Fountain Pen Musings

fountain pen, rest and ink


 For many years writing pens were made from the quills of larger birds. They were servicable but required frequent dipping to keep it inked and needed attention to keep it working, often accomplished with a small knife which became known as a “pen” knife. Later steel nibs were developed, but still required dipping. The first servicable fountain pen was invented by Lewis Waterman in 1884 which had a reservoir to hold ink and a feed to deliver the right amount of ink to the nib. I think there are a few interesting things about fountain pens that may not be common knowledge.

Fountain Pens and Balloons

Early fountain pens were “eyedropper” fillers meaning the ink reservoir had to be filled by unscrewing the barrel and using an eyedropper to fill it with ink. This method was frought with problems.  First the nib and feed section may still have ink in it, a rather messy proposition. Also, if the pen wasn’t properly screwed back together it may leak ink all over the user’s fingers or clothes. A self-filling fountain pen would be a big advantage.

The solution was a rubber sac held in the barrel of the pen which when compressed and the nib submerged in ink it would draw in a quantity, no disassembly required. The White Rubber Company was making sacs on a small scale for this new invention.

Roy Conklin invented the Crescent filler, the first practical self-filling fountain pen,in the late 1890s. This pen had a bar inside the barrel with a crescent shape attached to it which projected through a slot in the barrel. All that was required was to press the crescent  a few times to compress the sac and fill the pen.

The idea for pen sacs came to the owner of the rubber company as he was looking at the production of another product, a childs balloon.  This process was adapted and scaled up to make the large volume required for the expanding fountain pen industry.

crescent fountain pen

Mark Twain and the Conklin Pen Company

Mark Twain liked the new Crescent Filler pen and wrote to the company in the very early 20th Century to express his delight. He liked the fact being a self-filler, he couldn’t misplace the eyedropper to fill the pen.  Mr. Twain became a spokesman for the pen company and later said the pen was also a “profanity saver, it cannot roll off the desk.” This is in reference to the fact that fountain pens at this time did not have clips on them, and if laid on the desk, the round pen was very prone to roll off onto the floor and of course,often nib first, requiring a repair. 

Conklin pen nib

Gold Fountain Pen Nibs

Many vintage fountain pen collectors and users want a pen with a gold nib. Fountain pens were made with gold nibs for a couple of reasons. First, the inks at the time were often quite corrosive and gold is very resistant to corrosion. If a gold nib were left without rinsing it would not corrode unlike the steel or gold plated nibs. Gold is also associated, true or not, with a higher class of pen. Second, many of the earlier gold nibs had differing degrees of “flex” to them which allows for an expressive script with varying line thickness. 

When a Pen Is Not a Pen

A pocket with a pen clipped to it was a common sight but things were not always what they seemed.  A couple of the major pen companies made holy water “pens.” A priest could fill it with holy water and always have it at the ready to sprinkle with a blessing when needed. I wonder how may blessing were done with ink when the wrong pen was  used.

The other “pen” was made for doctors to carry thermometers, at the time mercury in glass tubes, to keep them safe and at the ready.  Parker even made a three piece doctor’s pen set, a fountain pen, mechanical pencil and a thermometer case.

That is enough for now, more later–Paul

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  1. Very interesting article, Paul. Every time I pick up my favorite Cross pen, I will think of Mark Twain’s comment about it being a “profanity saver”.

    1. Francois,
      I’m glad that there are people still writing and using good pens not the disposable ones! Thanks for your comments,

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