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Project 007: Fountain Pens

The last time we tried to write a letter by hand we had to re-read it to make sure it actually made sense, and only looked like the work of a first-grader. Sometime in the last few keyboard-dominated years our handwriting skills took a nosedive. For Project 007 Ralph Abercrombie sent us this photo essay..

The last time we tried to write a letter by hand we had to re-read it to make sure it actually made sense, and only looked like the work of a first-grader. Sometime in the last few keyboard-dominated years our handwriting skills took a nosedive. For Project 007 Ralph Abercrombie sent us this photo essay on the lost art of penmanship and the equipment it's best practiced with: the fountain pen.

He writes:"The fountain pen is to paper as brush is to canvas-its use is an art form; the result can be artwork. The ballpoint is a mechanical device born of soulless expediency, wherein grace finds itself sacrificed to convenience and productivity. The force required to propel it across paper precludes finesse and inhibits style. It conveys thought to paper in a precise and mechanical manner, leaving little room for individuality. A fountain pen imbues the written word with the unique character and flair of its writer."



Watermans, early 1900's: red ripple and hard rubber, gold and silver overlay


1800's dip quills: Warren "Penny Quills", Samson Mordan & Co. steel nib dip pens, ivory map pens


Japanese figural pen, early 20th century


A typical lever-filler pen, ca. 1903 Waterman 52-1/2VMany antique and vintage fountain pens are lever-fillers. To fill one, lift its lever (as shown on the disassembled example, above) and submerge its nib in ink. Depress the lever and count to ten before removing the nib from the ink bottle.A plate inside the lever box presses against a rubber bladder; when the lever is depressed the plate relaxes and allows the bladder to inflate, thereby taking in ink through the nib.The flake seen above is of orange shellac; it melts under a heat gun and is used to affix rubber bladders to feed sections. A spare bladder is seen as well.

Gold, Platinum, Rhodium nibs (L-to-R): Montblanc 149, Sailor Professional Gear, Pelikan M1000, Waterman Exception


Ink DrawerOne of the nice things about a fountain pen is that if you can't find the ink color you want for it, you can always mix it yourself. My favorite shade is a deep burgundy made by mixing Noodler's Azure Blue with Foxy Red. I add 5% white to give the ink a glossy appearance.

Inkwells: Victorian, traveller, burst-tops
The full essay is here.








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