When Adenauer Needs A Pen

Picture the scene with me. In 1963, the young American president John F. Kennedy, Jr. visited Cologne during a trip through Europe. This was during the Cold War and there was JFK, at the frontlines, so to speak, of communist Germany. While there, he, along with his counterparts, were invited to sign the Golden Book, a guest book of sorts. 

After Kennedy signed the book, he stepped back for German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to then sign. It was then that a small, polite gesture would resonate around the globe and in the press for more than 50 years: Kennedy handed Adenauer his personal Montblanc 149 to use. 

While this may seem like a small act of kindness, it’s a moment that remains memorialized for decades. Why is this? I believe for two reasons. The first being that it showed Kennedy as a figurehead of American values at the the time: politeness, good grace, and a testament to equality not based on preconception or national history. Second, knowing the time period of the Cold War, Kennedy’s small gesture showed the backing of the US with West Germany. 

At the end of the day, here were two men on the world’s stage. One in need of a pen and the other having a Montblanc. The politics of it memorialize the occasion, but it was a human gesture between two contemporaries. And that, in a way, made it seem that much more special.

But one can also think about the pen choice here from Kennedy. This American president was using a German-made pen. Could this have been a conscious choice? Or, even at the time, was Montblanc a pen with a little cachet to it?

It’s hard not to think about the pens that political figures use and how that represents their own values and personality. For instance, we recently wrote an article about Queen Elizabeth and her penchant for Parkers. It can be said that she values a classic, reliable pen which in turn reflects her own system of beliefs. The same can be said for Abraham Lincoln, who was known to use Esterbrooks. Here we had a humble president who used a decidedly American brand who was humbled by his upbringing and chose a pen that was a workhorse. Then, today, there is Trump who used a Sharpie for his signatures. Yes, a pen in the political sphere can say a lot about the person.

When political figures are in the public eye, everything is up for examination – including pens. It’s another small way that we, as the public, can interpret the holder’s values, system of beliefs, and even their own good manners. Who knew such a small writing instrument could leave us with something to talk about 50 years later? I guess that shows us, once again, the power of the pen.

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