A writing instrument that predates ballpoints and gel pens. Fountain pens have ink reservoirs that feed the nib with ink as one writes. The ink can be refilled and different pens have different mechanisms for this. The price of a fountain pen can be anywhere from the lower ends all the way to the top, costing as much as a car.
A seemingly small achievement today, but the fountain pen changed the life of many scholars dramatically. The functionality was far superior to the pens that needed to be dipped into an inkwell every minute. This is one of those innovations that were developed independently by many different people over time. One of the first-ever patents is held by the Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru, it was given to him in France on the 25th of May in the year 1827.
Fountain pens have an ink reservoir built into the body of the pen. There are a few different kinds of mechanisms used to fill up the ink. The most common is some form of a piston that moves inside a cylindrical tube, which fills up with ink based on the vacuum caused by the piston. The piston mechanism can be a screw-based one or even just a slide. This varies from brand to brand.
The other possibilities are the squeeze-bar filling system or cartridges. The squeeze-bar is placed over a rubber sack, the squeezing causes it to extrude air and then the dipped nib sucks back ink into it. Cartridges are the simplest system and can be replaced easily. There are universal cartridges available but a lot of top brands have specific ones that fit their pens. This is of course a way to make sure they are selling ink and also some claim that the ink quality is controlled. Their pens are designed around their ink, making the flow a lot better.
The nib and feed of a fountain pen
A crucial aspect of fountain pens is the nib. This can be made from many different metals, but today the more common ones are stainless steel and alloys of gold. Gold is considered optimum due to its flexibility and resistance to corrosion. The tip of the nib, also called the wear-point as that is the part that wears out, is often made from the platinum group of metals. This is due to the fact that they are very hard and also corrosion-resistant.
The nib has a slit down the middle with a small vent on top of the slit, which usually stops by the middle. This vent helps with the flow of ink. There are a lot of variations when it comes to the nib, these are there to allow different styles fo writing. The standard nib is narrow, but for more stylised writing people use broader nibs. Stylised in the sense of calligraphy or italic writing.
For the ink to be moved from the reservoir to the nib there is a 'feed', this is the component that makes sure the ink moves in a controlled leak instead of just dropping out. The feed works both ways, it allows ink out and air into the reservoir. It also makes sure the ink only flows when the nib is run across the paper and not all the time.
Other parts of the fountain pen
The body of the fountain pen is known as the barrel, it is what contains the reservoir. The barrel and cap of the pen can be made from many materials. These include resins, lava, enamel, mother of pearl, teak and any number of metals. There are some designs that make the body and cap from separate materials for design contrast.
The caps on most fountain pens have a clip so it can be kept inside one's pocket and stay in place.
Modern fountain pens almost all use dye-based ink, this is due to the fact that pigments would clog up the feed and jam the ink. Iron gal inks are also not suitable for fountain pens as they would corrode the pen and ruin it. The regular India ink is also not suitable as it has shellac in it, this acts as a binder and again would block the feed, making the pen useless.
The ink inside a fountain pen needs to be free of sediment, non-corrosive and free-flowing. One can easily find such inks in the market. Many of the known brands produce their own line of inks as well, these would perhaps best suit the pen one owns. The colours are many and there are even special inks, such as glow in the dark.
Caring for your fountain pen
Over time no matter what ink one uses there will be residue that settles into all the mechanisms. Every once in a while you will need to disassemble the pen and run the nib and feed bit under warm water, till it is running clear water through it. This means the ink inside has been washed out. Then dip it into a small container for 2 hours. Once that is done you can shake the water out and dry the nib.
After this ink washout, when you start writing again the initial ink will be diluted with the remaining water. A bit of usage will have the ink displace all the water and return to a normal colour.
Fountain pens are not the common mode of writing anymore, they are often considered a luxury item. Many times they are used to sign treaties between governments or large organizations, this is due to the class factor most probably.
Being able to write well today is a skill that most have lost due to their limited practice as typing on computers and smartphones has taken over our written communications.
One can find a fountain pen from any number of brands. The options are endless, they range from very cheap to extremely expensive iterations. Among the cheapest, yet functionally efficient is Dollar, from Pakistan, and among the most expensive and functionally brilliant is Montblanc, from Germany.