Monday Feb. 8, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Fountain Pen
On this Day:
In 1883, Louis Waterman began experiments to invent the fountain pen. Well, except others beat him to it. By a wide margin.
A fountain pen is a writing instrument which uses a metal nib to apply a water-based ink to paper. It is distinguished from earlier dip pens by using an internal reservoir to hold ink, eliminating the need to repeatedly dip the pen in an inkwell during use. The pen draws ink from the reservoir through a feed to the nib and deposits it on paper via a combination of gravity and capillary action. Filling the reservoir with ink may be achieved manually, via the use of an eye dropper or syringe, or via an internal filling mechanism which creates suction (for example, through a piston mechanism) or a vacuum to transfer ink directly through the nib into the reservoir. Some pens employ removable reservoirs in the form of pre-filled ink cartridges.
According to Qadi al-Nu’man al-Tamimi (d. 974) in his Kitab al-Majalis wa ‘l-musayarat, the Fatimid caliph Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah in Arab Egypt demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen that held ink in a reservoir, allowing it to be held upside-down without leaking.
There is compelling evidence that a working fountain pen was constructed and used during the Renaissance by artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo’s journals contain drawings with cross-sections of what appears to be a reservoir pen that works by both gravity and capillary action. Historians also took note of the fact that the handwriting in the inventor’s surviving journals is of a consistent contrast throughout, rather than exhibiting the characteristic fading pattern typical of a quill pen caused by expending and re-dipping. While no physical item survives, several working models were reconstructed in 2011 by artist Amerigo Bombara that have since been put on display in museums dedicated to Leonardo.
Progress in developing a reliable pen was slow until the mid-19th century because of an imperfect understanding of the role that air pressure plays in the operation of pens. Furthermore, most inks were highly corrosive and full of sedimentary inclusions. The first English patent for a fountain pen was issued in May 1809 to Frederick Fölsch, with a patent covering (among other things) an improved fountain pen feed issued to Joseph Bramah in September 1809. John Scheffer’s patent of 1819 was the first design to see commercial success, with a number of surviving examples of his “Penographic” known. Another noteworthy pioneer design was John Jacob Parker’s, patented in 1832 – a self-filler with a screw-operated piston. The Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru received a French patent on May 25, 1827, for the invention of a fountain pen with a barrel made from a large swan quill.
In 1848, American inventor Azel Storrs Lyman patented a pen with “a combined holder and nib”. From the 1850s, there was a steadily accelerating stream of fountain pen patents and pens in production. However, it was only after three key inventions were in place that the fountain pen became a widely popular writing instrument. Those were the iridium-tipped gold nib, hard rubber, and free-flowing ink.
The first fountain pens making use of all these key ingredients appeared in the 1850s. In the 1870s Duncan MacKinnon, a Canadian living in New York City, and Alonzo T. Cross of Providence, Rhode Island, created stylographic pens with a hollow, tubular nib and a wire acting as a valve. Stylographic pens are now used mostly for drafting and technical drawing but were very popular in the decade beginning in 1875. In the 1880s the era of the mass-produced fountain pen finally began. The dominant American producers in this pioneer era were Waterman, of New York City, and Wirt, based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Waterman soon outstripped Wirt, along with many companies that sprang up to fill the new and growing fountain pen market. Waterman remained the market leader until the early 1920s.
At this time, fountain pens were almost all filled by unscrewing a portion of the hollow barrel or holder and inserting the ink by means of an eyedropper – a slow and messy procedure. Pens also tended to leak inside their caps and at the joint where the barrel opened for filling. Now that the materials’ problems had been overcome and the flow of ink while writing had been regulated, the next problems to be solved were the creation of a simple, convenient self-filler and the problem of leakage. In 1890, W. B. Purvis patented a self-filler. Self-fillers began to arrive around the turn of the century; the most successful of these was probably the Conklin crescent-filler, followed by A. A. Waterman’s twist-filler. The tipping point, however, was the runaway success of Walter A. Sheaffer’s lever-filler, introduced in 1912, paralleled by Parker’s roughly contemporary button-filler.
By the 1960s, refinements in ballpoint pen production gradually ensured its dominance over the fountain pen for casual use. Although cartridge-filler fountain pens are still in common use in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, India, and the United Kingdom, and are widely used by young students in most private schools in England, at least one private school in Scotland, and public elementary schools in Germany, a few modern manufacturers (especially Montblanc, Graf von Faber-Castell, and Visconti) now depict the fountain pen as a collectible item or a status symbol, rather than an everyday writing tool. However, fountain pens continue to have a growing following among many who view them as superior writing instruments due to their relative smoothness and versatility. Retailers continue to sell fountain pens and inks for casual and calligraphic use. Recently, fountain pens have made a resurgence, with many manufacturers of fountain pens saying sales are climbing. This has led to a new wave of casual use fountain pens and custom ink manufacturers, who utilize online stores to easily sell fountain pens to a wider audience (per Wikipedia).
[Editor: I was given a fountain pen early in grade school by my uncle Nestor. I loved it. I do know that university would have been much more laborious without my trusted fountain pen which glided over the page and made taking endless notes in class while not exactly a pleasure but at least not so much of a workout…]
First, a Story:
Have you seen the new fountain pen that writes underwater, upside down and in outer space? It writes lots of other words too.
Second, a Song:
Tangerine Dream is a German electronic music band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese. The group has seen many personnel changes over the years, with Froese having been the only continuous member until his death in January 2015. The best-known lineup of the group was its mid-’70s trio of Froese, Christopher Franke, and Peter Baumann. In 1979, Johannes Schmoelling replaced Baumann. Since Froese’s death in 2015, the group has been under the leadership of Thorsten Quaeschning (Froese’s chosen successor and the current longest-serving band member, having joined in 2005). He is joined by violinist Hoshiko Yamane who joined in 2011, Ulrich Schnauss who joined in 2014 and Paul Frick who joined 9 June 2020.
Tangerine Dream are considered a pioneering act in electronica. Their work with the electronic music Ohr label produced albums that had a pivotal role in the development of the German musical scene known as kosmische (“cosmic”). Their “Virgin Years”, so called because of their association with Virgin Records, produced albums that further explored synthesizers and sequencers, including the UK top 20 albums Phaedra (1974) and Rubycon (1975). The group also had a successful career composing film soundtracks, creating over 60 scores, which include those for the films Sorcerer, Thief, The Soldier, Risky Business, Flashpoint, The Keep, Firestarter, Legend, Three O’Clock High, Near Dark, Shy People, and Miracle Mile.
From the late 1990s into the 2000s, Tangerine Dream continued to explore other styles of instrumental music as well as electronica. Their recorded output has been prolific, including over one hundred albums. Among other scoring projects, they helped create the soundtrack for the video game Grand Theft Auto V. Their mid-1970s work has been profoundly influential in the development of electronic music styles such as new age (although the band themselves disliked the term) and electronic dance music.
Their most recent album of all-new music, Quantum Gate, was released on 29 September 2017. In December 2019, the band released Recurring Dreams, a compilation of new recordings of some of the band’s classic compositions.
Here is a live version of Tangerine Dream performing “Living in a Fountain Pen.” I have not been able to find any information on how this song came to have its name. However, it is the most interesting song! I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.” – Graham Greene
In response to the Secret Ballot Smile, Sandy Weams of Campbell River, BC, Canada writes:
“Thank you, Good one David,
Love the video. Hopefully one day we won’t have to fight. But until then we Have to STAND UP and not give up the FIGHT.”
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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