Saturday, June 2, 2012

Going to the Pen Show today

An article appeared in the The Telegraph (UK) on, of all things, fountain pens. The article, written by Stephen Bayley, and entitled If you want to write like Hemingway... extols the virtue of fine writing in an age where the average person no longer writes letters. Coincidentally, this weekend is the Research Triangle Pen Show. I will be attending, naturally, because I like fountain pens, and I like fountain pen ink.

The great age of the fountain pen took place between 1900 and 1950. Of course, fountain pens survived longer than that, and attempts to make a workable fountain pen date back to the Civil War era, but the era in which fountain pens achieved sufficient technological success to be useful to a large number of people, and at the same time, the ball point pen was not needed was precisely the first half of the century. As Bayley writes:
Few things are more exciting than to hear a woman breathlessly say: “You have lovely handwriting.” But you are unlikely to hear this if you write with a cheap ballpoint and its viscous, blobby ink. For gratification of this sort, a fountain pen is required. And the written trail it must leave is, for best effect, a dense black water‑based ink. I have the stained shirts and schoolboy inky thumbs to prove it.
My parents learned to write by the Palmer method using dip pens. Dip pens are metal nibs, usually steel, set into long handles, that often favor the florid stylized writing known as Copperplate, named for the typeface that attempted to imitate the beautiful writing styles of some early calligraphers. Palmer was simply a simplified version of the earlier methods, good, it was thought, for business. Then there is the rigid regimentation enforced in the Palmer method, which is good for building little units in the fascist machine. There were many "methods," and each great teacher of fine writing had one. I learned to write by a method that is similar to Palmer, but but allowing for more individualism.  But in allowing for more individualism, it also inspired a lot of illegible hands.  See, one of the problems of Palmer is the many loops created by starting all writing at the base line, and insisting on connecting each letter to the one before.  In the wrong hands, it can all run together into a series of loopty-loops.  My mother had a beautiful hand using her Parker fountain pen.  My Dad's hand was somewhat sloppy, but legible using an old Esterbrook.

After I retired, my Dad gave me a modern Rotring fountain pen. These pens are advertised not to leak, even on an airplane! Previous pens had filled by using a device to compress a bladder, after which you released the device, and the vacuum created by the expansion of the bladder sucked ink into the pen. Some pens used a piston to replace the bladder, and some pens had patented methods, but most used the bladder. All of these pens, filled at sea level, tended to leak as one climbed in altitude, and some were so sensitive that any change in the weather seemed to cause a spot to appear on ones shirt just below where the pen resided. Interestingly, fountain pen ink, which will readily wash off the page at the merest drop of sweat from the brow, is permanent when it gets on fabric. This combination of problems were solved by the development of the ball point pen, first used by aviators during WWII, but soon adopted by the average working man who didn't have time to fiddle with his temperamental fountain pen.

In any case, the fountain pen led me to look into writing methods, and low, I discovered that before Spencerian and copperplate, the monks of the Italian renaissance had perfected a beautiful style of writing in which each letter was distinctly different from the others, so that one was able to at once write quickly, and have a legible hand. The style was called Italic and even better, the fountain pen was eminently suited to reproduce it. I got books on Italic writing, and then I practiced making letters, then words, then whole sentences. I got a journal, and began writing in it every day. I soon perfected an Italic hand that many think is calligraphy, but is actually just writing clearly and legibly. In the You Tube video here the writing beginning at 1:24 with the Pelikan Italic nib is in fact the style of writing known as Italic. Italic nibs are broad, and if you write with them at a constant angle, they will make broad stokes and thin strokes depending on which direction you are directing the stroke. I have some Esterbrook pens with the Signature Stub nibs (9284) that make very nice writing pens if you prefer Italic.

One of the joys of using fountain pens is the nearly inexhaustible supply of bottled ink available for the fountain pen.  Of course, the old inks, such as Waterman's are still available.  The famous Schaeffer ink in the bottle with the little ink well in it is gone, but has been replaced by such firms as Private Reserve and Noodler's. Noodler's makes an ink that is "bulletproof" and which when washed of the paper, the paper will be destroyed before the ink washes off.  It is good for providing secure signatures on checks.  Aurora makes what is considered the blackest of the blacks.  Indeed, inks, and the colors and consistency of various inks spark heated discussions on the Fountain Pen Forum. Note the irony, that a bunch of fountain pen users are communicating on the Internet, but it works.

Got to run  Got to get to the pen show and buy some more ink.

No comments:

Post a Comment