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Fountain Pens - The First Waterman Fountain Pen to Ballpoint Pens.

The fountain pen is today associated with prestige. It is seen as a more sophisticated pen than the humble ballpoint or rollerball and is often given as a gift to mark a special occasion.

Before the days of prestigious Lamy fountain pens and engraved fountain pens that are used on special occasions or as gifts, the fountain pen was the everyday writer across all classes.

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The earliest historical reference to a fountain pen comes from the 10th Century, when Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah - 4th Caliphate of the Fatimid Dynasty that founded Cairo in 969 - demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothes. No examples or specifications have survived to this date so it cannot be confirmed if it existed in reality.

The first example in Europe was in the 17th century, where German inventor Daniel Schwenter produced a design made from two quills. One quill held the ink inside the second quill, utilising cork to hold the ink in place which was squeezed through a small hole to the nib. This design was improved on and Samuel Pepys mentions in his diaries a 'metal pen to carry ink' in 1663.

In 1828 a cheap, slip-on steel nib was invented by Josiah Mason in Birmingham, England. Mason and colleagues found a way to mass-produce them, causing a boom in the Birmingham pen trade, with over half of the world's pen nibs being made there by the 1850s.

Progress in developing a reliable fountain pen was slow due to a lack of understanding of how pressure worked and that most inks were of poor quality, often containing sediment that would clog the nib or being highly corrosive which would degrade the cork or stopper.

It took until the mid-19th century for more progress to be made, with the invention of hard rubber for a stopper, iridium-tipped gold nibs which were much more reliable than their steel counterparts; and free flowing ink which prevented blockages.

Canadian Duncan MacKinnon created stylographic pens with a hollow nib and wire as a valve in 1875; causing the mass-production of fountain pens to begin and take off in the 1880s. The Waterman fountain pen was one of the first to be mass produced in the United States and they quickly became the market leader, out-performing their competitor Wirt with their higher quality Waterman fountain pen. Waterman remained the market leader until the 1920s.

waterman fountain pen

The problem of ink-filling was addressed in the early 20th century, with many inventors and companies coming up with quicker, less-messy ways of refilling the fountain pen. These included Waterman's twist-filler and Parker fountain pens had a button-filler which was seen as more contemporary.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Waterman fountain pens, Parker fountain pens and other popular brands of fountain pen continued to improve their design and quality. Such innovations as cellulite were involved, as this meant that the pens could be created in more colours. Ballpoint pens were in their infancy and were unreliable - just as the fountain pen was at first - but by the 1950s they were beginning to overtake the fountain pen as a casual, everyday pen.

Fountain pens are still used in many countries today, including India, Germany, France and the UK. Usually they are used in schools or as a status symbol amongst executives, as opposed to a regular everyday writing pen. One of the most extravagant fountain pen manufacturers today are Visconti. Their pens are distinctive in their design and prestige, many of their pens are limited edition collectors pieces, and they continue to push the boundary of innovative design.

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