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Why Choose a Fountain Pen?

Many of my letters begin as notes or journal entries.

Many of my letters begin as notes or journal entries.

Ballpoint pens became popular writing instruments shortly after World War II for the most practical of reasons; they were more convenient and versatile than fountain pens. As ink formulations and production methods improved, ballpoints became more reliable, less prone to leakage (especially in aircraft, where rapidly changing ambient air pressures often affected inkflow of fountain pens).

In an age when duplicate or triplicate carbon copies became the norm for many documents, the ballpoint could provide better results because more pressure could be applied; use of a fountain pen required that each copy be signed. Today, paper is commonly produced primarily to suit the ballpoint as the most popular writing instrument on the market. Having acknowledged this, WHY opt for a fountain pen?

I am a baby-boomer, born in 1946, and the fountain pen was the standard writing instrument of ladies and gentlemen when I was a lad. As an elementary school student, we practiced our printed lettering and eventually our cursive or script writing with pencils, and we progressed to penmanship with student fountain pens. Yes, it was often a messy situation because many of us were clumsy devils and spilled ink or managed to get it on our fingers and clothes. The more mischievous kids would squirt ink at classmates, and washable inks became popular with parents. In those days, library cards and bank deposit slips were typically signed with dip pens, pens without an internal reservoir that were dipped in a nearby inkwell.

Without pretending to offer a comprehensive history, I will say the first ballpoint pens I recall were prone to skip and clog, which is a frustrating trait when attempting a flowing line. A higher quality ballpoint appeared, made by Paper-Mate and I first encountered them in the mid-‘50s, but the Parker T-Ball Jotter, introduced on the heels of the Paper-Mate in the ‘50s, was considered one of the better examples of ballpoint technology. Parker was (is) an established brand of writing instruments and a good marketing strategy extolled the virtues of their new pen, though it was a little more expensive, propelling it to the forefront of the market.

Fountain pens were often purchased as graduation or Christmas gifts but ballpoint pens were clearly moving to the forefront as the writing instrument of choice for most Americans. By the time I was a freshman in high school, the Parker “Jotter” ballpoint, with its textured tungsten-carbide ball, moved to the forefront of reliability and its larger capacity ink reserve lasted noticeably longer than its competitors. Among my high school classmates in the early ‘60s, fountain pens were very rare, though a few of our teachers continued to rely on them, wielding them like weapons while grading papers or scoring exams. If a student was singled out for a misdeed and the teacher uncapped a pen, it indicated the student would be listed among the damned and that notation would resurface at the next parent-teacher meeting.

As the popularity of the ballpoint waxed, sales of fountain pens waned and, here in the United States, the fountain pen appeared to be following the path of the do-do and the passenger pigeon to extinction. Just as hats were a part of a man’s wardrobe for the previous (pre-John F. Kennedy) generation, the fountain pen was slipping in popularity for a younger, presumably more spontaneous demographic. By the mid-‘60s, fountain pens were relegated to the role of “signature pens”, used in business and legal environments to sign documents, stock certificates and witness guarantees. The blister-packed “student pens” from Shaeffer, Eversharp and other manufacturers began to disappear from the display racks of pharmacies and school supply shops, replaced by colorful plastic ballpoints. Affordable pens like Wearever and Esterbrook ended production by the early '70s. I still have three Esterbrooks that write well; they were intelligently designed with user-replaceable steel nibs, but the market for them had faded.

Fountain pens normally provide optimum ink flow and consistent line width on durable, quality paper, but ballpoints work well on a broad spectrum of papers, from bond to much less expensive paper. For years, fountain pens remained the writing instrument of those professionals who preferred them. Physicians continued to write prescriptions with fountain pens, bankers and lawyers signed contracts with them, college professors signed countless papers with them. Over time, an interesting polarity developed, if only in the minds of ad agencies. The fountain pen became associated with white-collar professionals and the ballpoint with others less concerned about their signature.

I’m told ballpoint pens became more available in the U.S. in 1946. Prior to that, fountain pens were the standard for signatures, accounts, records and logbooks, and they have had their moments in history. For example, at the close of WWII, on September 2nd, 1945, when the Japanese unconditionally surrendered to the Allies aboard the battleship, USS Missouri BB-63, Gen. Douglas MacArthur signed for America using six fountain pens (writing one word with each pen on both copies of the document). Standing behind Gen MacArthur was Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who commanded Allied forces on Corregidor and was a prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to August 1945, and Gen. Arthur Percival, who commanded the British forces in Singapore and had surrendered to the Japanese in January 1942.

Gen MacArthur passed one pen to each of these gentlemen as he signed the historic document. A third was Gen. MacArthur’s personal pen, a red Parker Duofold. A fourth was given to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A fifth was given to the U.S. National Archives, and the sixth reportedly went to Gen. MacArthur’s aide, Gen. Sutherland. I include a video link of those proceedings:

By late 1964, when I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, the fountain pen was a rarity in the military. There may have been a few fountain pens in desk drawers but retractable ballpoint pens were issued. Fountain pens were clearly impractical in most military settings. Ballpoints did not require inkwells. All papers used in service were suited to ballpoint and, typically, the color of the oil-based ballpoint ink was black.

In 1965, as a young Marine, I was asked to write a paragraph (with a ballpoint) in response to a question, and I did so. I later learned that this writing sample was analyzed by a graphologist, a person who analyzes writing and discerns personality traits from the way we write. Handwriting analysis has little to do with how legible or ornate our penmanship may be, and I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but I will say when the results were shared with me, I was genuinely surprised that the handwriting analyst derived so accurate a profile from my handwriting without ever having met me, and his reported analysis addressed my attitude toward authority, how I developed friendships and loyalties, what my attitude was toward money or financial gain, what my attention to detail may be, and other traits…all accurately expressed. I was granted the security clearance for which I had applied.

The lasting lesson, for me, was that my writing said something about me, if only to a limited segment of the population who knew what to look for, that we say more of ourselves than we suspect in the words we write, and we cannot consciously control the information we provide. The graphologists are not looking for content, not concerned with spelling or punctuation or examining the veracity of what we’ve written; they’re looking for how we’ve written it, for the loops, ascenders and descenders. Writing samples submitted for analysis were often brief because muscle fatigue or haste may affect the characteristics they examine, though they can trace those effects in a lengthy document. The analyst wants to see how we’ve crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s, how we begin and end our sentences, how small or large our letters may be, etc. Now that cursive writing has been eliminated from core curriculum in many school systems, I can only wonder if handwriting analysis is still relevant or if it will become another lost art.

My fountain pens were set aside for years. After my first enlistment ended, I retrieved my Shaeffer fountain pen from it’s case and the ink had long since dried. I lived in New York City, within walking distance from City Hall in Manhattan, and brought my clogged pen to the Fountain Pen Hospital, from which it was purchased years earlier as a gift (That shop is still in business at 10 Warren Street!) and they cleaned and flushed the pen, restoring it to working order. The empty pen sat dormant for a few more years. I relocated to southern California in early 1972, and left my Shaeffer pen in my mother’s possession.

Not long after I relocated, my father passed away in April, 1973. Among his few possessions was an inexpensive ($5) student fountain pen, which he’d used to write letters to me while I was in Southeast Asia in 1966-67. There was nothing unique about it; it had a transparent plastic body, a steel nib, and was refilled with readily available ink cartridges. I used it occasionally to write notes and checks and, when I did, I was acutely aware that the last one to own it and use it was my father. I grew to enjoy using the pen and wrote letters and cards with it.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of leaving that pen on a kitchen countertop and a hot pan, taken from the stovetop, was placed upon it, promptly melting the thermoplastic body. The pen itself was beyond repair, but I'd come to enjoy using it. I thought to purchase another, so I visited a stationery store, chose a Parker pen with a medium nib (about $60) and used it in my work. At the time, I was a technologist in a cardiopulmonary lab but, after several months passed, I left it on my desk and it mysteriously disappeared. I replaced that with another, an Aurora fountain pen with a black resin body and gold nib that produced a finer line.

One tends to write differently, more carefully, with a fountain pen and I’d come to prefer writing my personal messages (notes of condolence, congratulation, gratitude, etc.) with a fountain pen because it brings out the best of my writing.

Over the years, there has been a succession of pens. I don’t collect them, but I accumulate them. Disappointingly, some were stolen. Today I have about 28 pens that I use in rotation, with nibs that differ in design and width. I carry a case with 4-6 pens for correspondence when I travel. The rest remain at home, encased, and I regularly rotate the pens I use.

I occasionally flush my pens with cool tap water and leave them empty to dry while I reach for others. Some of these were purchased to mark special occasions, and others were purchased because they are a style or nib design I preferred to use.

Fountain pens vary considerably in price from an easily affordable student pen to prohibitively expensive instruments, and the spectrum is remarkable. The best of them write very smoothly and permit me to write expressively, but I want to dispel the presupposition that an expensive pen writes significantly better than an inexpensive one. A pen costing twice as much does not write twice as well; much of that is in your distinctive hand. A quality pen is not crafted or assembled by robots. Labor and technical expertise is involved, and the cost of production is passed on to the customer; however, when properly cared for, a good writing instrument will last generations. I have pens dating back to the ‘50s that still write smoothly and reliably.

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Past a certain point, a fountain pen can be little more than an “ego biscuit”, jewelry you write with, a conversation piece. The purchaser must define what matters. A pen’s construction can be as simple as a few injection-molded components or so complex as to include carefully ground and adjusted nibs, expensive woods or resins, precious metals, jewels and, at this writing (Dec., 2013), fountain pens are much more popular in Europe and Japan than they are here in the United States. Not surprisingly, some of the best manufacturers are located in Italy, France, Germany and Japan. The delightful exception, in my opinion, are Bexley fountain pens, made in Ohio. I'm told an effort is being made to bring back the Esterbrook pens. In contrast to penmakers who’ve been in business for almost 100 years, Bexley began making pens in 1993 with an appreciation for the vintage pens of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Esterbrook was founded in 1858 but closed its doors in 1972. I hope production is resumed. The spectrum of choices is huge and confusing.

There are reasons some brands of pens generate loyalty in a competitive market. In no order of preference, the pens I reach for regularly are made by Pelikan, Sailor, Waterman, Rotring, Montblanc, Shaeffer, Parker, Aurora, Esterbrook, Lamy, Bexley, Mabie Todd & Co., Pilot, Rotring, Conway-Stewart, and others. Some are recently produced, others are 50+ years old. In other words, you may find excellent pens in pawn shops, estate sales, antique shops or on e-Bay, though I’d recommend against purchasing sight unseen. If at all possible, purchase from reputable dealers and ask that the nib be dipped so you can write your signature or a brief note with the pen. I have samples of my writing that date from my years in high school to the present, and penmanship changes over time because we change. I use different inks, and some pens seem more appropriate to different tasks.

As a technical writer, I normally relied on a computer with a word processing application to author procedures, policies, manufacturing processes and to generate reports; however, I signed the completed documents with a fountain pen and, for some, that was perceived as an anachronistic preference. My signature is readily recognizable and difficult to forge, which is helpful in a Quality Assurance or test environment.

For those curious about or interested in fountain pens, let me assure you that there are affordable pens that are delightful. There are some very expensive fountain pens on the market, and the price often depends on the wood, resin, composite or other material used in the body or barrel of the pen, the size and material of the nib, the silver or gold used in the metal components (such as the cap, pocket cIip, or the section, where your fingers rest as you write.

Choices abound. These are the ink bottles on my shelf today.

Choices abound. These are the ink bottles on my shelf today.

If you make a modest first purchase of a fountain pen that pleases you, use it initially for brief personal notes. The nib of your pen should glide over paper and you need not bear down as we customarily do with ballpoints. Pen nibs are designed for use with quality paper, for bond or linen (usually used to print curriculum vitae) or cardstock. As you become accustomed to the “feel” of the pen and the difference in pressure, you may experiment with different lettering techniques on capital and lowercase letters. I'm 71 years old, and I still do some of the writing exercises (circles, loops, etc.) that I did as a youngster.

Ink is available in every imaginable color, and I encourage you to use different brands because you may notice a difference in formulation or viscosity. Some of my pens write very smoothly with Aurora inks, but I use others (Diamine, Quink, Private Reserve, Levenger, etc.) with great satisfaction. I write when I’m relatively relaxed, and allow my writing to be a comfortable, unhurried exercise in personal communication. Do not be concerned with elaborate script or ornate lettering; write as you normally would, and enjoy the process.

A quality fountain pen thrives on regular use. When you fill your pen, don’t let it sit inked and unused for extended periods of time. If you must store the pen, flush the pen with cool water and leave it empty until you use it again. A gentleman with whom I discussed this question recommended storing fountain pens vertically, with the nib up. Another, equally knowledgeable, said it’s not a concern and he stores his pens horizontally in a case, but cautioned me against storing them vertically with the nib down. I carry a few pens in a protective aluminum case about the size of a youngster's pencil box, and the pens have survived the baggage carousels in many airports.

I am often asked by others to use my pens, and if you allow someone else to briefly use your pen, retain the cap. That will improve the likelihood that your pen will be promptly returned and eliminate the possibility that they will grasp the posted pen by it’s cap, allowing the pen to fall to the desk or floor. A fountain pen does not require a heavy hand. Should the nib be damaged, you will have to replace it to restore the pen’s writing characteristics. A steel nib may cost $15-25 to replace, and a 14K gold nib may cost about $80 or more. I have damaged pens by resting them on surfaces that were tilted or became angled, and you will find that a good pen is like an old friend; you will repair it if it means enough to you.

I'm sure some will disagree, but a gold nib writes no smoother than a steel nib. Gold nibs have long been preferred because the pH of older inks was relatively acidic, and gold was unaffected by it, but the ink attacked steel nibs (before stainless steel was used). Today, the rising price of gold has made it an expensive choice for a well-crafted nib. The pH of today’s inks can vary considerably. For a better understanding of ink pH, I refer to: (

Stainless steel or titanium is also used as modern nib material. How well the nib flexes, if that’s your priority, depends more heavily on the thickness and design of the nib, whatever its metal composition.

When asked, “What do you recommend as a good pen?”, I have to answer that it is one that writes to your satisfaction, one that delivers a smooth ink flow without skipping or bleeding on the page, that feels comfortable in your hands and permits you to write expressively. In other words, it’s a very individual choice and that’s what makes it a personal writing instrument. One of my favorite pens is a Montblanc #146 that my wife gave me as a Christmas present in 1988. It continues to serve me well after 29 years of fairly steady use. Another favorite is a Waterman Étalon with a fine nib, a Sailor Professional with an italic nib, and a Parker 51 Aerometric with medium nib that I’ve used for years. Pelikan pens generate considerable loyalty and mine is another of my favorites. Another, much less expensive fountain pen, was a gift from a physician I respected, and I continue to appreciate it. They are all very different, and I enjoy each of them. Other pens were purchased in my travels over the past few decades.

It is impractical to regard the fountain pen as one’s sole choice in a writing instrument, especially when there are so many excellent ballpoints and rollerballs on the market. In some work environments, the paper or conditions your work normally involves may not suit a fountain pen. Many inexpensive papers, typical of the industrial environment, are porous and the ink soaks in (like writing on facial tissue). Again, the fountain pen is at its best for personal correspondence, when you can choose the paper and your surroundings as you write. The paper I normally use for letters is bond, the same sort of paper you'd use to submit a curriculum vitae.

An interesting combination of writing characteristics has emerged in gel pen technology. The size of the pen tip may vary from fine to broad, but the ink is suspended in a water-based gel, flows smoothly, and provides a bolder line than a ballpoint. If you enjoy writing with gel pens, you may prefer a fountain pen. I find I have to replace my gel ink refills more frequently than the comparable ballpoint refills, but they seem to write very smoothly.

Understand, any ballpoint or gel pen is only as good as its refill. No matter how well the pen fits your hand, or how expensive or attractive the writing instrument, it's the point of the refill that touches the paper. If the pen skips or clogs, it is frustrating. Parker gel and ballpoint refills have worked well for me, and a number of brands of pen (other than Parker) rely on these refills. That makes perfect sense; why reinvent the wheel?

An assortment of ballpoint and gel pens I've made as a hobby for friends and purchasers, using a pen lathe, drill press, bandsaw, and other tools .

An assortment of ballpoint and gel pens I've made as a hobby for friends and purchasers, using a pen lathe, drill press, bandsaw, and other tools .

As a suggestion, don’t carry a fountain pen or any worthwhile writing instrument in your back pocket. Soon after you’re seated, you’ll realize your mistake. Many writing instruments have threaded joints which are not made to bend or flex, and I have damaged more than one pen that way. Don’t subject a decent pen to the heat of an appliance or the instrument panel of your automobile on a warm, sunny day. Carry a fountain pen in a shirt pocket, attaché case, portfolio, or purse.

We live in an age of disposable plastic ballpoint pens in the workplace. When they’re empty or if they skip or clog, we simply toss them in the trash and reach for another. I seem to accumulate pens with advertising, and my desk drawer is a temporary depository for some of these marketing tools.

In contrast to this, a personal pen may be an expensive writing instrument that is (or should be) a long-term personal accessory. I do not suggest we forsake all other writing options and embrace fountain pens for our work or professional records. That is ridiculously impractical and monodimensional in some of the professional environments in which I’ve been employed.

In any environment in which pens are shared, I recommend you avoid using a quality personal pen or it will disappear. In such environments, the Bic crystal ballpoint is always a good choice. It’s the best-selling pen in the world and, according to the Guinness Book of Records, has sold more than 100 billion pens since its introduction in the United States in 1959. It writes surprisingly well for so inexpensive a pen but, much as I appreciate its merits, it’s hardly a “personal writing instrument”.

I’ll use anything available in the work environment, but when I write my personal correspondence, notes, journal entries, checks or envelopes, I reach for a personal pen. When I give a writing instrument as a gift, I invariably caution against using it at work because it will disappear. Many people find fountain pens interesting or are curious about writing with them, but reject the process of filling from an ink bottle or maintaining the pen by wiping or flushing it.

I gravitated toward fountain pens for a few understandable reasons; I was introduced to them in elementary school, and I appreciate a good pen. Beyond that, I’ve worked in health care, laboratory, aerospace and QA environments in which a signature is (or should be) meaningful. I really don’t sign documents lightly, whether it’s a contract, commitment, report, test result, or interoffice note. When I reach for my pen, I have a few more seconds to remind myself that I am about to sign something to which my word or my integrity is associated, and it gives me a moment to more carefully consider, “How carefully did I read this? What am I stating? To what am I affixing my name?”

You need not be trained in calligraphy, Spencerian script or have extraordinary penmanship to enjoy a fountain pen. My mother was a high school graduate, and her penmanship was very polished. My maternal grandmother immigrated to America from Spain, and her penmanship was impressive, to say the least. My penmanship is easily legible, but does not compare. A friend, another fountain pen enthusiast, rarely writes in cursive but his use of a pen to print is unique and is a product of his long background in lettering as a mechanical draftsman. He prints evenly, consistently, neatly, and as quickly as I can write in script.

If the topic interests you but you want to learn more of it before you purchase a personal pen of any sort, I would suggest a visit to a shop that specializes in writing instruments. If you live in or near a metropolitan area, you may find a wealth of information at a pen show. These are usually annual events in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Columbus, Portland and elsewhere, and they really are very interesting. Attendees are a remarkable cross-section of people, all ages and backgrounds, all professions and levels of education. I’ve learned a great deal at these shows and had the opportunity to write with a number of pens I would not otherwise have been able to examine.

In an age of texts, e-mails, word-processed letters and colorless messages, have you ever gotten a handwritten letter and appreciated it? Have you been thanked or congratulated with a written note and somehow sensed the genuine nature of the message because someone took the time to write? Have you examined the written address on an envelope and recognized the penmanship as a friend or someone close to you? I receive positive feedback from those with whom I correspond. Yes, I type faster than I write and I often have to rely on my word processor, but the handwritten letters are a step beyond, a more personal exercise in communication. If that concept sounds reasonable or appeals to you, consider a fountain pen!

© 2013 Ed Palumbo


Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on September 06, 2020:

Ms. Farricelli, I have read and enjoyed your informative articles, and I thank you you for reading and commenting on this one! Over time, I must admit, my letters are shorter but I still prefer my fountain pens and my colleagues and friends comment that my letters are "keepers". When I write a "Thank You" note or congratulate a graduate, I still rely on one of my favorite pens. My penmanship does not compare well with my mother or my maternal grandparents, and I admire their signatures. Whether you prefer a thick line or a very fine line, there are pens and nibs that match your taste. Thank you for for your informative hubs, and I hope time is good to you.

Adrienne Farricelli on September 06, 2020:

Fountain pens have their appeal. Since being a child, I was always attracted to them. I found a few old letters my grandpa wrote and the cursive writing with thick ink was very attractive. I like to use these pens.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on September 16, 2015:

Adrien Richards, thank you for reading and commenting! It is my understanding that Parker Pens suspended production of their pens in the U.S.A. in the summer of 2009 and moved their production to Paris, France. Parker inks are produced under the Sanford Stationery Division banner, the corporate parent of several pen manufacturers. Waterman pens are now based in Paris also. The European market for expensive writing instruments is more receptive than in the U.S.A., where general demand is in decline. I would recommend Aurora, Pelikan, Mont Blanc and Diamine inks, among others, available through retailers of upscale pens. I think you'll approve of the spectrum of colors available.

Adrien on September 16, 2015:

It is a sorry state when they chose to stop cursive in school, writing with a pen is my favorite way, guess you have to be a certain age. I didn't go in the time of the dip pen but in our Elementary there were tables with holes for ink bottles. I used those Parker Jotter in college, always wanted a wet ink, had to change the thing often, I moved to Parker Vector of which they sold everywhere at that time. Your story is very lengthy and a joy to read. There was a reissue of a military Conklin of ball/fountain package. Do you know why Parker Penman cancelled their ink? it was a good vibrant color, 1995 was my start!

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on August 04, 2015:

Many fountain pens appreciate in value over time, and can be resold profitably if they're in good working order, but you may find some that are "keepers" among the pens you've discovered at auctions. Some that are dried can be soaked and cleaned. Nibs that are bent or damaged can be repaired by those who know how to do this. Enjoy those pens! And thank you for reading and commenting.


Diana Burrell-Shipton from Hubbard, Ohio, USA on August 04, 2015:

What a joy to read this page !

I have a few old ones that I got in boxes of stuff at auctions over many years. I keep them to hopefully use someday.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 16, 2015:

thanks, I will try your tips

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on March 12, 2015:

peachpurple, Let me assure you that the pen can be repaired, flushed of dried ink, and restored to working condition. This is frequently a simple process but, it is complicated by a need of parts replacement, I would recommend Richard Binder or John Mottishaw (among others) who do remarkable work. Both have repaired or restored pens for me. I'd guess you would be pleased to use your father's pen. Contact me at and I will give you their e-mail or website information.


peachy from Home Sweet Home on March 12, 2015:

my dad gave me a fountain p when i was a teen, i used it until the ink got stuck, still keeping it

Cristen Iris from Boise, Idaho on September 13, 2014:

Edward, "Our letters are the footprints we leave behind" is beautiful and profound. I had not thought of it that way. Wow.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on September 13, 2014:

Iris Draak, Thank you for reading this and for your kind comment. In discussion with an old friend this week, he and his wife commented that I'm the only one who sends handwritten letters, and he saves them, reviews them from time to time. If we invest our time to communicate, to write, we may as well do it with style. A gentleman recently voiced the opinion that his letters to his children will last much longer than he, and he writes with that thought in mind. Our letters are the footprints we leave behind. Best wishes to you.

Cristen Iris from Boise, Idaho on September 13, 2014:

Edward, I have long been a fan of the fountain pen. As a teenager I had my own inexpensive collection. I am also a fan of the handwritten thank you note and mailed correspondence. I despise cheap pens and carry my own with me everywhere; I am loathe to loan it to strangers and watch with a mother's eye its movements until it returns safely to my care. Your article encourages me to use one again. I agree that when one uses a fountain pen the writing is more purposeful. There is an elegance and flow both literally and figuratively that encourages deeper thought and precision in communication. Your article is beautiful, interesting, useful and eloquent; I voted up.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on August 30, 2014:

Most of the documents we sign in the normal course of conducting a day's business are printed on papers with a weight, finish and thickness designed for ballpoint pens, because that's what the market clearly prefers and what businesses can easily afford for marketing purposes. Fountain pens are excellent for correspondence written on bond paper or cardstock. It's a more personal writing instrument. Ballpoints are unquestionably more convenient and relatively free of maintenance.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on August 30, 2014:

In college and immediately after I loved writing with fountain pens, the kind that came with no-mess ink cartridges. But later I switched to fine-line ballpoints to allow me to put more ink into a smaller space on the paper. Now, I mostly use pens for personal notes to myself, so just about any old ballpoint will do.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on March 16, 2014:

GOL, Thank you for reading this and your comment. I see a relatively small, dedicated (but dwindling) slice of society that appreciates fountain pens and are willing to fill and flush them as required. Some set them aside when the novelty wears off; for others, the novelty never wears off and they cycle through a few pens before they find one or more that come to life in their hands to bring out the best in their penmanship. My understanding concerning the preference for black is that it photocopies well on legal documents but, in personal correspondence, by all means use the colors that express your creativity. A friend prefers a burgundy or maroon ink that is easily legible on white bond paper. Best wishes to you, as I continue to follow your writing.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on March 16, 2014:

This brings me down memory lane, remembering the fountain pens that seemed so important to a child who was "graduating" from pencils. I still remember the bottle of ink ad how I'd squeeze the pen inside to fill it with ink. Sometimes the ink would flood my shirt pocket.

Pens today have changed and as you say, the personal, handwritten note will always be something more special than an email. I like variety in ink colors though and wonder why black is so important for formal writing and why red means anger and insult. The only color I find these days with the perfect feel is either red, black or blue so I go for red. I wish there were also green and purple like before.

I wonder if pens will someday be neglected and become minimalist and its look will be determined solely by its usefulness. Sad day that would be.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on January 23, 2014:

There are excellent ballpoints and rollerball pens on the market today, and ink technology hasn't stagnated. Some things get better (and possibly more expensive) with time. Thank you for your comment!

Becki Rizzuti from Indianapolis, Indiana on January 23, 2014:

Excellent hub! I've never used a fountain pen, but am often frustrated with ball-points because they don't always work the way they are prescribed. I would very much like to start writing hand-written letters to family again, or keeping a journal, but the ball-point pen cheapens the experience.

Even the nicest pens I've owned have been ball-points, and I keep those close to myself so that they don't get taken by people who aren't inclined to return them to me.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on January 21, 2014:

E-mails must eventually be deleted, word-processed letters seem relatively colorless, but a handwritten letter (depending on content) is usually a "keeper"! I'm encouraged by the responses of those to whom I write. I agree with you; pens that are loaned out often do not come back.

dragonflycolor on January 21, 2014:

I, as well as my mother, are pen collectors. We have a certain peculiarity toward "ink sticks" and no one is allowed to take them from us! My favorite right now are PaperMate Write Joy pens in multiple colors and the Uni-Ball Micro ink pen.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on January 10, 2014:

MsDora, Thank you for your comment! It appears fountain pens have lost appeal (or never have appealed) to my children and their contemporaries, but I will continue to appreciate and use them. We still have excellent instruments from which to choose. Best wishes to you in 2014!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 10, 2014:

Hi There, Fellow Baby Boomer: The fountain pen was/is an instrument for elegance. This article is a fitting complement to my most recent article on handwriting. Those surely were the good ole days. Thank you for the memory.

Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on December 27, 2013:

I thank the readers for their kind comments. Penmanship received greater emphasis in the past and seems to have slipped as an emphasis in today's student training, but I accept that priorities change and creativity flourishes whatever we use in the effort to communicate. My professors required us to submit word processed assignments because they didn't have the time to decipher poorly written work and I understood that as well. Let us hold fast to the best of yesterday's customs and traditions and let the next generation consider what is worthwhile. Thank you for reading and considering my words.

Gunnar on December 26, 2013:

I must say that any article that holds my attention in spite of having absolutely no interest in the subject must be well written. Mr. Palumbo has certainly succeeded here. I was captured by the historical trivia abounding in this article, not to mention technical considerations of writing instruments that no one I know of have ever considered or even heard of. Unfortunately penmanship in general is rapidly becoming an anachronism, and fine penmanship utilizing the fountain pen a lost art,

analogous in many respects to the use of silver halide emulsion film cameras after the advent of digital photography. A beautiful art form with little practical value outside of one's own interests and personal values. I love fine penmanship though. I had an uncle that was totally adept at writing in Spencerian script and did so routinely. It was absolutely beautiful to look at although occasionally difficult to read because of the artistic swirls and embellishments. Nice piece of writing by Mr. Palumbo and I really did enjoy the history lessons. Keep up the good work.

SandiegoPhil on December 23, 2013:

I received a fountain pen from my grandparents and appreciated it, but didn't even use it for some time. While recuperating from a sports injury, I did fill it and use it. My father had to show me how to fill it! By the time I healed, I was hooked! I since bought a couple of others. I understood and liked this article.

tom on December 23, 2013:

Ed's mastery of the written word is without a doubt outstanding. This work is one of complete and thorough examples and definitions that make this otherwise benign topic interesting and informative. The skillful art of penmanship has become nearly extinct. With PCs, IPADs, cell phones, and the like, they do nearly everything electronically.

I clearly remember sitting at a wooden desk in school and instructed in the art of hand writing with a fountain pen. Penmanship was a graded task and while some students had no interest, I enjoyed writing. It was a challenge to attempt to copy free hand what was displayed by the teacher. I took mechanical drawing and always had this inner feeling that I had to try my best to write as clear and distinct as the writing samples that were presented to me. Being a South-Paw made me more determined to excel since being a South-Paw 50+ years ago was taboo. After an accident in the military in 1968, my left hand and index finger would never be the same as before the accident. I made a heart felt effort to improve my penmanship, only to be disappointed in my limited ability.

Story time... Case in point.

Some time ago, I went in to a "Big-Box" electronics store looking to get info on the latest and greatest PC model available. I young lad approached me and offered assistance. I explained that I hadn't kept up with the latest models and needed some guidance. He was well groomed and well spoken and presented a professional customer service attitude. Explaining the latest and greatest powerful models available, I asked for a brochure or a one page flyer on the model he was describing. His response was that the model he suggested was not in the store yest and that he had no information to give me. I asked him for a model number so I could research it myself on-line. He started to write the model number on a piece of paper and abruptly stopped. I thought he was thinking of the model number but to my surprise he turned to me and asked me "How do I Write the Letter K?" I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. I asked for his pen and I wrote the letter K. As I was writing he explained that he rarely writes anything and if anything needs to be written he does his writing on the keyboard. This is what we have digressed to. I wish my left hand and index finger were good enough to write with a fountain pen. I miss writing with this instrument and would dearly love to have one and the ability to write legibly.


Ed Palumbo (author) from Tualatin, OR on December 22, 2013:

Thank you for your kind words. With all the techno-gadgets that were invented to optimize our time, it seems the quality of interpersonal communication has deteriorated to cryptic texts and misspelled messages. Perhaps the pen is a relic of a simpler time. Lord willing, so am I. I hope the year ahead is healthy and happy for you.

Dee aka Nonna on December 22, 2013:

You do have an appreciation of fountain pens, and I loved every word of what you wrote about them, and about your experiences. Love the story of discovering the pen that you Dad used to write to you. I have several pens I use often, but I think I will use your idea of rotating and using some of the one I keep in a box. I too have had several stolen so I've learned to not leave them out, or unattending when using somewhere other than home. Voted up, awesome (because I loved your take on them), and interesting...because they and your article definitely are....

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