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Where are they now?

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?

Yes.

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.


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