The first reliable and
leak proof fountain pens revolutionized hand writing; they are now collected
for their looks as well as their historical importance.
The traditional quill pen could be a
sensitive writing implement, but it had drawbacks; it had to be replenished with ink every few words and needed constant trimming with a penknife.
Attempts to add ink reservoirs to quill pens date hack to at least the 17th century (when
of Samuel Pepys mentions such a device), but it was not until the 1880s that the first successful fountain pen was put on the market.
This was made possible by the refinement of the steel nib (which at first tended to be
unpliable and liable to tear the paper), by the development of new kinds of ink (traditional types often corroded metal or clogged up the workings of the pen) and by the ingenuity of manufacturers in overcoming problems relating to filling, leakage and ink flow.
The two most famous manufacturers in the early days of the fountain pen ate still household names today - the American firms of Parker and Waterman.
J J Parker patented a fountain pen in 1 823, but it was unreliable, and it was Lewis Edson Waterman who manufactured the first completely successful
fountain pen in 1883.
Waterman had started out as an insurance salesman, but he changed career after a leaking pen ruined a contract and lost him an important deal.
By 1888 his company was making pens in over 50 sizes and styles, all with a money-back guarantee.
British manufacturers who followed in the Americans' footsteps included Reliance and Co., who made a highly regarded pen with a 14-carat gold nib, tipped with iridium to improve writing performance.
Like other early fountain pens, it was filled by means of a glass eye dropper, but in 1908 a breakthrough was made when the lever-operated rubber ink holder was patented.
This device set the seal on the success of the fountain pen, which by the time of World War 1 was regarded as indispensable.
Barrels were made from a variety of materials, including mother-of-pearl, gold, silver, glass and plastics such as
Bakelite and Parker's 'Permanite'.
There were little pens for ladies' handbags, often with bands of gold, and the invention of the pen clip allowed pens to be put in pockets the right way up, reducing the risk of leakage.
PEN COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Since the late 1980s there has been an upsurge of interest in vintage pens, with a consequent steep rise in prices.
Pens are now an established specialist field, and auction houses sometimes devote sales exclusively to them.
Many factors affect the price that a pen can command, notably age, rarity and condition.
The material of which the pen is made is also obviously significant, for one in gold or silver will naturally tend to be much more valuable than one made from plastic.
In general, the most sought-after fountain pens are those from before the turn of the century, because of their rarity and historical importance.
Even the most basic pens from this period are in demand, because few of the millions that were produced are likely to have survived in pristine condition - if a pen was not
intrinsically valuable, it was likely to be scrapped as soon as it was superseded by a
better model, in much the same way that we casually throw away cheap ballpoints today.
Whereas ladies' pens were usually made in a single size, pens for men were often available in a range of sizes, typically five.
The bigger ones, with their 'macho' appeal, are generally worth more than the smaller ones.
The American Parker firm made a range of pens known as 'Big Reds' between 1921 and 1932 and these 'status symbol' pens have been perennially popular with collectors.
Nibs as well as pens were available in various sizes, and here also the bigger ones tend to command the highest prices.
Although many vintage pens are bought for display, some collectors like to use them, and there is no reason why they should not be functional as well as attractive.
Often, however, pens will be sold in non-functioning condition, and this should be reflected in the price.
Repairs can be expensive, so you should take this into consideration if buying a pen that is likely to need some attention.
Manufacturers of fountain pens have used many decorative styles and techniques
to make their products stand out from the crowd. Even using modest materials they were able to ring the
changes with variations of colour and texture. Early fountain pens were often dark and sober,
but modern materials such as plastics gave rise to a much more adventurous approach.