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Jul 28, 2008

The Fountain Pen


Did you know...

The reservoir fountain pen dates back to 953, when Ma'ād al-Mu'izz, the caliph of Egypt, demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen which held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib by using gravity and capillary action.

These writing instruments we call "fountain pens" that were designed to carry their own supply of ink have existed for over one hundred years.

The oldest known fountain pen that has survived today was designed by a Frenchmen named M. Bion and dated 1702.

The fountain pen's design came after a thousand years of using quill-pens.

Early inventors observed the apparent natural ink reserve found in the hollow channel of a bird's feather
and tried to produce a similar effect, with a man-made pen that would hold more ink and not require constant
dipping into the ink well. However, a feather is not a pen, only a natural object modified to suit man's needs.

Filling a long thin reservoir made of hard rubber with ink and sticking a metal 'nib' at the bottom was not
enough to produce a smooth writing instrument. Lewis Waterman, an insurance salesman, was inspired to improve
the early fountain pen designs after destroying a valuable sales contract with leaky-pen ink.
Lewis Waterman's idea was to add an air hole in the nib and three grooves inside the feed mechanism.

All pens contain an internal reservoir for ink. The different ways that reservoirs filled proved to be one of the
most competitive areas in the pen industry. The earliest 19th century pens used an eyedropper; by 1915, most pens
had switched to having a self-filling soft and flexible rubber sac as an ink reservoir. To refill these pens, the
reservoirs were squeezed flat by an internal plate, then the pen's nib was inserted into a bottle of ink and the
pressure on the internal plate was released so that the ink sac would fill up drawing in a fresh supply of ink.

Here are the different types of fillers that have been used over the years...

The Button Filler: Patented in 1905 and first offered by the Parker Pen Co. in 1913 as an alternative
to the eyedropper method. An external button connected to the internal pressure plate that flattened
the ink sac when pressed.

Lever Filler: Walter Sheaffer patented the lever filler in 1908. The W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company of Fort Madison, Iowa
introduced it in 1912. An external lever depressed the flexible ink sac. The lever fitted flush with the barrel of the pen when it was not in use. The lever filler became the winning design for the next forty years, the button filler coming in second.

Click Filler: First called the crescent filler, Roy Conklin of Toledo commercially produced the first one. A later design by Parker Pen Co. used the name click filler. When two protruding tabs on the outside of the pen pressed, the ink sac deflated. The tabs would make a clicking sound when the sac was full.

Matchstick Filler: Introduced around 1910 by the Weidlich Company. A small rod mounted on the pen or a common matchstick depressed the internal pressure plate through a hole in the side of the barrel.

Coin Filler: Developed by Lewis Waterman in an attempt to compete with the winning lever filler patent belonging to Sheaffer. A slot in the barrel of the pen enabled a coin to deflate the internal pressure plate, a similar idea to the matchstick filler.


Peregrin Williamson, a Baltimore shoemaker, received the first American patent for a pen in 1809.

William Purvis of Philadelphia invented and patented improvements to the fountain pen in 1890.
He made several improvements to the fountain pen in order to make it a "more durable,
inexpensive, and better pen to carry in the pocket."
Purvis used an elastic tube between the pen nib and the ink reservoir that used a suction action to return any
excess ink to the ink reservoir, reducing ink spills and increasing the longevity of the ink.

John Scheffer received a British patent in 1819 for his half quill, half metal pen that he attempted to mass manufacture.

John Jacob Parker patented the first self-filling fountain pen in 1831. However, early fountain pen models were plagued
by ink spills and other failures that left them impractical and hard to sell.

1 comment:

Marilynn said...

Wow I didn't know that pens went that far back. I guess I have always assumed that quills and brushes were in use until modern times.

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