I love telling stories.
Friends and Fountain Pens
On Saturday, the 9th of May in the year 2008 anno Domini, I had temporarily left this world allowing myself to delve into the metaphysical spheres of my mind. This is definitely my most favourite pursuit.
Dreams, the past, the future and many of the innumerous present moments invited me to feel joy. Reminiscing about the good old days evoked memories of fountain pens, which to me means, the stories about their making. And as so often, I got infected by my own excitement, and one story shook hands with the next. During a moment of mental rest, I thought absent-minded: “You should write all these things down.”
I call this angel talk, which happens every now and any odd year. Each time, it spurs me to leave things behind and devote my attention to new horizons.
Alas, referring to me writing about fountain pens, most often, life lured me to other fields of enjoyment. On several occasions, I wished to return to writing about pens; however, I experienced an annoying writer’s block, and absolutely nothing wanted to appear on paper (on the computer screen). Just in time, I received a letter with, most astonishingly, my address, handwritten. What a rare thing in this time of the information age.
When I opened it, I found that the entire letter had been handwritten in ink, written by a long-standing friend.
He explained that he intended to write with his fountain pen again, for many reasons. Last, but not least, for the exercise it provides to the brain. He elaborated: “One has to construct a sentence before writing it and holding it while writing. In comparison with using a word processor, the required brain capacity is far greater.”
Nostalgia touched me, and I cleaned my favourite fountain pen, a Shaeffer Targa 1001XG. After several years of resting in a jar with other ‘low level’ pens, after refilling, the old faithful returned to service, no problemo. Even better, the excitement triggered by this job inspired me to write again. Where would we be without our friends?
What rekindled the topic was me pondering on the origin of the word fountain pen, no new thought for a pen designer, undoubtedly. The comparison with a fountain, a well spurting out an endless amount of water sounded too far-fetched. To shed some light on the matter, I wondered what people in other countries call a fountain pen.
Origin of a Word
Countries with their language based on Latin (French, Italy, Spain), call the fountain pen stylographe, estilografica and penna stilografica. You recognise the two Latin root words stilus meaning pointed instrument and graphicum standing for writing implement, which adds up meaning: pointed writing implement.
In English, the word stylograph is dedicated to a particular ink pen, which, rather than a nib, writes with a hollow, tubular, often conical point. In German, the fountain pen is called Füllfederhalter, which means fillable-nib-holder, which very much describes what it is. The abbreviated word is Füller meaning filler which is something that fills or can be filled.
All the above still does not supply any clues for why the English call this implement a fountain pen. Finally, a friend helped solve this etymological puzzle. As you may know, early fountain pens had inside the barrel a flexible rubber bladder to hold ink. A lever or button protruding the barrel wall was used for flattening the bladder.
After releasing the lever, a spring would open the bladder and, if at the same time, the nib was dipped into an inkwell, this action would suck an amount of ink into the bladder. After that, if you turn such a fountain pen into a nib-upward-position and compress the lever, the ink will squirt out and up like a fountain. This explains it all.
Gathering of Thoughts and Information
Resting at this point, this noteworthy conversation continued pestering my mind for almost my entire waking time, thus forcing me to write and complete this introduction; then there was partial peace. At night, my last fading thought still revolved around writing and fountain pens and prevented me from falling asleep.
And when the lark (not the nightingale) called me to rise in the morning, images of fountain pens awaited me, filling me with an excitement that put an end to all attempts of prolonging the sweet, slumberous time of dozing.
Ovidius talks about this type of behaviour when saying: “To wish is of little consequence. To achieve, you must earnestly desire, and this desire must shorten your sleep.” That is what passion feels like.
What stopped me from plunging into the job immediately and also supported my procrastination, was the thought that for sure, someone must have written about fountain pens before, they have been around for such a long time.
Praise to the internet. I googled around for almost all weekend. I found bits and pieces that people knew and have written about, but so far, I have not discovered any writing about how fountain pens work and why they look the way they do.
On Monday, I examined my internet harvest, ordered it, wrote comments and wondered about, how I was going to tell you about fountain pens. Browsing through several forums on fountain pen issues, I noticed that fountain pen people are a distinctive breed of people; they love their pens, they have a relationship with them, and the longer this relationship lasts, the deeper it has grown.
The worst that can happen in a loving relationship is when your loved one turns ill. In our case, it would be a severe malfunction of the fountain pen. Either way, this event often tightens the bond even stronger.
If maladies are minor, we readily forgive and kindly overlook them. We learn to manage and gladly adjust our expectations to the altered situation.
But if, for goodness’ sake, the fountain pen would stop working altogether, we are prepared to bear the often higher charges for repair than the cost of a replacement.
Preventing this breakdown from occurring at all, can primarily be assured by selecting a fountain pen of good quality. It does not mean it has to cost much, like hundreds or thousands of dollars, quite on the contrary. Secondly, writers need to be well-informed about the selection criteria when purchasing a pen and need to have certain skills when writing and maintaining their fountain pen.
About the Shape of Things
Why do fountain pens look the way they do? What gives products the shape they have? Allow me to explain: An iron (for ironing clothes) looks like any other iron. If one endeavoured to design another one, most probably, it would end up looking like one. There is a reason for this.
We all know what an iron looks like, and the shapes of all irons fit into one and the same familiar iconographic envelope (include the same essential components of similar shape, arranged in a similar layout). It’s semantics, meaning the layout and shape of components tell us what the purpose of the product is, what it is.
The Bauhaus has coined and is known for the phrase “Form follows Function” a philosophy which is not in agreement with my way of thinking. For me, the shape of an item results from the merger and interplay of “Form and Function”; the shape is a function, especially when it includes the human interface, the elements of interaction between the item and the user as expressed in the field of ergonomics.
Hence, all irons contain the same main features and shapes (Form follows Function) which tell us that the thing in front of our eyes is an iron. The handle, the body with the metal sole, the dial and, most often (still) the electric cord. And all components are arranged in the familiar constellation.
In the same manner, still much simpler, it is with fountain pens. Most pens are shaped to fit the human hand and to facilitate the act of writing, meaning, being able to see the point where the tip touches the writing surface. That’s basically it. For the protection of the nib, the cap was added as well as the reservoir for the ink to permit continuous writing, but the latter hardly influenced the shape of a pen.
If you ask yourself: “Why this is so?” then, maybe, ask me. All your enquiries set the priority of things about which there is still to be written.
What now? I would suggest you start with the page Components of Fountain Pens, a brief introduction of the individual components. From there, you can follow links to their specific main articles. And from there on, stories and explanations are all systematically arranged … I used to be a teacher.
During my googling on the net, I found one writer whom I want to mention in particular, namely Richard C. Conner, who has published excellent papers on fountain pens and ‘other pens’. Unfortunately, as I was just informed by a reader, Richard has closed all his websites (2018), however, there are still bits floating around at web.archive.org.
Mary Bellis has written A Brief History of Writing, which is well worth reading.
I also would like to turn your attention to the Wikipedia information on fountain pen’s history and technology, which even includes events, which occurred in the ‘Rest of the World’ … outside the US of America.
I would like to finish this introduction by quoting a sentence I found on the internet:
“Today, a majority of modern fountain pen users use fountain pens as their primary writing instruments over ballpoint and roller ball pens for reasons related to writing comfort, expressive penmanship, aesthetics, history, and heritage.”
With all this in mind: Enjoy reading and discovering
9 January, 2022 at 5:29 am
This was in my “more on WordPress’ blurb under a blog post, and I love this so much!!!!! Fountain pens rule!
9 January, 2022 at 9:14 am
Great! Tried to look at your site, but the browser said: “This site can’t be reached”
11 January, 2022 at 5:10 am
Really? Is it still doing that?
17 January, 2022 at 7:29 pm
18 January, 2022 at 2:46 am
Hmmm…no one else has mentioned this problem, so I’m not sure what’s going on. This is a direct link, if that helps…?
18 January, 2022 at 8:50 am
yes, thanks, it works. Lovely site. Had only a 5 minute browse. Will give it more time.
20 January, 2022 at 8:26 am
Oh, good! And thank you!!