Fountain Pens: A Bit Of History

By Jon Kilminster

The oldest known fountain pen that still survives today dates back to the early 1700s and was developed in France after thousands of years of writing with quill pens. Over the next hundred years, several new fountain pens were developed and patented, including a half-quill half-metal pen. Then, in 1831, the first self-filling fountain pen was developed by a man named John Jacob Parker – and the Parker Pen dynasty was born.

The design of the fountain pen was based upon the observation that a bird’s quill contained a hollow channel that made a natural reservoir for ink. Drawing on that observation, inventors attempted to produce the same effect with a man-made pen that would hold more ink and not require constant dipping into an inkwell.


After years of experimentation with pens that leaked badly or otherwise failed to perform to satisfaction, a man named Lewis Waterman – the father of another writing implement empire – hit upon the idea of adding an air hole between the nib and the base of the pen to solve the problems of leakage and splattering.

Over the next century, a number of new innovations were made in the field of self-filling fountain pens, including designs that involved button fillers, lever fillers, click fillers, matchstick fillers, and coin fillers. In the 1950s, the pre-filled, disposable ink cartridge was introduced.

To this day, modern fountain pens are sold as classic writing instruments, and antique and rare fountain pens enjoy a booming market among avid collectors

Each fountain pen is unique in that its nib is designed to flex and wear down gradually based upon the writing pressure exerted on it, thus accommodating the user’s style. As a result, fountain pen owners tend to guard their writing instruments closely, loath to allow anyone else to write with their pens, and often have their initials engraved on them.

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