The fountain pen

Thanks to its peculiar ink transmission system, the fountain pen has a unique ability in terms of expressiveness and fluidity of the stroke. The nib represents its true soul and must be chosen according to the style of the user. Precisely for this reason it is essential to know the different types of nibs on the market and their characteristics, just as it is important to know how types of fountain pens differ.

The fountain pen, is a timeless myth and still very much alive! Certainly not to be locked up in a museum, the fountain pen is not just for collectors but an object to be rediscovered, especially in recent years made up of PCs, tablets and touch screens. By simply evoking its name, you feel enclosed by a new sensation, made of large white sheets crossed by neat lines of ink. Closing your eyes you almost smell the scent of wooden furniture, drapery, of an “antiquity” that always deserves to be rediscovered, preserved and enhanced. The fountain pen, therefore, is much more than a simple tool for writers, it is a real symbol. But to get to know it well, it’s best to start from the beginning.

The fountain pen: what is it

The main feature of the fountain pen is its ink distribution system which, thanks to the principles of gravity and capillarity, connects a tank full of ink to a nib. In fact, it is thanks to this peculiar system that the fountain pen has a unique ability in terms of expressiveness and fluidity of the writing stroke. At the same time, the stylus pen requires special care and attention. If it is not used daily, for example, the ink in the tank could dry up, obstructing the sophisticated distribution system, which would not be able to get a uniform flow to the nib, which is essential for smooth and pleasant writing.

The fountain pen in history

There are traces of the origins of the modern fountain pen that date back to ancient times. In fact, in 953, when an Egyptian imam asked for a pen that would not stain, he received a pen consisting of a reservoir and a nib, from which the ink flowed out. Later, in the Renaissance, a pen of this type was also depicted in some drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.

As for its modern history, however, it can be traced to 1780, the year in which a prototype of a fountain pen was developed by a certain Scheller, who thus laid the foundations for the first patent in 1809. Just under twenty years later, in 1827, the French government also patented the fountain pen and started a vigorous production.

The biggest stumbling block in perfecting this new object was the need to ensure a uniform ink flow: enough to write but not too much to stain everything. They tried everything, from complex systems of valves, vents and taps. In the end, they concluded that the only possible solution was to rely on the physical phenomenon of capillarity.

The fundamental step towards the modern fountain pen therefore consists in overcoming the problems linked to the functioning of the distribution system between the ink chamber and the nib. In this sense, the contribution of Lewis Waterman was fundamental, he invented the multi-fissure reservoir, giving reliability and functionality to this type of pen. Since then, of course, giant leaps have been made with respect to flow quality and chamber refilling. In 1929 Pelikan designed the piston-filler fountain pen, which is still on the market, although obviously much less used than the cartridge, created by the French branch of Waterman, which today is certainly the most used system.

How the fountain pen works

Beautiful to look at, linear in appearance, the fountain pen is actually a well-built machine and a writing instrument that is not easy to handle. It commands respect!

The fountain pen piece by piece

In addition to the barrel, which functions as a reservoir, and the nib from which the ink comes out, the fountain pen is composed of:

  • the casing, or the external part, often consisting of the barrel (body) and cap;
  • the delivery system that allows the ink to pass from the tube to the nib through tiny rods and then to “flow” onto the paper;
  • the clasp, initially not widely used, but which became established over time, until its current common usage.

Operation, use and maintenance

It is not easy to become familiar with this type of pen, which is why it is important to practice. Unlike other types of pen, the fountain pen must not be used vertically, the nib must instead be placed on the sheet obliquely at 45 °, keeping the pen still between the thumb and forefinger. Through the weight of the pen, once you place the nib, the ink will come out automatically and, if the nib is flexible, depending on the pressure you exert, you can have a wider or narrower stroke.

Particular care and attention is required when the ink runs out or when you want to change the color. It is always advisable to clean the nib and, when putting the cap back on, it is important to keep the pen vertically with the nib facing up, otherwise the ink could come out and cause stains. For optimal conservation of the fountain pen, regardless of whether or not the ink runs out, this maintenance should be performed more or less every two or three weeks.

Types of fountain pen: it depends (a lot) on the nib

The nib can be considered the soul of the fountain pen; it is built with precious material that gives softness to the writing quality of the pen. It can be steel, or gold, a ductile material that makes writing soft and smooth, and for some years now, also titanium.

There is no single model of nib, on the contrary, changing it transforms the style of the fountain pen, which must however adapt to the type of writing of the person who uses it. For example, a person who tends to write with a thick stroke will have to look for a wider nib, while someone who is used to a smaller stroke and fine writing will have to choose a thinner nib. For this, there are different types of nibs, which differ mainly (but not exclusively) based on the size of their tip:

  • Extra Fine (EF).
  • Fine (F).
  • Medium (M).
  • Large (B).
  • Extra-large (BB).
  • Large Oblique (OB), which allows a thick but still smooth stroke.
  • Medium Oblique (OM), with a particular oblique finish designed to increase the sensation of smoothness.
  • Left Hand (LH), which is the specific stylus for left-handed people.

Beyond the style of nib that you choose, fountain pens can still be divided into three main types, which are characterized by the refill method.

  1. 1. The cartridge fountain pen is certainly the most common type; the ink is refilled by directly replacing the finished cartridge with a new full one.
  2. The converter fountain pen. In this case, the cartridge is not replaced but refilled from time to time. This saves the waste of a cartridge casing, but obviously the refilling process is more complicated. The advantage is that, if necessary, a replacement cartridge can be used, which is certainly more practical in some situations.

The piston fountain pen, on the other hand, has no cartridge, but an internal reservoir that must be refilled directly. It is certainly the least comfortable solution, but also the most fascinating and real; some purist enthusiasts won’t allow alternatives!