Happy Fountain Pen Day! (And All Saints Day!) Never heard of Fountain Pen Day? Well hang onto your hats!
Long before there were keyboards, and certainly before there were the abomination that is the ball point pen, there were fountain pens. You may have seen one rattling around in your Grandmother’s drawer or in an antique shop somewhere. Maybe you are a blessed person who owns and users fountains already. If you aren’t, this post is especially for you. (If you are, well you’ll get this!)
Fountain pens were invented around the turn of the 20th century. They began very simply, it used to be to write you needed to dip a simple metal (or quill even earlier) nib, fitted into a holder into a pot of ink. You’d write while the ink that stuck to the nib lasted, and then dip again. Very serviceable, but not terribly portable. Eventually a smart fellow figured out that by making the nib holder hollow and adding a way for the ink to flow from the body of the pen to the nib you could create a writing tool that wrote pages and pages without stopping and that could be slipped in your pocket and carried with you, the fountain pen was born. Since then hundreds of thousands of different designs and nibs have been produced. Once every child learned to write with a trusty fountain pen.
Fountain pens were doomed as a mass market writing tool by the carbon copy sheet. You see writing with a fountain pen is a nearly effortless activity, the nib actually floats on a cushion of ink across the page. But because it floats, nearly weightless, it simply doesn’t work on those old carbon forms. So the ballpoint and the rollerball were invented. Cheap and disposable they have elbowed the dignified fountain pen out of our schools and most of our daily lives. But for those lucky few who rediscover them a whole new experience awaits.
I learned to write in the public schools of the 1980s. We used pencils, and ball points, and my hand writing was horrific. In fact by the time I hit college it had become nearly unreadable scrawl. Even I couldn’t read the notes I took. The ball point, straight and not fitted to the hand, with its requirement for pressure to write, cramped my hand and arm more and more the longer I wrote. My writing cramped too, smaller and tighter and messier… Then a few years ago I stumbled, completely accidentally, upon a fountain pen. A fountain pen, properly used, lays in your hand softly, you mustn’t grip it tightly, you must relax your hand, and your arm, and the nib glides across the paper. Everything changed. I wrote and wrote, and wrote. My hand never cramped, my arm never ached and slowly, day by day my hand writing grew loose and flowing. Gradually, day by day those grand old pens taught me how to write all over again, and how to write well!
As they did, they unlocked more than my aching fingers. The relaxation that flowed up my fingers, and wrist, and arm, and shoulder, settled into my whole self. A long dry spell broke like the monsoon and colorful ink filled pages and pages. Poems and stories, mediation and prayer flowed like ink from a spilled bottle. I learned to write with wide nibs and narrow, flat and round, slanted and straight, each bestowing its own gift. Gently the oldest of pens taught me how to let me letters flex and swell. My collection of ink grew with my pens and their colors, from rust to red, to grey, to purple, to blues that shade like the sunset, lent color to my voice.
There is no experience like picking up a 100 year old pen and letting it guide you in wet trails of ink down the well of your memories. Some of the pens that I cradle between finger and thumb have written miles of text, through two world wars, depressions and booms, they have known days of love, and languished long forgotten. Some are abused and nearly ruined, nursed back by careful hands as I learned not only to write, but to rebuild, to see the beauty beneath the neglect. As I learned to treasure what lasts over what is convenient and disposable. Some of my pens graced the shirt pockets of Allied fighters, others churned out of the factories of wartime Germany, their nibs steel, their designs simple. Today they nestle together, side by side, their wounds redeemed.
Some are brand new, bright and shiny, with a hundred years and more in their future, full of nothing but possibility.
Keyboards are well and good, but some things can only be unlocked with the gentle touch of ink to paper, with the fluid trail that lets imagination run like tears, free. In celebration of Fountain Pen Day I am going to share some bounty. I have been the recipient of gifts, of help along the way, of generous sharing.
So here we have the first annual Barefoot Theology Fountain Pen Day Giveaway. Here’s how it works, one of the three pens pictured below will be sent to one person (selected at random) from the comments here. Here’s how you enter, leave a comment (be sure to enter a real email address or I’ll have no way to find you!) on this post answering the following:
1. Have you used a fountain pen before?
2. How many fountain pens do you own?
3. Have you ever written with a vintage (older than 1960) pen?
Leave your answer in the comments, winner will be chosen at random and sent a pen based on their comments… The pens are: a modern Danitrio concept pen, a Noodler’s Creeper Piston Filler (modern as well), and an cola brown Esterbrook (vintage!). Enjoy and good luck!
(Feel free to still comment, but contest is concluded!)