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The Pen Ultimate

Everybody's had one—or 6, or 60. From the gag gift (Look! The girl lost her bikini!) to the classic souvenir (Look! The trolley's leaving!), the "floaty pen" has traveled a long and squiggly path. They're found at trinket stands from Albuquerque to Avignon, with their waterlogged, incredibly detailed moving tableaux in the upper half of the barrel. Connoisseurs, however, know to look for the embossed MADE IN DENMARK on the metal clip. That's because Eskesen, the Danish company that created the floating-action pen in 1946, still produces the world's finest. There are nowdozens of collectors' clubs (see www.floatabout.com), the Idaho Center for the Book staged a floaty-pen exhibition (go to www.boisestate.edu/hemingway/floaty/about.htm)—and the pens are all over eBay, naturally—but these distant relatives of the snow globe remain a fun, inexpensive way to trace your family's journeys...indelibly, in ink.

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