Saturday, May 23, 2015

Part One: From Quill... by Victoria Chatham

I think I’m slipping into retro mode and I blame it on technology.  I appreciate the convenience of my Kindle when I travel, and the laptop on which I write but if my thoughts don’t flow quite as easily as I’d like when I write, I revert to paper and pen. A spiral notebook that is and often a fountain pen.  But from where did these materials originate?

My earliest recollections of school was the stone wall around our playground the dry, chalky  atmosphere of the classroom. At first we were only allowed to use pencils for writing. I was so proud of my pencil box with the rose printed on its sliding lid. I was even more proud when I progressed to a real pen and ink, carefully dribbled out from a ceramic jug into the inkwell in the corner of my desk by the ink monitor of that week. The honor of that, along with milk monitor and classroom monitor, was bestowed and withdrawn based on good or bad behaviour.

I find it strange that many school districts no longer teach cursive writing. In the great scheme of things, what if there wasn’t just a power outage but a power stoppage? How many young people today would know how to communicate without the technology that seems to be in their DNA? I loved the feel of the nib running over a clean sheet of white paper, the art in the curve or an S or the clean cut of the V.
We practiced hand writing on a daily basis. Back then my handwriting was almost Victorian copperplate and later I learnt the art of calligraphy. My favorite pen today is my gold Schaeffer, a 40th birthday gift from my daughter, much easier to use than the earliest known reservoir pen dating back to the 10th century.

Fatimid, Caliph of Egypt, wanted a pen that wouldn’t stain his hands and clothes with ink. The mechanism for this pen is unknown. Not so the pen developed by Daniel Schwenter in 1636. He used two quills, one being a reservoir for the other. In 1663 Samuel Pepys, he of the famous diary, referred to a metal pen in which to carry ink and in 1809 Bartholomew Folsch patented a pen with its own reservoir.

By the 1850s more than 50% of the steel-nib pens in the world were manufactured in Birmingham, in the UK. During this time there was also a steady stream of fountain pen patents but it wasn’t until the invention of the iridium-tipped gold-nib, hard rubber and free flowing ink that fountain pens gained popularity.

During the 1870s Canadian Duncan MacKinnon, living in New York City and Alonzo T. Cross from Providence, Rhode Island, created stylographic pens which are now mostly used for drafting and technical drawing. The 1880s were dominated by the mass production of pens from Waterman, also of New York City, and Wirt in Bloomsbury, Pennsylvania. Walter A. Schaeffer’s lever filler in 1912 and Parker’s button filler of about the same time changed fountain pens forever. Along with those names already mentioned, add Montblanc, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels and Pelikan.

The development in the 40s and 50s of ballpoint pens looked to oust the fountain pen but in May 2012 Steven Brocklehurst, writing for the BBC News Magazine, reported that sales of fountain pens were rising and who knew that the first Friday of November every year is World Fountain Pen Day? Along with Cross, Waterman and Schaeffer, fountain pen aficionados will recognize  the names Montblanc, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels and Pelikan, all makers of exceptionally fine pens. As part of its branding program Montblanc, in January 2014, appointed the actor Hugh Jackman as their non-US ambassador.

Montblanc, with its distinctive white star on the end of the cap and the numbers 4810, the height in metres of the famous European mountain, also produces the Writers Edition line. Each year Montblanc commemorates the life of a particular writer with their signature engraved in the cap of the edition. Who would like the Dostoevsky pen at $950 USD on Ebay, or the Daniel Defoe 2014 edition at $1,110 USD? Track down the Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie or Oscar Wilde.

Mark Twain is reputed to be the first author to write a manuscript on a typewriter, but consider that other most prolific 19th Century author, Rudyard Kipling. All his newspaper articles, short stories, books and poems were written in longhand. Try writing Mowgli or Bagheera or Baloo in longhand. The feel for the character becomes more so as you envision it from the ink flowing across the page.

As an ex-colleague of Kipling’s stated. . . ."he never knew such a fellow for ink—he simply revelled in it, filling up his pen viciously, and then throwing the contents all over the office, so that it was almost dangerous to approach him”. The anecdote continues: “In the hot weather, when he (Kipling) wore only white trousers and a thin vest, he is said to have resembled a Dalmatian dog more than a human being, for he was spotted all over with ink in every direction”.
            A fountain pen today is something of an anomaly. Often used for show or signing important contracts and documents, there is something quite special about a quality fountain pen. Whether you own one, choose to use one, or simply collect them for the works of art they are, there is nothing like a good fountain pen.  

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