Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Fountain Pen.

I have been a fountain pen aficionado for a number of years, and today I use a ball point or roller ball pen but rarely.  I mentioned yesterday that I was going to a pen club meeting in a couple of weeks, and my co-worker asked incredulously how I came to be interested in pens.  Fountain pens reached their pinnacle around 1950, and thereafter the ball point began to take over.  In school I used a Bic stick pen, and my penmanship was atrocious.  But by then teachers were counting less for one's penmanship so I skated through.  But fountain pens are still made, and a surprising underground of people use them on a daily basis.

How I came to be a fountain pen aficionado may be a story for another day.  But why I am attached to fountain pens may be shorter.  The pros of fountain pens are:

Your choice of nib style is broad  You can choose those nibs that produce a single line width from spidery extra fine, through bold broad, Then there are italic nibs that produce a wide line when the stroke is vertical to a thin line when the stroke is horizontal.  these nibs are often called stub nibs, and when used with nuanced grace, produce everyday writing that is extremely legible but also appears neat and graceful. Italic is a mans hand. Then, for the florid penman, there are the flex nibs, that produce variation in line width through greater or lesser pressure.  Spencerian penmen (and especially women) appreciate a flexible nib.  My grandmother had an outstanding Spencerian hand, though it was sometimes hard to read for all the fancy curlicues placed throughout.

Your chose of inks is enormous.  I am sure with just the inks I have that they will last for my lifetime, and yet the ink companies are always developing new inks, in new colors and shades.  Some inks have become standards such as Waterman blue black.  I usually mix Waterman black with the blue black to improve the intensity of the color on the page, but it is an undistinguished ink that nonetheless fits many occasions well and so has become a standard. Then there are inks like Noodler's Bulletproof black, or their Legal Lapis, also bulletproof, that can not be removed without destroying the paper on which it is written. These inks are good for check writing, or any application that demands a guarantee that the written word has not been altered.  Other inks are used for artistic purposes, and the occasional letter.  Many men like an ink line Waterman Havana Brown or Montblanc Toffee.

Most of all, though, fountain pens demand very little pressure to produce a line.  Indeed, too much pressure will destroy your pen.  The lack of pressure though, frees you to manipulate the pen to produce good penmanship.  Good penmanship fulfills the basic requirement for any writing, namely that each letter be different enough from every other letter that legibility is enhanced, and the message you are trying to send can be read easily without misunderstanding.

You can basically say that the cons of the ball point pen are the opposite of the pros above for the fountain pen.  But the ball point does have some, (very few) virtues.  For one thing, the self contained ball point system is pressurized, so that a ball point will write at any angle..  You can write on the ceiling with a ball point.  Your fountain pen will fail you there.  The biggest con of a ball point is the pressure required to get a decent line, and the fact that even with that pressure, ball points often skip, refusing to start without multiple swirls.  My fountain pens write first time every time as long as they have ink.  In addition to needing more pressure, many ball points are poorly made in terms of ergonomics.  Thing of the ubiquitous Bic stick pen, or one of its many copies.  Then think about the habits children acquire trying to hold onto these pens.  You see their hands all bunched up with the pen held in an unnatural position between every other finger finally coming out between the ring finger and the pinky.  Is it any wonder these people can not write?

I have very expensive fountain pens, purchased years ago when I thought that the type of pen in my shirt pocket conferred on me a certain status which turned out not to be worth anything anyhow.  Today, though, I carry and like inexpensive fountain pens such as the Lamy Safari.  These pens are rugged, and write as well, if not necessarily as smoothly, as more expensive pens.  The nib is easily changed.  Indeed, the whole pen is easily maintained, and if they do break, or are lost, only cost around $20 to replace.  I have also purchased a Noodler's Ahab, again a cheap pen but the description sounds like something I would like.

It is commonly thought that people in ages past were largely illiterate.  This was not necessarily true. The Roman upper class, and a large chunk of the middle classes were able read, write, knew history, arithmetic and such mathematics as may have been available and fit what they might have needed.  The same for the Greeks.  The Hebrews were also quite literate.  The Roman army was of course literate, and depended on written orders throughout to keep  all levels of command informed.  The middle classes needed at least to know the 3Rs as they used to be referred to in order to conduct business, compute taxes, and determine whether or not they were making a profit.

During the middle ages, the merchant class developed a style of writing that used the printed symbols for letters, and connected them to make writing faster and more fluid.  This became known as Italic writing.  Italic has the characteristic of writing one desires.  Each letter is distinct from every other letter, it is neat, yet not fussy, and the connections are logical.  There are no forced rules such as each letter must start on the bottom line.  And once a child learns to print, connecting the letters is a fairly simple task, since one does not need to learn he letters all over again.

My Dad gave me a pen for Christmas one year, a Rotring Fountain pen, and a bottle of Private Reserve Plum.  A strange gift, but I put it to work improving my handwriting by learning the Italic form/  Learning about Italic made me wonder about the style of cursive I learned called the Palmer method.  Palmer, it seems, started not from the middle ages, or even a history of writing, but rather took the Spencerian system, and simplified it to make a business style of writing for the late 20th Century.  But had Palmer looked further back, he would have found that we already had an even simpler and more elegant style in Italic.

My Dad was a wise man, who seemed to increase in wisdom as I got older.  He once noted that writing was the truly greatest development man had made toward civilization, because it allowed one to read the words of the greatest thinkers throughout history.  Too bad some people have forgotten this great benefit in their zeal to acquire power and wealth.  Those old musty documents contain the words of greater thinkers with more erudition than today's grubby politicians.  

No comments:

Post a Comment