By: Jocelyn Knorr
Fountain pens—here defined as pens holding a reservoir that can apply ink to paper via a combination of gravity and capillary action—are thought to have been invented for the caliph Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah of Arab Egypt. Reportedly, he requested a pen that would not leak or stain, and was presented with a rudimentary fountain pen made of pure gold.
They continued to be used, but only on a small scale, by modernists or the technologically inclined. Until the 1850s, that is, when popularity skyrocketed. Technological advancements enabled the fountain pen to gain dominance, and it continued to be dominant until the sixties.
Today, they’re seen mostly as status symbols, or fancy collectible antiques, made to look at but not touch. But, they’re still being manufactured today, and sales are actually rising!
So, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of fountain pens.
Because fountain pens are designed to collaborate with gravity, inkflow is autonomous, while with gel pens pressure must be applied. This can lead to hand cramps and, in extreme cases, arthritis later in life.
Unfortunately, fountain pens can be a bit of an investment with a good pen sometimes costing upwards of $30. Ink of higher quality, like Sailor or Noodler’s, can sometimes reach up to $24 for 50ml.
Pro: Smooth writing
Fountain pens are widely purported to offer one of the smoothest writing experiences, especially with a higher-quality gold nib. I, for one, find this to be the case, even drafting this article with a comparatively cheap, steel-nibbed, fountain pen.
Con: Ease of use
Fountain pens can be difficult to get used to, especially for beginners. While converters—especially squeeze converters, notoriously finicky for even experienced users—open up your choices of ink, they can definitely take some getting used to. Cartridges, meanwhile, are incredibly convenient, but limit your options for ink; especially if they’re proprietary.
Pro: Environmental benefits
Fountain pens do not come in a disposable variety, but can rather be filled and refilled for decades on end. This greatly reduces the amount of waste one produces. Disposable pens are one of the biggest contributors to ocean plastic, with just the United States throwing away 1.6 billion pens annually.
The average store is simply not stocking its shelves with LAMY Safaris or bottles of Iroshizuku ink. I had to go to a specialty store to pick up what is now my go-to bottle, but as an upside, that bottle is liable to last me for the rest of the school year.
I’m not expecting everyone who reads this to go out and buy a shiny new $100 pen, (my journalistic powers aren’t that strong—yet) but here are my recommendations for anyone who’d like to dip their toes in the water.
- Buy a Pilot Metropolitan. Retailing for $18.99 on Amazon, these pens are incredibly good quality, especially for the price, and come in plenty of fun colors.
- Get a good black ink. My recommendation is Noodler’s X-Feather, ($15 for 100 ml on Amazon, designed to behave well on notebook paper) but you’re free to experiment. Goulet Pens (www.gouletpens.com) even offers little sets of mystery ink colors.
At the end of the day, fountain pens can be pricey, but with that investment comes quality. Hopefully, I’ve helped a few of you shift your opinion—and enabled one or two of you to take the plunge.