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Pen and ink

Posted by on October 5th 2009

Conway Stewart

To me, as a schoolboy who grew up in the age of inkwells and pens and grew used to wielding a pen, by which I mean a fountain pen, it has been a bit of a surprise to have to order a bottle of ink from the stationers. Clearly, the pen to most people nowadays denotes a ballpoint or a felt-tip rather than the old style fountain pen.

This is a great pity. The fountain pen is a work of art; it is the result of technical progress over many generations*; it is capable of being an heirloom, something that will last many lifetimes; and yet it can be as individual as its owner. When the felt tip runs out, or the ballpoint leaks, it is thrown away; but the fountain pen is never discarded. To the pen lover their instrument is an extension of themselves, infinitely reusable and adaptable. I have always used washable blue ink; but there is a whole range of colours to choose between.
* See Fountain pen history
The choice of nib has always been critical. Fine, medium or broad? Or perhaps Sir would prefer italic? I used to admire the left-handers’ way of writing with a fountain pen, their left wrist coiled, to stop from smudging the paper as the hand passed to the right.
Then there is the choice of place. For me, the fountain pen always managed to come apart from the top and leak if kept in the pen pocket of a suit, and eventually it lived in the darker recesses of my briefcase. My grandmother, on the other hand, always used a Conway Stewart that had no top, merely a steel holder that fitted in a pocket and took the pen nib up.
Finally (for now: we penners have a lot up our sleeve), there is the choice of filling mechanism. Some use cartridges and others use refillable rubber bladders. But to me there is no question: the piston mechanism reigns supreme. I first found it in an Onoto, a defunct Canadian firm; but my current love is the altogether fitting, functional and yes beautiful Lamy 2000. The price keeps going up, but the quality never varies.