Photograph by Philip Sison
Culture Spotlight

Rich strokes: A love affair that never dries out

Countless times it’s been said that a pen is mightier than a sword. Imagine a pen’s power when it boasts of a sense of history and intricate craftsmanship
Eva B. Gubat | Jan 31 2019

The rise of ballpoint technology shows the values of the present: convenience, urgency, and commercialism. After all, a ballpoint pen causes less ink stains, does not require ink refills, is durable, and is cheap. But for true-blue pen aficionados, their love affair with fountain pens is an enduring relationship.

True to its name, a fountain pen contains water-based liquid ink housed in an internal reservoir. History traces the beginnings of the fountain pen to the loth century. The caliph of the Maghreb, Ma’ad al-Mu’izz, asked for a pen that would not stain. He was given one with ink in a reservoir. Unfortunately, no samples or technology notes about this pen survived, and collectors and fans can only wax romantic about this.

 

Like collectors of other bespoke or valuable items, a pen collector finds himself in a double bind: He is unique in that he has a specific fascination for fountain pens, but he is also pleased to note that there are other like-minded people with this necessary indulgence. Fountain pens do encourage its users to slow down and think before plunging into writing. It also gives a link to a past that valued penmanship and the act of scribbling, and breaks away from the insistent clatter of a keyboard.

Leigh Reyes, Lowe Philippines’ executive creative director, categorizes pen collectors into two types: Those who use their pens and those who keep their pens. Pen users establish a relationship with their collections with a touch of utility, while pen keepers admire their pens that are usually in cases. The latter’s pens most often have never borne ink and have never seen paper. “I’m the other kind. I buy pens that I can use. For me, it's both form and function,” says Reyes.

Montblanc's iconic gold and resin Meisterstruck fountain pen is both a writing tool and a symbol of luxury.

A characteristic some pen users share is their penchant for “rotation.” When a pen runs dry after constant use, it is then cleaned and stored as another pen is pulled out for the next use. This allows collectors to use pens in their collection while allowing other sets to rest.

As with other fascinations and passions, fountain pen collecting also has a golden age. According to the London Pen Club, the golden age of fountain pens pertains to the 1920s and the early 1930s. During this post-World War I period, fountain pens were used as a major for writing. By the 1960s, the ballpoint becomes ubiquitous. A resurgence was seen in the 1990s. This was attributed to two phenomena: Pen companies rolled out new models, and societies and organizations of fountain pen collectors gained new voice. New companies like Montverde, Aurora, and Visconti were acknowledged as new fountain pen makers, and Parker and Sheaffer, with their relocation to Europe, introduced new models. Noteworthy is Montblanc that use of fountain pens.

Reasons to collect fountain pens and brands matching personal preferences may vary, but what unites all pen collectors is their fascination for the fountain pen’s context. This background involves a pen’s historical value, aesthetic allure (for both the pen's look and its gift of writing), intricacy, craftsmanship, and sense of history. It also lends a geek touch, making any legitimate collector a maven of a niche activity.

Reyes describes this fountain pen fascination succinctly: “I think people still want to touch things. It’s really different, touching something that was made by hand, lacquered by hand, or carved by hand.”

 

Parts of a fountain pen

This is the largest available Pelikan Souveran, in a demonstrator style. Demostrators used to be salesman's tools, created to impress the potential buyer with the inner workings of the pen.

Filler

The part that distinguishes it from a quill pen. It is an intricate system by which the nib receives the ink. The most common type is the cartridge; others include the eyedropper, sac, plunger, and piston. The pen uses a piston filler, which is used by most of today's fountain pens. It can be easily taken apart for cleaning, and operates on a "pump" system from which it absorbs ink from the bottle when immersed.

Grip

The grip is where the fingertips rest when writing. One's inscription may come out poorly if the grip is not handled properly.

Section

The section basically holds the pen together by connecting the barrel to the nib and feed. Its form fits the cap perfectly when closed.

Feed

The feed is usually the black part within the nib designed to regulate the ink flow pressure of air going into the pen. It's therefore considered the most crucial part of the pen.

Nib

The nib, which is the metallic tip of the pen, deposits ink only when it comes in contact with a writing surface. It's designed in a variety and material, for different purposes. The pointed nib comes useful for those into sketching and mapping.

 

Photographs by Philip Sison

This piece originally came out in Vault magazine, issue 1 2011.