such a pen is increasingly anachronistic in times when everything
is typed rather than written - many desk jockeys will have had that
strange experience of picking up a pen and applying it to paper,
only to find that it’s as though they’ve forgotten how to write.
Perhaps it’s only a matter of a generation or two before knowing
how to write is no longer considered an essential aspect of a
child’s education. But for every technological advance there tends
to be a backlash - and steadily growing sales of fountain (and
other proper) pens is the lash back to the written word. Not for
nothing did Goethe refer to ink as ‘liquid thoughts’ - its use
forces a more ponderous, deeper thinking to what one commits to
paper, even if that’s just your shopping list.
appeal of the pen, like the watch - even of film cameras, record
players and the like - is also a product of the appreciation of
craftsmanship over convenience. The pen has to master materials and
form - being neither too light, nor too heavy, neither too slender,
not too chunky, providing grip where needed, which is why a design
the likes of (the fantastically-named) Yard-o-Led’s Diplomat has
been unchanged since 1934. It has to feel right in the hand. But,
harder to pull off, it also has to have perfect balance - like good
cutlery or a Japanese katana sword, compared with which the pen,
naturally, is mightier.
emphasis on the quality of build is why there’s also a booming
collectors’ market for pens, with those in lacquer, gold or silver,
from the 1920s to 1940s, most especially sought. Cover a one-off
Tibaldi pen in black diamonds and you can pay £5.9m for it - it’s
the most expensive pen sold at auction. Yet there’s good reason to
buy new. Ultimately the difference between a great pen and a good
one - especially in a fountain model - lies in the nib. Modern nibs
are typically more rigid than their vintage counterparts - which is
good for the heavy-handed, brought up as they may have been on
ball-points - but, thanks to advances in manufacturing and
metallurgy, they also write much more smoothly (though, since the
nib takes on its resting shape in response to its owner’s handling,
it’s true that one shouldn’t share one’s pen with anyone
else) The fountain pen may not yet be entirely a thing of the
past, but the scratchiness one might associate with using one
fountain pen is not a new idea - remarkably the first prototype for
a pen that carried its own ink supply dates to 1636, when German
inventor Daniel Schwenter first proposed setting one quill inside
another. The Germans, in fact, have been responsible for most
developments in pen-craft - the likes of iridium-tipped nibs, after
it was discovered that the inks corroded the gold; or the use of
special rubbers that didn’t turn brittle over time. The modern nib
- with an air hole and grooved feed mechanism, fixed to a barrel
that doubled as a reservoir - was the invention in 1884 of an
insurance salesman, one Lewis Waterman, who no doubt delighted in
signing bits of paper.
since then the stationery market has been far from stationary.
Indeed, contrary to expectation perhaps - fighting a losing battle
as digital diehards might argue - the fountain pen keeps advancing.
Recent years have see the advent of smoother pistons, meaning
loading a pen with ink is easier; the ink itself has been refined
to more free-flowing; barrels, if not in a precious metal, are made
from reinforced resin or celluloid, which gives both strength and a
warmer handle; while ink feeders made from ebonite - a rubber and
sulphur compound - feed the ink to the nib as fluidly as any
rollerball. Such advances mean that a fountain pen is all the more
capable of dealing with changes in air pressure, so actually you’re
much less likely to disembark your long-haul flight to find a blue
blotch has blossomed on your chest.
not be blue. Black ink, according to cod-psychological analysis, is
said to express the executive type of personality, brown the arty
type, while red - as with underwear in the same colour - is for
large egos and extroverts. That way, you’d also look as though
you’d just been shot.