A fountain pen is synonymous with elegance and class, not only for its beautiful design but also because it’s not as widely used by the general public. However, this was not always the case. Fountain pens started off as inconvenient and messy writing tools, and gradually evolved into the pen we know today.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the history of the first fountain pen, what fountain pens are used for, and some tips for new fountain pen users.
If you’ve recently received your first fountain pen, this informative guide is a good place to start.
What Is a Fountain Pen?
A fountain pen is a writing tool with an ink reservoir that supplies ink to the nib and allows you to write on paper. It was the first pen of its kind that did not require periodical ink dipping, and it became quite popular during the 1800s.
The pen draws ink from an internal reservoir and feeds the ink into the nib to deposit it onto a page. You can fill the reservoir with an eyedropper, but most modern fountain pens have the option to replace the whole reservoir, making it easier and less messy for the consumer.
Recently, starting in the 1960s, ballpoint pens have become more popular, but some (particularly calligraphers and artists) still prefer the nib of a fountain pen.
Today, there are many companies that sell fountain pens and ink across the world. Some are known as luxurious, and others are more practical. Overall, fountain pens are still quite popular to this day.
Before the Fountain Pen
Humans have been writing down stories, facts, and observations for thousands of years. As our writing has improved, so have the tools we use to write down information.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, the writing tool of choice was a quill or a dip pen that needed to be dipped in ink to write on a piece of paper. This was very convenient and quite advanced for the time, as it allowed people to write down facts and information with relative ease.
As the name suggests, a dip pen consists of a metal nib that needs to be dipped in ink periodically. Unlike fountain pens, a dip pen does not have an internal ink reservoir, meaning you would need to have an ink pot nearby whenever you want to write something down.
The metal nib has grooves (capillary channels) and is mounted on a handle, usually made of wood. Some dip pens are made entirely of glass, which makes them beautiful but also quite fragile. Many dip pens are still used as decorative pieces to this day.
Dip pens replaced quills in the 1800s, which were in use for hundreds of years before that. They were also extremely popular because of their compatibility with virtually any ink (water-based, India, or even iron gall ink). For that same reason, dip pens are still in use today by pen enthusiasts.
Tip: be careful when using iron gall ink with a metal nib — it causes the nibs to corrode quite quickly.
During the 1800s, it was not very convenient to carry around a dip pen and an ink pot everywhere you went, especially since the pots were prone to leaking. There was an obvious need for something else.
The mechanics of developing a pen that could hold ink inside without it falling out seemed rather complicated, and many attempted to innovate a new design. However, none were as successful as Lewis Waterman.
The Invention of the Fountain Pen
Many people call Lewis Waterman the father of modern fountain pens, yet he was not the first to put the idea to the test.
It is said that the famed artist Leonardo Da Vinci constructed a fountain pen in the 1500s for his own personal use. Historians have found sketches of a pen with a reservoir in Da Vinci’s sketchbooks, but the actual invention never survived.
In 1702, a Frenchman named M. Bion designed the oldest known fountain pen that is still around today. In 1809, Peregrin Williamson received the first American patent, and in 1819, John Scheffer received a British patent for the fountain pen.
However, these early prototypes all had one fatal flaw: leaking. The ink was prone to spilling and making a mess. Lewis Waterman was able to construct a fountain pen that didn’t leak everywhere.
Lewis Waterman’s Modifications
The main problem that fountain pens had those days was with the feed. It was very difficult to refill, and the nib would expel blotches of ink seemingly at random.
Waterman made use of capillary action to invent his first fountain pen. He constructed a new feed: a piece of hard material with three channels that ink could flow along. With the help of capillary action, gravity would draw the ink into the channels of the nib.
He obtained a patent in 1884 and started selling his handmade fountain pens from the back of his cigar shop.
Later, he invented the ‘spoon feed’, which was a massive success as it added space to hold excess ink. This made ink drips and spills a lot less likely.
Waterman’s fountain pens were a massive hit, and by 1899, he had opened his first factory and was making great business. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1901 and left the business in the capable hands of his nephew, Frank Waterman.
On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed with a Waterman fountain pen. To this day, Waterman Pens continue to be seen as luxurious and sleek.
Are Fountain Pens Still Popular Today?
Although fountain pens are not as widely used today as they once were, they are still regarded as superior writing instruments. In European countries like France, Italy, and Germany, it is more common to use a fountain pen. They are even still used in some schools!
Online stores have noticed an increase in sales and queries around fountain pens and custom inks, so it’s safe to say that the popularity of fountain pens is rising once again. People are utilizing fountain pens in a more casual way, not just for calligraphy or art.
Fountain pens don’t require as much pressure as ballpoint pens, so some people find it a lot easier to write with fountain pens. They are also highly customizable, and you can choose from a wide variety of nibs and holders.
What Are Fountain Pens Used for?
Today, fountain pens are still quite popular, and there has recently been a surge in the market for fountain pens created in Japan. They are used mostly for calligraphy, art, journaling, letter writing, and more.
Calligraphy requires varied stroke thicknesses and extreme control, both of which a fountain pen can provide. Therefore, we don’t expect fountain pens to become obsolete anytime soon.
Many view fountain pens as a superior writing tool due to their smoothness and versatility. Even though sales of fountain pens are surging, they’re still highly collectible.
The biggest advantage of fountain pens is their ink reservoir that makes it possible to not have to carry around a separate inkwell or ink pot. Despite being very convenient, it still exudes elegance.
On the flip side, the biggest disadvantage of fountain pens is their compatibility or lack thereof. Fountain pens are only compatible with water-based inks with a low viscosity. There is still plenty to choose from though — water-based inks are available in a wide variety of colors.
Even though some artists have no problem with this, others prefer metallic ink or India ink with a higher viscosity. These inks will clog a fountain pen and rust the nib of the pen.
How to Clean Your First Fountain Pen
Fountain pens need to be cleaned often to ensure optimal performance. You should flush your pen and clean your nib every time you fill the ink reservoir or change the cartilage.
Flushing might sound extreme, but it simply means running water through the nib until it’s clean. Follow our basic steps to give your fountain pen a good scrub down.
- Remove the cap and unscrew the nib from the barrel.
- Flush the nib section under cool running water for a few seconds.
- Pour a cup of water and place the barrel into the cup of water. Fill and empty the ink chamber until it’s clean (you’ll probably notice your water changing color as you repeat this process).
- Make sure both parts are dry, and screw the nib onto the barrel again.
- Use the converter or built-in filling system (whichever your pen is equipped with) to cycle water through the pen. This will flush the feed that sits between the nib and the ink reservoir.
- Dry everything thoroughly and store it in a dry environment.
Tips for Your First Fountain Pen
The fountain pen is only one-third of what you actually need. The fountain pen ink and paper are just as important. You should research all three of these before buying anything.
Fountain pens are only compatible with water-based inks, so it would be a waste of time and money to buy metallic or pigmented ink. Buy a basic color like black or blue the first time you practice, and once you feel comfortable with the ink and the pen, you can expand your colors.
Normal printer paper is not the best paper to use for a fountain pen. These papers bleed and feather quite a lot, which can make your calligraphy, art, or journaling look quite messy.
Purchase paper above 135gsm in weight.
No one gets it perfect when they use their first fountain pen. Don’t have high expectations for your first time, and simply remember that you will get the hang of it eventually.
It’s recommended to hold your pen at a 45-degree angle for calligraphy to get varying stroke widths. However, if you’re journaling, this angle would not work for you. Take some time to practice different angles and decide which one works best for you.
Always make sure you have an extra cartridge with full ink on hand. This prevents an ink emergency later down the line.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are fountain pens hard to use?
There is a learning curve to using fountain pens, however, it’s not extremely difficult to get the hang of. Practicing will be your best friend when you get your first fountain pen. Don’t let your first attempts discourage you.
Writing with a fountain pen requires some concentration, but it also requires less pressure from your hand, so you probably won’t get as tired while writing as you normally would.
Are fountain pens messy?
Fountain pens are not messy. Over 100 years ago, they were extremely messy and prone to leaking, but improvements over the years have made this pen a lot cleaner and a lot easier to replace the ink.
To replace the ink, you simply need to replace a disposable ink cartridge instead of using an eyedropper to fill the ink. Easy!
Can you do calligraphy with a fountain pen?
Fountain pens are often used for calligraphy, mostly because of the control that you have over the pen. The nib reacts to your change in pressure and writes thicker or thinner strokes. This is key to calligraphy, so the fountain pen is a great option for calligraphers.
How to Store Your Fountain Pen
Storing your fountain pen in its original packaging is the best and safest option. Never store the pen with the tip facing down, rather, lay it horizontally on your desk or at least with the tip facing upwards.
If you know that you’re going to store your fountain pen for a while, clean it before storing it. Next time you use your pen, you won’t have any issues with old, dried ink.
There you have it — all the information surrounding the first fountain pen and when it was invented. In short, fountain pens have only been around for a relatively short amount of time, and we don’t see them becoming obsolete any time soon.
Whether you have just received your first fountain pen or you’ve been using them for years, we hope you found this article informative. Check out our blog for more articles related to calligraphy, fountain pens, and writing instruments!