The joy of…….writing with a fountain pen?

Published 9:27 am Friday, August 22, 2014

by Robert Holt

In this modern age of cell phones, iPads, and other forms of electronic communication, it is refreshing to discover that an item of the past is making a comeback. Such is the case with the fountain pen.

With the mass introduction and production of the ballpoint pen in the 1950s, the fountain pen was quickly replaced as the preferred tool for writing on paper. After all, fountain pens often leaked, were considered messy, and required refilling periodically. Then a BIC ballpoint pen could be purchased for less than 25 cents. If it were lost or damaged in some way, it was no big deal. If you used a fountain pen then, you had to have handy extra cartridges, or worst yet, a bottle of ink.

Today, the baby boomer generation and a growing number of the younger generation are using fountain pens on an ever-increasing basis. What has caused this reversion to the past? There are several reasons for this phenomenon.

First and foremost, modern manufacturing techniques have made fountain pens virtually leak-proof. Updated methods of refilling these pens have removed the messiness and made refilling a snap.

The second reason relates to fountain pen inks. They are essentially water with dyes in them. Most fountain pen users today own several pens with a variety of ink colors. They select a pen and ink to fit the task at hand as well as their mood at that moment. Ballpoint pens and gel pens have viscous ink meaning it is thicker. They also have a ball at the end (thus the name “ballpoint”) which is used to transfer the ink to the paper. Because of this viscosity, ballpoint pens and gel pens require more effort to write than a fountain pen which glides smoothly and effortlessly across the page. Ink flows from the first point on the page and there is no skipping. Many writers who have issues with wrist pain and other discomfort when they write find fountain pens greatly aid these issues.

The nib of the fountain pen makes each pen a truly personal item. Usually made of gold or stainless steel, the nib is the point where the ink transfers to the paper. Over time this nib wears a bit according to the writing style of the user. For this reason most fountain pen owners do not like to allow someone else to use their pens. Nibs can be used to deposit ink on the paper in a width of extra-fine, fine, medium, or broad. Fountain pens used for calligraphy have several styles of the broad nib variety.

Another reason for the increased use of fountain pens is that, over the long time period, they are much cheaper than ballpoints and gel pens. A quality fountain pen can be purchased for less than $20 and a decent bottle of ink for around $10. This combination will give the writer many months of writing pleasure. Most pens will last during the writer’s lifetime. A true fountain pen user would not use ink cartridges over bottled ink; cartridges usually cost up to five times more than the cost of bottled ink.

A final reason for using fountain pens is that they are sold in a wide range of sizes, shapes, colors and ornamentation. A beautiful fountain pen that is attractive, functional and has unique characteristics certainly draws attention and is often a conversation piece.

The increased use of fountain pens has also rewarded the manufacturers of quality writing papers. It seems recycling efforts of publishers and notebook suppliers are increasingly resulting in paper of decreasing quality. Fountain pens and poor quality paper do not match; low quality paper will quickly absorb ink from the pen resulting in phenomena called feathering, bleed-through, ghosting, or spread. Paper products sold by companies such as Clairefontaine and Rhodia have seen impressive gains in sales as a result of increased fountain pen use.

The market for fountain pens, inks and related accessories is growing rapidly. Most fountain pen users have a small collection of “daily carry” pens and others used mostly at home or office. Advocates are buying a varied array of pens, inks, notebooks, notepads, pen cases and pen loops.

Finally, since many fountain pens have gold nibs and trim, the rapid increase in the price of gold over the last 10 years has greatly increased the value of fountain pens in general.

ROBERT N. “BOB” HOLT a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, N.C. He holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech, and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His e-mail address is