Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Fountain Pen

Dear Reader,

You might have noticed my recent missive on the death of one of my favorite pens. It wasn't the cheapest of writing devices but, to be honest, it was a disposable pen. Still there was something about it, some kind of attachment that made me actually feel sorry when it reached the end of its life and spilled its last bit of ink on paper. It started me thinking about writing and writing instruments and, generally, the handwritten word.

The first functional fountain pen was patented by Louis Waterman in 1884. Earlier, ink-carrying writing devices preceded Waterman's pen – a Frenchman named M. Bion designed one in 1702 and Peregrin Williamson, a Boston shoemaker, patented a pen in 1809. Schaefer and Parker also had pen (or pen-like devices) before Waterman; however all were plagued by ink spills and weren't widely used. Waterman's design attempted to rectify some of the most irritating failures of previous pens by adding an air hole to the nib and three grooves inside the ink reservoir. The end result of Waterman's experimentation was a more reliable pen with fewer ruined documents.

It's interesting to think that, since the nib of a pen wore down according to the way the writer used it; a fountain pen essentially became broken in, conforming to the writing style of the owner. Up until the invention of the ballpoint pen (1945), pens were as personal as clothing.

The mention of the disposable ink pen brings me back to my old faithful Precise V5. Like the fountain pen, the V5 is far from the perfect writing instrument – the ink can smear, some V5's put down ink like a paint roller, they can leak, and taking one up in an airplane should only be undertaken if you have a change of clothing because the pressure will drive the ink right out of the reservoir. It is, however, one of my weapons of choice when it comes to putting word on page. I've been looking for a good fountain pen and I've even gotten a set of Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens just for the novelty but the V5 will always be a favorite.

Recently, however, I've been using a new pen for my longhand composition. The Varsity is a disposable fountain pen made by Pilot. It is available in a range of colors (good if you're making corrections and notes on a manuscript) and unlike some disposable fountain pens I've used, has a metal nib. So far the writing is smooth and I haven't encountered any problems with smearing or leaking. Not a replacement for the V5 but a change of pace, for certain.

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