While we may go on and on extolling the virtues of woodcase pencils, fountain pens, gel pens, and rollerballs, something must be said about the universality of the humble ballpoint. When you think of a pen, the first thing that comes to mind is the ballpoint, and it's easy to see why; they're everywhere.
But that was not always the case. Back before the invention of the ballpoint, every bit of ink writing needed to be done with a fountain pen. Though many enjoy using fountain pens, the need to fill, clean, and maintain them is seen as a hobby to some and a chore to others. To cater to the need for a self-contained ink-filled writing instrument, one that could write on nearly any paper, no matter how cheap (try writing on newsprint with a fountain pen), and anywhere, including an airplane, Laszlo Biro introduced the ballpoint pen in 1938. After buying the patent from him in 1945, Laszlo Biro introduced the Bic Cristal in 1950. The "Biro," as it is known in many countries, is the archetype of the "pen." And, at only $1 for ten of them, it's the cheapest good writing instrument out there, to this day. Pencils in this range include the woodcased Dixon #2, which has been accepted as one of the worst pencils out there, and the Papermate Write Bros mechanical, which bends, cracks, and breaks in less than a week. I will acknowledge that in terms of overall writing experience, you can do much better with the likes of a fountain pen or rollerball, or even a premium woodcase pencil, but that's not the real point of the Bic Cristal. The Cristal is versatile, dependable, and really, really cheap, and that's what makes it classic.
Fit/Finish: The hexagonal shape and long, thin body are tributes to the traditional woodcase pencil, and makes the pen comfortable to hold while simultaneously resisting rolling off a desk. Mold lines are visible, but not too sharp to the touch, and the clear body makes it easy to see when you'll run out of ink. The pen is surprisingly robust, and will not bend or crack in the hand.
Performance: For the price, nothing even comes close. The line is smooth, legible, and consistent, unlike the $20 Caran d'Ache 849. According to Bic's website, the pen will write for 2-3km (1.2-1.9 mi). Not too shabby for 10 cents!
Overall: Inducted into the MoMA's permanent collection, the Cristal is timeless, made to precision standards, and performs well. Anyone looking for a classic writing instrument with a ton of history behind it need not spend $40+ on an original Blackwing 602, nor $100+ on a Waterman, Lamy, or Mont Blanc fountain pen - the humble Bic Cristal has what you're looking for.