Thursday, May 7, 2009

Have You Tried... Fountain Pens?

Does anyone remember the fountain pen?

You may have seen them; horrible things with rubber bladders that sucked up a supply of black stuff from an inkwell on the school desk, and then squirted all over your clothes. More than one mother cursed Lewis Waterman, who patented the infernal devices back in 1884. His was the first "practical" patent; the others before him were practically useless, and spilled more ink than they put on paper.

Before the fountain pen with its internal ink supply, we only had quill pens. Pulled from goose tails, the shaft was shaved to remove the fuzz that could soak the ink up the shaft to your fingers.

You've heard of penknives, right? These were originally the knives used to sharpen the end of a pen to a point and then split it at the end.

Just why are fountain pens split at their point? For exactly the same reason we used to use penknives to split the quills - the split point will hold more of the ink. Not much, for sure. You'll still be dipping into the inkwell every few words, but the split does hold more ink than just a point. Put pen to paper and write a few words. Dip it into the well again for more ink and write a few more words. More dips, more words. Dip, write, and repeat.

The Book of Kells is an example of the beautifully illuminated manuscripts created by simple quill pens.

People got tired of having to sharpen the quills, which wore out very quickly and broke easily. In the early 19th century someone invented a steel nib trying many variations of splits and folds trying to get it to hold more ink. Still seeking improvement, other inventors came up with new ideas, and finally in 1930's we had the first ballpoint pen.

When the pen manufacturers added a clip so men could keep pens in their pockets, they became a part of fashion. Rings were added to women's pens so they could be attached to a chain.

Ballpoint pens went wild in the 60's. You could get them with up to ten different colors in one big fat pen. People pretty much stopped using fountain pens as much because of the cost as compared to the ease of using the new disposable pens.

But today, the fountain pen is making a reappearance, at a more modest price. Many writers, artists and executives prefer a classic Parker to the plastic Biro that gets tossed out when empty.

So, you once more have the option of a beautifully crafted set consisting of fountain pen and mechanical pencil, another blast from the past. Or, you can pick up just the pen, in a classically lovely box, lined with velvet and embossed with gold.

About the author.
Gretchen Allbright is a calligrapher who has been a student of artistic writing all her life.
She teaches calligraphy to private students in her studio. You can read more articles about pens at yupPen


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