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A web encyclopedia of Fine Writing Instruments

The history of writing instruments can be traced back to BC 8500. Early men used various tools for etching and engraving messages on cave walls. The evolution of writing instruments had a long way since then, until the concept of quill pens and ultimately the fountain ‘pen’ emerged. One may now think, why I stopped the evolution track with the fountain pen without mentioning to more recent advents like ballpoint pens rollerballs and gel pens. The answer is that, these new advents are just instruments that made life easier but they can never demand the reputation , prestige and elegance that a fountain pen can claim. More over each fountain pen will have a unique identity which results in an intimate relationship between the pen and its owner. Most of these fine writing instruments are passed on from generation to generation and are treated with reverence and antiquity.

Early evolution
The earliest historical record of a reservoir fountain pen dates back to the 10th century. In 953, Maad al Muizz, the Fatimid 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 via gravity and capillary action. Later came the quill pens for the commons. In the first years of the 1800s, quill pens began being replaced with steel dip pens
The first fountain pen with all its needed parts appeared in the 1850. In the 1870 Duncan Mac Kinnon, a Canadian and Alonzo T. Cross developed stylographic pens with a hollow, tubular nib section and a wire acting as a valve.

Parts of Fountain pens
Fountain pens can be categorized not as a whole but based on the various parts. The main parts of any brand / type of fountain pen include
Nib Section
There are different types of Nibs like the conventional Nib & inlaid fused nib. Montblanc Meisterstück, many models of waterman and cross features conventional nib sections. Waterman careen, Sheaffer PFMs, Legacy, Targa, Valour & Triumph Imperials features inlaid nibs. Nib sections may be stainless steel or can be 14 Kt gold. Certain nibs feature gold electroplated nibs.

sheaffer prelude nib section

Filling Mechanism
Filling mechanism includes catridges which can be disposed after use and converters which can be used for much longer duration. Converters can be filled from ink bottles. Convertors are available in various types such as touch down converters as seen in earlier sheaffer models and piston converters. Most of the catridges and converters are brand specific and model specific.

The barrel is often made of high grade plastics or metals for economic models. In high end luxury models, precious resins are used instead of plastics and hard rubber. Montblanc Meisterstück , a premium model instrument features Black Resin and Platinum Black precious resin barrel with platinum-plated rings.

Fountain pen nibs have always fascinated pen enthusiasts. The reason is that nibs of exactly the same brand & make on different pieces behave differently. This gives an identity to each writing instrument. The main parts of a fountain pen nib are the body, two tines, a slit in between, a breather hole at the end of tines and a tip or a pint.
Nibs of economic model pens are made of Stainless steel. In premium models, the metal used is 14kt. Gold. How ever, as far as performance is concerned, I would say both the metals work fine. A disadvantage with gold is that, being a softer metal the chances of wear out due to physical strains are much higher. The advantage of gold is that the chances of chemical corrosion can be minimal. This cn however be rectified by using quality inks which are PH neutral.

Lot of myths are prevailing regarding the tipping metals and on tipping as a whole. In my opinion, the term tipping is applicable only to pens which are manufacture by a reputed manufacturer like Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Sailor, Cross, Mont Blanc, Lamy etc..
Most of the cheaper pens do not have a separate tip as such the main body of the nib itself is made in to a tapered ending with a globular finish. No other metals are involved in making this finish.

However in premium brands, tipping is a process that is undertaken with utmost precision. Tipping refers to attaching a globular chunk of hard metal alloy to the tip of the tines of a nib, incorporating a slit on it and grinding so as to obtain expected results.
Based on the strokes produced, nibs are categorized in to extra fine, fine, medium, broad, double broad, stub and oblique.

The most popular brands now available are Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Sailor, Cross, Mont Blanc, Lamy etc..
parker 45 fountain pen cherian m t
Parker 45 fountain pen from the collection of m t cherian

Fountain pen inks are water-based inks. The best available brands are noodlers, Sheaffer Skrip, Parker Quink and waterman. Most of these inks are available in various colors.


Penmanship is the art of writing with a pen. A personal handwritten piece of paper conveys more emotions and feelings than tons of printed sheets. It said that a true pen have a soul. Penmanship respects the idea that just as the writer has soul, the pen and the written text has a soul as well. This makes an antique manuscript a much valued possession

Pens in History
• Barack Obama will sign inaugural documents with this pen made by A.T. Cross.
• A Sheaffer No Nonsense pen was used by Ernest Hemingway to edit his novel "The Dangerous Summer"
• The United Nations (UN) Charter was signed with a Sheaffer fountain pen on June 26, 1945 in San Francisco.
• The Japanese surrender which marked an end to the World War II was signed with Sheaffer pens by Gen. Douglas McArthur and Japanese officials aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay Sept. 2, 1945.
• President Kennedy and Clinton had both Parker and Sheaffer pens as signature pens
• Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used a Parker Duofold to give life to his evergreen work, Sherlock Holmes
• In 1987, US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the historic Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with custom made sterling silver Parker 75.
• India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, his successors, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had Mont Blancs.
• Ex US president, George W. bush owns a Sheaffer Stars of Egypt limited edition pen which costs Rs.9.5 Lakhs.

Other resources

view video : All the presidents pens

Fountain Pens from India: Find details of the pens available in India.
Ball point pens from India


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