A good President has many pens

Why politicians use multiple pens to sign landmark documents

Neel Dozome
3 min readJan 21, 2021


Ready… Set… Pen.

Watching Joe Biden getting ready to dismantle some of Donald Trump’s most odious executive orders in his first day in office as the 46th President of the United States of America, I was a bit baffled. Every time he signed a new folder, he reached for a box of pens before him, and used a new one.

Now, I’d heard that David Beckham, for instance, never wore a pair of sneakers twice because he got truckloads of them from adidas. Was Joe Biden the David Beckham of pens?

Upon a quick, geeky Google, I discovered that this was not a case of vanity. As per character, Biden was following a well-established tradition amongst American Presidents and other powerful politicians. The convention is a tradition that dates to Franklin D. Roosevelt (at least). Politicians like to reward supporters of their measures with the pens as mementos to acknowledge their efforts to gain passage. Pens make great giveaways and gifts.

And, Presidents have been particularly generous in creating mementos on momentous occasions.

President Lyndon Johnson used 75 pens to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Barack Obama used 22 pens to sign the Affordable Care Act. Nancy Pelosi used eight pens to sign Trump’s first impeachment. Only, George W. Bush (Jnr) apparently broke with this tradition, and generally preferred using just one pen.

The preferred pen of Presidents is manufactured by A.T. Cross and costs about $110.

Even Donald Trump, at least initially, stuck to this convention. But, not for long. As the New York Times reported:

“I was signing documents with a very expensive pen and it didn’t write well,” Mr. Trump said on an HBO special produced by the political website Axios. “It was a horrible pen, and it was extremely expensive. A government-ordered pen.” He said that he had pulled out a standard Sharpie pen and concluded that it not only “writes much better,” but also “costs almost nothing.”

“So, I called up the folks at Sharpie and I said, ‘Do me a favor, can you make the pen in black? Make it look rich?’” he said. He then held up one of several thick black markers bearing his own signature, in gold, for the camera.

I suppose it takes a certain cultural nous to tell the difference between a $110 dollar pen and a Sharpie.

One thing, however, we can be certain of: when a pen is wielded so that children are no longer separated from their parents, it is most certainly mightier than a nuclear bomb.



Neel Dozome

Notes of a Indian-origin mixed media artist, cartoonist and zine maker.