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French school pupils’ obsession with Bic pens is disrupting classes

The collection craze of the iconic ‘four colour’ pen limited editions leads to theft and trading, say teachers

Bic founder and pens

Bic founder Marcel Bich in 1953; diamond studded collaboration with Tournaire jewellery; original design with blue barrel Pic: VincentChambon_4000Print / Ana Belen Garcia Sanchez / Shutterstock

The “Bic quatre couleurs”, a four-coloured pen from the popular French brand Bic, is at the centre stage of an unexpected and bizarre trend in high schools with pupils looking to collect as many different editions as possible. 

But competition over the “Bic quatre couleurs” has worried school teachers, realising that some students were starting side-businesses from thefts and trading deals. 

It started with a simple special edition

The trend took off as the company abandoned its old policy of no new designs and looked to extend its range. 

It has also helped consolidate the worldwide leadership of one of France’s most iconic post-WWII companies, created in 1945 by Marcel Bich, the entrepreneur who bought the patents from the Hungarian inventor of the ballpoint pen.

“The four-colour pen from Bic has always seen strong infatuation from French schoolchildren,” said Astrid Canevet, European communication director for Bic, who was not as surprised as some teachers or parents might be. 

Ms Canevet said the trend in which students make a collection of four-colour Bics is linked to the company’s decision to market special editions. 

It started in 2010 when Bic decided to change its iconic blue-coloured Bic to an apple-green colour. 

Now 20 new editions released per year

The edition was so popular Bic decided to go further into that market segment, increasing the amount of limited editions it produced. 

Ms Canevet was unable to reveal how many editions existed, adding that Bic released around 20 different editions per year.

“Since the body of the four-colour Bic is wider than the single ballpoint pen, it is ideal for personalised content,” said Ms Canevet, adding the company has multiplied collaborations.

More elaborate versions

The four-colour pen got customised for Mother’s and Father’s Day, got special editions for cities such as London or San Francisco and even prestigious collaborations with jewellers and French artist Richard Orlinski.

The Orlinski collaboration with French jewellery Tournaire designed the most expensive Bic in the world, priced at €24,500 and mounted with 202 diamonds. 

It is, understandably, the lowest-selling Bic special edition, said Ms Canevet.

History of Bic

The four-colour pen was created in 1970 and meant to facilitate French students’ writing by providing four colours in one pen, aligning with the company’s ambition when Mr Bich first designed his Crystal Bic.

The Crystal Bic was designed in 1950 after buying the ballpoint pen patent from the Hungarian inventor László Bíró to which Mr Bich improved the ink composition, and the connection from the ballpoint to the ink reservoir. 

He sold it for as low as 0.5 francs, a steal at the time. 

Mr Bich first introduced his product in classrooms in 1965, prompting immediate success among students who were no longer dependent on cartridge pens and ink pots. 

Classroom conflicts are ‘paralysing’ teaching

But the increasing circulation of four-colour Bics in classrooms generated thefts and side-hustle businesses from students. 

Several French newspapers reported concerns among teachers and school principals.

“It is a source of conflict that is paralysing our daily tasks,” Pierre-Yves Le Cossec, principal of a highschool in the Val-de-Marne, told French newspaper Le Monde

Other teachers published similar concerns on Neoprofs, an internet forum dedicated to the teaching industry, with some pointing at the increasing number of teachers banning the four-colour Bic. 

Ms Canevet said she received an email from a principal’s school about thefts among students while several teacher unions’ representatives, when contacted by The Connexion, said they have not received any report of thefts or dealing in “Bic quatre couleurs”. 

“I have not received a call but I know it exists in some,” said Ms Canevet when suggested French schools could be among those collaborating with the brand in an attempt to curb the phenomenon. 

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