What is a Fountain Pen?

Phil Shepley

A fountain pen is a type of pen that uses a built-in ink reservoir that can be filled with one of many varieties of ink from cartridges or a bottle. The ink is fed down to the triangular tip, or nib, of the pen, which is used to transfer the ink to paper. Fountain pens have existed for hundreds of years but are not as popular today since pens such as ballpoint pens and cartridge pens are cheaper and easier to use. There are, however, many pen aficionados and collectors who still enjoy using and collecting fountain pens as well as companies that still keep these fine writing instruments in production.

The nib of a fountain pen is typically made of gold or stainless steel.
The nib of a fountain pen is typically made of gold or stainless steel.

It is not known exactly when the first fountain pen was created and put into use. In the early 19th century, however, the first fountain pens were invented that were patented, worked well over a long period of time, used components that kept them from being too messy, and were designed for mass production. Over time, many different configurations were invented, all of which attempted to either stop ink flow problems or improve upon the ways that the messy ink was transferred into the pen. Companies exist today that not only have been producing fountain pens for decades, but are still improving upon their designs.

Fountain pens are filled with water-based ink.
Fountain pens are filled with water-based ink.

The nib of a fountain pen can be made from gold or stainless steel, and the series of tubes that send the ink to it are called the feed. The ink that is used is very fluid, which is necessary for the ink to flow by a process known as capillarity. The design of the fountain pen is actually quite a bit more complex than just having ink flow to the tip of the pen, and several factors exist that keep the ink from flowing too freely or not flowing at all. For example, the air pressure must be the same both in and outside of the pen, and this balance is achieved because several air passages are built into the feed that send air to the reservoir. Should there be an overflow of ink, fountain pens are also built with collectors, which are designed to gather any overflow of ink and keep it from escaping through the nib of the pen.

Fountain pens still used by many people, and they can also be relatively inexpensive depending on their quality and whether or not they are considered antiques or collectibles. The ink for them can also come in many more varieties and colors than the typical pen. Still more reasons to use fountain pens exist, such as their long lifespan, artistic flexibility, and the pride associated with using a writing tool that requires a little more skill than the average ballpoint pen.

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