The Perils Of Fountain Pen Nostalgia – A Ramble

In case my handwriting is illegible, this little picture was drawn using a fountain pen.

In case my handwriting at the bottom of this picture is illegible, this picture was drawn using a fountain pen.

For the first time in about five or six years, I found myself fascinated with fountain pens again.

This was mainly because some of the drawing pens that I got for Christmas (medium “Uni-Ball eye” waterproof ink rollerball pens – the king of drawing pens) came with a free pink pen, which looked a lot like the gel pens that used to be really popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Naturally, I went online to read up on the history of gel pens and – after a while – found myself on a few familiar fountain pen collecting sites instead. I was fascinated! I loved the fact that something as mundane as a pen could have both a long history and serious collectors.

I loved reading about the technical intricacy of all of the old fountain pen mechanisms, from stylographs to plunger mechanisms. I also loved reading scans of old newspaper articles where people bemoaned how no-one knew how to cut a quill any more, or decried the fact that people were referring to pens as “pens” or “nibs” rather than referring to them as a “pen and a pen-holder” etc…

Not to mention that reading earnest online comments from collectors about how and why even mediocre old fountain pens are better than high-end modern fountain pens appealed to the grumpy old person within me. There were also discussions about the merits of ballpoint vs. fountain pens and about how the different types of pens affect the ways that we write.

I was fascinated by pens and, especially, by fountain pens.

Then I tried actually using a fountain pen, for the first time in over half a decade.

It might be because I was still “breaking in” one of the cheap cartridge-baded fountain pens that I’d bought during my last fountain pen phase in 2010, it might be because I was out of practice with using one, or it might have been because I’m left-handed, but I actually found the pen slightly less ergonomic to write with than my usual rollerball pens (eg: a cheap one for writing, and the Uni-Ball pens for drawing).

However, the fountain pen proved acceptable to draw with – although the fact that it uses non-waterproof ink is a huge disadvantage (since I can’t use it with watercolours).

[Edit: I left the fountain pen to settle for a few hours and now it actually works significantly better than it did a while before I wrote this article. I’m probably still not going to switch over from the rollerball pens that I usually use though.]

Then I remembered why I haven’t geeked out about fountain pens that much. Even though I went to secondary school in the early-mid ’00s, the school that I went to had a rather traditionalist attitude towards pens. In other words, for at least the first few years of my time there, we were all required to use fountain pens. They were a mundane, and occasionally annoying, thing that I used regularly for 3-5 years of my life.

Then I read some more articles about pens and writing in general and I was shocked to read that most people don’t handwrite that much these days.

These days, I type and write by hand in roughly equal measure (probably about 60/40, typing/writing) but, even until my early 20s, I wrote by hand far more than I typed. But the idea of going a whole day without writing even at least one sentence by hand just seems alien to me.

There were also online articles decrying the decline in cursive/joined-up handwriting, and many online comments from people who only print words on the rare occasions that they write by hand.

Although I tend to use block capitals when adding lettering to comics (and the title graphics of these articles) for the sake of legibility, it isn’t really my “normal” writing style. It’s slow and cumbersome compared to good, practical handwriting.

Yes, my “normal” handwriting tends to be fairly quick, fairly tiny and almost completely illegible but – when I write slowly, it’s actually just about legible. The idea that people don’t write things by hand any more just seems bizarre.

I mean, how would you spontaneously jot down notes and ideas? How would you doodle in the margins? How would you cram a few extra small notes into an oddly-shaped corner of the page? Yes, keyboards are very useful, but there are a lot of things that handwriting can do that keyboards (and probably touchscreens too) just can’t do. The idea of a life without handwriting is almost as strange as the idea of a life without writing itself.

But, going back to the subject of fountain pens and vintage pens, I was relieved to switch back to using rollerball pens. I may sound like a heretic or a philistine, but the most superior type of pen in the world isn’t a fountain pen of any kind – it’s a black ink rollerball pen (whether cheap or expensive, or whether it uses ordinary or waterproof ink) – with a line width of about 0.5mm -1mm .

They may not be prestigious and they may not have a fancy history, but rollerball pens (not to be confused with ordinary ballpoint pens) are just perfect to use for both writing and drawing.

They produce striking bold lines, you can keep them uncapped for as long as you like (without worrying about damaging the pen too much), they don’t need to be “broken in”, you can use the nib at any angle (as long as you don’t turn the whole pen upside-down) you don’t need to apply a lot of pressure and they glide across the page with only slightly more resistance than a well-used fountain pen does.

So, yes, fountain pens are fascinating in theory, but inferior in practice.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂


6 comments on “The Perils Of Fountain Pen Nostalgia – A Ramble

  1. rebmcweb says:

    I had a somewhat different experience. All my life, I’d believed I couldn’t use a fountain pen because I’m left handed. Then I read some website about how it was supposedly possible, went ahead and bought one. A Cross pen. Turns out the smudging isn’t a problem — apparently the inks must have improved. I’m in love! It feels as if the words are flowing out of it like liquid 🙂. I don’t draw or anything like you … I just wanted to improve my handwriting.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Glad to hear that you’ve found a fountain pen that works for you, and good luck with improving your handwriting too 🙂 But, yeah, the whole “left-handed people can’t use fountain pens” thing is absolute nonsense, although the usual way that I avoid ink smudging whilst writing is just to tilt the page 45 degrees to the right, so I’m writing diagonally. Plus, I guess that it also depends on how you hold the pen too. But, yeah, I’ve never really experienced much smudging with fountain pen inks (well, the cheap inks that come in plastic cartridges). Ironically, the inks in the rollerball pens that I usually use for drawing and writing are slightly more prone to smudging than fountain pens are.

      • rebmcweb says:

        I hold my hand in the ‘hoooked’ position. The original Cross ink, that came with it doesn’t smudge — it’s really fast-drying, and I’ve managed to figure out how to tilt 🙂.

        Like you said, I have more problems with cheap ballpoint pens.

        Now I’ll just figure out what to write with it LOL …

      • pekoeblaze says:

        Ah, I guess that it’s just a matter of experience and/or preference. It might be worth trying diagonal writing (I’ve found that it feels more intuitive, causes less smudging and allows for faster writing) although, if you aren’t used to it, I can see how it might feel a bit weird.

        But, yeah, the ink must be extremely quick-drying if it smudges less than ballpoint ink does. It’d be interesting to see how they managed to do this, since I read somewhere that quick-drying ballpoint-style ink doesn’t work well with fountain pens because the ink consistency is too thick.

        LOL!!! Yeah, there’s nothing worse than getting a new pen and realising that you don’t know what to write with it LOL!

  2. Paul Godden says:

    >> … inferior in practice [!!!!!?????????]
    No, no, no, no, no, please don’t say that! You just haven’t tried the right fountain pen and ink combo! There are 1000s of amazing, fast-drying, waterproof (and non-waterproof) inks out there that will meet your needs. And pens that perform as wildly differently as a Formula 1 Grand Prix racer compared to a Ford Ka. There are even (I was going to write many, but sadly that aint true), fountain pens designed especially for left-handed writers, that’ll be drawing their hands over fresh ink.

    Check out blogs like:
    Gourmet Pens –
    Ed Jelley –
    The Pen Addict –

    Or even my own at…

    Don’t give up on the fountain pen, it isn’t dead yet.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      I have to admit that pretty much all of my experiences with fountain pens have been with fairly very cheap ones. Plus, fountain pens certainly look cool and are probably a lot of fun to use if you eventually find the right one (although it still kind of seems like a “special occasions” type of pen, especially the types that have an integral ink reservoir rather than removable cartridges. Still, as I read on a site somewhere, people used them as “everyday” pens for decades before the ballpoint was invented. So, this might be a modern idea).
      The idea of left-handed nibs is cool too, although I usually avoid most smudging-related problems with pens by just tilting the page diagonally whilst writing.

      Not to mention that I really like the idea of all of the collecting, history, design variation, sophistication etc… that surrounds fountain pens too (thanks for the link to your site too, it looks really fascinating 🙂 )

      But, even so, I just love the fact that rollerball pens are practical, intuitive to use, relatively cheap and very low-maintenance (and considerably better than ordinary ballpoints in terms of ink boldness, the way the nib glides across the paper etc..).

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