Century, from $21 in “lustrous chrome” to more than $800 for solid 18 karat gold.

Techies on your gift list would appreciate the Fisher Space Pen ($20-$40), an American classic that has been around since the 1960s but still maintains its futuristic aura.

The classic bullet-shaped Fisher Space Pen writes at any angle.
Standard issue on every manned space flight since Apollo 7, the pen uses a rubbery ink that flows under pressure from a gas-filled cartridge to a tungsten ball point. This allows astronauts and Earth-bound writers alike to write upside down, underwater, at any angle and in extreme temperatures. (Excellent for writing tickets in the rain, the bullet-shaped pen is a favorite of cops.)

At 89 years old, inventor Paul Fisher is still actively involved in the Boulder City, Nev.-based company, and recently helped develop the Millennium Pen ($100-$195) an extra-fat space pen with enough ink, the company says, to write for 85 years. It is not refillable, but if it fails in your lifetime, the company will send you a new one, said Tim Lawson, director of sales and marketing.

Another popular pen this season is the Sensa Cloud 9 ($25), the latest and least expensive version of a distinctive line of soft-touch pens. Sensa pens are characterized by an ergonomic grip filled with “Plasmium” fluid that supposedly reduces the “overall stresses normally incurred through writing” by 50 percent. (No word on whether it also eliminates writer’s block.)

Sensa writing instruments also are available in an eye-popping array of colors and styles with ballpoint, rollerball, gel ink, pencil and stylus tips.

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