field trip: old-school pens

The Damsel was asked to teach a class about pens. She admits she was surprised about the topic, but once she read a little about it, she found out it’s actually pretty interesting.

The most old-school kind of pen is a feather or quill pen, used for a thousand years with practically no change. A feather–often a goose feather, but many kinds were used–was trimmed with a diagonal point. This was dipped in an inkwell and then used to write with. The hollow channel inside the feather’s shaft drew up a bit of ink, but it still had to be dipped often–every few strokes.

In the 1700’s, people started experimenting with making a metal pen, but it was easier said than done. Ink often spurted out of the early attempts, and it seemed nothing was as good as a plain old feather. It wasn’t until 1884 that they were able to come up with something reliable.

Ever heard of Waterman pens? That was the name of the guy who patented it. There were several designs for filling the reservoir with ink, but the basic idea was the same: a metal nib connected to a shaft that held the ink reservoir.

The Damsel TOLD you she was old. She remembers people actually writing with these kind of pens. On purpose. This is what people wrote with in the olden days when they wanted to be fancy.

She’d rather not remember a certain bad moment when she spilled a bottle of ink on the carpet when she was a kid. She must have tripped over her platform shoes.

Ball point pens were invented not so long ago in the overall scheme of writing implements. They finally got it right in the 1950’s. It was tricky to get the ink just right. Too thin, and it would run out all over the place. Too thick and it would clog. But after a few bad starts, ball point pens took hold.

Ever heard of a Bic pen? Just kidding. The Damsel knows you have heard of a Bic. But did you know it got its name from its original maker, a French baron named Bich? There are  14,000,000 basic Bic pens sold every day.

The next time the Damsel sees a goose, she will try to arrange for it to lose a feather, because trimming a quill would make a pretty interesting Old School post, don’t you think?


7 thoughts on “field trip: old-school pens

  1. I find this so interesting. I don’t know why. 🙂 So, were people like, super eager to jump on board with the ball point pen or were there some goose feather hold-outs, do you think? Was it the best thing since sliced bread? Did sliced bread come first? Should we be saying “the best thing since the ball point pen”?

    • I also found myself oddly fascinated by this. People were skeptical at first about ballpoints, especially since the fountain pens were troublesome. The first ballpoints were a mess. But then they started getting it better, and there was an unbelievable amount of hype about this pen and that pen finally being THE GOOD PEN. The companies were tripping all over themselves to tout their latest amazing feature, like writing underwater (they hired Ethel Merman) or upside down. A cheapo Bic pen is pretty amazing when you think about it. It just works.

      I’m excited because a friend has a feather-pen making kit and I’m going to force her to show me how.

    • You know, it’s true, they just work. They usually don’t skip or blob or … oh but don’t let them get in the dryer, oh no, not that.

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