Yes, 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
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.
This 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
Certainly the 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.
need 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.