Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fountain Pens Lore: What happened?

I was wondering what I should post for this evening and I was stuck. I was then reminded of a question I ask a lot to myself, why are most fountain pens made in other countries when they were invented here in the US by Waterman in 1884? Good question. Why? To clarify, I am discussing the fountain pen with a tipped nib, an ink reservoir and a sturdy pen body material.

I often refer to the "Big 4" when discussing fountain pen history. Those companies are Waterman, Parker, Shaeffer and Conklin. Conklin used to be housed in Ohio but now is Italian. Parker was in Wisconsin and now is in the UK. Shaeffer actually has roots in Iowa but is now German and I am not quite sure where Waterman began but they are made in France now.

As far as US made fountain pen companies go, I can think of The Edison Pen Co in Ohio, Noodler's Ink in Boston MA, Karas Kustoms in Az and Monteverde in California. There may be others, and if so, please let me know which they are.

Fountain pens used to be huge here in the US, especially the Parker 51 which is the most sold fountain pen model I know of. Now fountain pens are widely used in Asia and Europe namely. What happened?

As fountain pen models were becoming vastly popular, other countries started getting into the game like The Pelikan Co. in Germany, by acquiring patents from different sources. During this time, other companies emerged such as Wahl Eversharp, Esterbrook, and other large brands like MontBlanc. A battle began to stand out and many different filling mechanisms began to emerge as well, anything to stand out and be unique. We saw the piston filler, crescent filler, the vacuum filler and even that goofy yet wonder of engineering, the snorkel.

Hard rubber was the material of choice here on these early pens which is better known as ebonite. Celluloid materials slowly became introduced as an alternative to ebonite and offered more colors and designs. It all fueled the fire to make the better, sleaker pen while maintaining craftsmanship and quality.

Enter the ballpoint pen to the scene. The ballpoint started out very expensive but ultimately became a very cheap alternative to fountains and were much easier to use as well as maintain. The US really grabbed on to this idea and ran with it as we get further away from quality to save a buck or two. The US was not the only country to embrace the ballpoint but we saw all of our American based pen manufacturers move to other markets for survivability.

This phenomenon also made the luxury fountain pens a thing as fancier materials could be used to make very unique pens for those who still admire a fine writing instrument. Companies like Visconti, Omas, MontBlanc and others now make some of the most luxurious pens around.

There is still a thriving fountain pen community here in the US and it is slowly growing. I see it with the number of pen dealers and their increasing popularity such as the Goulet Pen Co., Anderson Pens, Vanness Pens, Pen Chalet, and pen users like the Pen Habit, NibSmith, Fountain Pen Day and of course, Gourmet Pens and SBRE Brown in the Netherlands but they are popular here.

We love fountain pens, ink and good paper, at least that is the goal with this blog. I have managed to convert my mother and 3 co-workers to the world of fountain pens. It is so fun to see, experience and hopefully, we can take back our history one pen user at a time.


  1. Seems to me you might be right on the money with this blog. Interesting history lesson.

  2. Thanks! I greatly appreciate the feedback.