New York: Another Sideways Bite of The Big Apple

By: andrewbowman

August 24, 2010

Last week we brought you something a little different; the first part of blogger competition winner, James Ward’s report on his visit to NYC. His pen-based analysis compared New York with his home city, London.

You’ll probably remember that at the end of the first round’s assessment of ‘pictorial’ pens, London had scored a disappointing 2/5 while the Big Apple received a more convincing 3/5 for its efforts.


James now turns his attention to the ‘floaty’ and ‘sculptural’ varieties of pen. Which mighty metropolis will triumph in the souvenir stationery stakes – and by extension, overall? All is revealed in”¦



The Floaty Pen

“Probably the most famous example of the floaty pen is that which in one orientation features a bikini-clad lady, and as it is upturned reveals her full and exciting nakedness (“You know who would like these pens?” Homer Simpson once asked Apu. “Men”.)


Beyond allowing stationery-obsessed men a brief but exhilarating glimpse at female nudity, the floaty pen is also a way in which geographical realities can be represented in pen form.

Consequently, the visitor to New York can buy a pen which, as it is slowly upturned, recreates with astonishing accuracy that time when King Kong climbed up the Empire State Building by showing a small plastic gorilla slowly gliding up the side of a skyscraper. I was impressed by the historical accuracy of this pen.


Floaty pens of London and New York City

Floaty pens of London and New York City


The London floaty features a small plastic boat gliding along the Thames. Slowly. The reverse of the pen is labelled “Glorious Britain”, but I am not impressed. There seems very little which could be considered “glorious” about this pen.

In terms of spectacle, I would rather watch King Kong climbing up the Empire State Building than see a boat sail along the Thames (perhaps I am an unfair judge, I have seen boats on the Thames many times before. I have never seen a giant gorilla scale the Empire State Building).


LONDON:    1/5

The Sculptural Pen

The sculptural pen is defined by the inclusion of a local landmark or figure recreated in moulded plastic perched on top of the pen. Ideally, it helps if the chosen landmark is quite linear in form so as to continue the line of the pen. For this reason, towers and statues are ideal. Beaches or lakes are not really suitable.


New York, of course, has the perfect sculptural pen icon in the form of the Statue of Liberty.  It’s almost as if it was designed to appear on the top of a souvenir pen (it wasn’t – the injection moulding process used to produce the pens hadn’t been invented in 1886 when the statue was presented to America by the people of France). However, there is one flaw in the design of the Statue of Liberty which impacts on its suitability for this type of pen: the torch. When cheaply produced in plastic, the upraised arm can be fragile. In fact, I bought two Statue of Liberty pens during my trip. The flame of the torch snapped off one. The poor lady’s hand snapped off the other.


Statue of Liberty sculptural pen (broken)

Statue of Liberty sculptural pen (broken)


London doesn’t really have anything like the Statue of Liberty which sits as well on the top of a pen. There’s Big Ben of course, but that looks a bit odd separated from the Houses of Parliament. Nelson’s Column isn’t iconic enough. The London Eye is too round. Tower Bridge is too wide. The Angus Steakhouse on Shaftesbury Avenue apparently isn’t important enough to justify a pen.

Instead, London is forced to rely on its more mundane features for sculptural pens – red telephone boxes (the sort which don’t really exist anymore) and policemen’s helmets. It is a sad state of affairs when, as a city, the best thing we have to celebrate in pen form is a phone box and a tall hat. In failing to have anything as iconic or impressive as the Statue of Liberty to inspire a sculptural pen, London sometimes attempts to overcome that shortfall by adding some sort of red fluffy stuff instead (see below). Cheap gimmicks, London. Ken Livingstone, you should be ashamed.

NEW YORK:    4/5

LONDON:    1/5

London pillar box pen with red fluffy stuff, courtesy of Sian Sparkles

London pillar box pen with red fluffy stuff, courtesy of Sian Sparkles2



Using simple mental arithmetic (or, if you must, a calculator), we can see that London scores a very disappointing four out of fifteen. This is particularly poor when compared to New York, which scored an impressive eleven out of fifteen. New York is almost three times better at souvenir stationery than London. Our national pride is at stake here. Come on, Gordon Brown, do something about it – you’re the prime minister, it’s your job.”

Photos courtesy of James Ward and siansparkles. Statue of Liberty image by laverrue on Flickr.

Do you have any interesting, outrageous or simply baffling tokens from your travels? Why not take a picture and submit it to our new vtravelled Flickr group, tagged with the word souvenir. We’ll offer our own secret souvenir prize for the best one.


For great deals on getting to New York, visit Virgin Atlantic for daily flights from London to NYC.