Where are they now?

1st June 2001 at 01:00
When it comes to the write stuff, there can be no grander accoutrement than the fountain pen, now enjoying an iconic status

What is it?

A pen furnished with an ink reservoir, says the Oxford English Dictionary.

When was it invented?

Earlier than you think. The first written record was in Arabic in an Egyptian manuscript circa 970 AD; Samuel Pepys recorded on August 5, 1663:

"This evening came a letter about business from Mr Coventry and with it a silver pen he promised me to carry ink in, which is very necessary."

The earliest example is dated 1702 - it was developed in Europe by Monsieur Bion, a French instrument-maker in the early 18th century. The first English patent for a reservoir pen was issued in 1809 to Frederick Folsch of Oxford Street, London.

When was it in common use?

Oh, it's never been common.

You know what I mean...

There was a spate of patents and inventions in the early 19th century, but it became popular after the American, Lewis Waterman, devised a way of allowing the ink to flow smoothly on to the page.

His factory sold 200 pens in 1884 - Gilbert and Sullivan were rather taken with them - and by 1900 he was selling 1,000 a day. In the 1920s a Parker Duofold Senior, known as the "big red", cost an office worker about a month's ages.

Are there any like these still around?

A Parker No 60 Awanyu "Aztec", American, circa 1911, sold for pound;55,200 at auction in January 2000.

Still collectors' items then?

Not half. Bonhams and Brooks, the Knightsbridge auction house, holds about five pen sales a year. No doubt Montblanc fans will be delighted by this treat in the June sale: an O-size Baby Safety pen, circa 1920, in mottled red hard rubber - a snip at pound;600-pound;800.

A far cry from those days of ink monitors?


But haven't ballpoint pens and felt-tips taken over the classrooms and offices?

Pens went into a decline in the 1960s as ballpoint pens, invented in the 1940s, held sway; but they've had a revival. Visitors to the annual Education Show now see a variety of fountain pens, from plastic to Platignum.

So who uses them?

Primary teachers for handwriting classes; businessmen who want to impress at meetings; fashion victims who can't do without the latest Montblanc; James Bond, as a secret weapon; Nick Tate, former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, nominated his as "my chief resource" (make unknown); senior journalists for correcting proofs.

Any drawbacks apart from that leak in your pocket?

They become a friend, and then you lose them.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today