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 the good old day 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 turn towards new horizons.
Then life had lured me to other fields of enjoyment. On several occasions, I wished to return to writing. 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 my address, handwritten. What a rare thing in 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 it.
Origin of a Word
Countries with their language based on Latin, call the fountain pen something like stylographe, estilografica and penna stilografica. You recognise the roots of the two Latin 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 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 or something that fills or can be filled.
All the above still does not supply any clues for why the English call it 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 of 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. 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 involving my mind for almost my entire waking time (… until I had completed this introduction). 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 around fountain pens awaited me filled 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 delving 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, found bits and pieces that people knew about, but so far, I have not discovered any writing about how fountain pens work and why they look like 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 distinctive; they love their pens, they have a relationship with them, and the longer this relationship lasts, the deeper it has grown.
In a loving relationship, the worst that can happen is when your loved one turns ill. In our case, it would be a severe malfunction of the fountain pen, which often tightens the bond even stronger.
If maladies are minor, we readily forgive and kindly oversee them. We learn to manage and gladly adjust our expectations to the altered situation.
But if, lo and behold, 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 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, on the contrary. Secondly, writers need to be well informed about the selection criteria and have some 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 (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 all irons fit into one and the same iconographic envelope, its semantics. They all contain the same main features and shapes that tell us that the thing in front of our eyes is an iron. The handle, the body with the metal sole, the dial and the electric cord.
And they are all arranged in the familiar constellation. And so it is with fountain pens. If you ask: “Why this is so?” then, ask me. Your inquiries set the priority of all the things there is to write about,
What now? I would suggest you start with the next page Components of Fountain Pens. It’s a brief introduction of the individual components. From there, you can follow links to their main articles. And on from there, it’s all systematically arranged … I used to be a teacher.
During my googling in the net, I found one writer in particular, namely Richard C. Conner, who has published excellent papers on fountain pens and ‘other pens’ which I want to mention. Unfortunately, as I was just informed by a reader, Richard has closed all his websites (2018).
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 the 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 rollerball pens for reasons related to writing comfort, expressive penmanship, aesthetics, history and heritage.”
With all this in mind: Enjoy reading and discovering