The earliest historical record of a reservoir pen dates to the 10th century. In 953, Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, the caliph of the Maghreb, demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen that held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib, which could be held upside-down without leaking, as recorded in Kitab al-Majalis wa ‘l-musayarat, by Qadi al-Nu’man al-Tamimi (d. 974). No details of the construction or mechanism of operation of this pen are known, and no examples have survived.
M. Klein and Henry W. Wynne received US patent #68445 in 1867 for an ink chamber and delivery system in the handle of the fountain pen.
That some form of pen with an ink reservoir was available in Europe in the 17th century is shown by contemporary references. In Deliciae Physico-Mathematicae (a 1636 magazine), German inventor Daniel Schwenter described a pen made from two quills. One quill served as a reservoir for ink inside the other quill. The ink was sealed inside the quill with cork. Ink was squeezed through a small hole to the writing point. In 1663 Samuel Pepys referred to a metal pen ‘to carry ink’. Noted Maryland historian Hester Dorsey Richardson (1862–1933) documented a reference to “three silver fountain pens, worth 15 shillings” in England during the reign of Charles II, ca. 1649-1685. By the early 18th century such pens were already commonly known as ‘fountain pens’. Hester Dorsey Richardson also found a 1734 notation made by Robert Morris the elder in the ledger of the expenses of Robert Morris the younger, who was at the time inPhiladelphia, for “one fountain pen”.
In 1828 Josiah Mason improved a cheap, efficient slip-in nib in Birmingham, England, which could be added to a fountain pen and in 1830, with the invention of a new machine, William Joseph Gillott, William Mitchell[disambiguation needed] and James Stephen Perry devised a way to mass manufacture robust, cheap steel pen nibs. This boosted the Birmingham pen trade and by the 1850s, more than half the steel-nib pens manufactured in the world were made in Birmingham. Thousands of skilled craftsmen and -women were employed in the industry. Many new manufacturing techniques were perfected, enabling the city’s factories to mass-produce their pens cheaply and efficiently. These were sold worldwide to many who previously could not afford to write, thus encouraging the development of education and literacy.
Progress in developing a reliable pen was slow until the mid-19th century, because of an imperfect understanding of the role that air pressure plays in the operation of pens and because most inks were highly corrosive and full of sedimentary inclusions. The Romanianinventor Petrache Poenaru received a French patent for the invention of the first fountain pen with a replaceable ink cartridge on May 25, 1827. In 1848 American inventor Azel Storrs Lyman patented a pen with ‘a combined holder and nib’. From the 1850s there was a steadily accelerating stream of fountain penpatents and pens in production. However, it was only after three key inventions were in place that the fountain pen became a widely popular writing instrument. Those were theiridium-tipped gold nib, hard rubber, and free-flowing ink.
The first fountain pens making use of all these key ingredients appeared in the 1850s. In the 1870s Duncan MacKinnon, a Canadian living in New York City, and Alonzo T. Cross of Providence, Rhode Island, created stylographic pens with a hollow, tubular nib and a wire acting as a valve. Stylographic pens are now used mostly for drafting and technical drawing but were very popular in the decade beginning in 1875. In the 1880s the era of the mass-produced fountain pen finally began. The dominant American producers in this pioneer era were Waterman, of New York City, and Wirt, based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Waterman soon outstripped Wirt, along with many companies that sprang up to fill the new and growing fountain pen market. Waterman remained the market leader until the early 1920s.
At this time fountain pens were almost all filled by unscrewing a portion of the hollow barrel or holder and inserting the ink by means of an eyedropper—a slow and messy procedure. Pens also tended to leak inside their caps and at the joint where the barrel opened for filling. Now that the materials’ problems had been overcome and the flow of ink while writing had been regulated, the next problems to be solved were the creation of a simple, convenient self-filler and the problem of leakage. Self-fillers began to arrive around the turn of the century; the most successful of these was probably the Conklin crescent-filler, followed by A. A. Waterman’s twist-filler. The tipping point, however, was the runaway success of Walter A. Sheaffer’s lever-filler, introduced in 1912, paralleled by Parker’s roughly contemporary button-filler.
Meanwhile many inventors turned their attention to the problem of leakage. Some of the earliest solutions to this problem came in the form of a “safety” pen with a retractable point that allowed the ink reservoir to be corked like a bottle. The most successful of these came from F.C. Brown of the Caw’s Pen and Ink Co. and from Morris W. Moore of Boston. In 1907 Waterman began marketing a safety pen of its own that soon became the most widely distributed such pen. For pens with nonretractable nibs, the adoption of screw-on caps with inner caps that sealed around the nib by bearing against the front of the section effectively solved the leakage problem (such pens were also marketed as “safety pens”, as with the Parker Jack Knife Safety and the Swan Safety Screw-Cap).
In Europe, the German supplies company which came to be known as Pelikan and was started in 1838, first introduced their pen in 1929, based upon the acquisition of patents for solid-ink fountain pens from the factory ofSlavoljub Penkala from Croatia (patented 1907, in mass production since 1911), and the patent of the HungarianTheodor Kovacs for the modern piston filler by 1925.
The decades that followed saw many technological innovations in the manufacture of fountain pens. Celluloid gradually replaced hard rubber, which enabled production in a much wider range of colors and designs. At the same time, manufacturers experimented with new filling systems. The inter-war period saw the introduction of some of the most notable models, such as the Parker Duofold and Vacumatic, Sheaffer’s Lifetime Balance series, and the Pelikan 100.
During the 1940s and 1950s, fountain pens retained their dominance: early ballpoint pens were expensive, were prone to leaks and had irregular inkflow, while the fountain pen continued to benefit from the combination of mass production and craftsmanship. This period saw the launch of innovative models such as the Parker 51, the Sheaffer Snorkel and the Eversharp Skyline and (later) Skyliner, while the Esterbrook J series of lever-fill models with interchangeable steel nibs offered inexpensive reliability to the masses.
By the 1960s, refinements in ballpoint pen production gradually ensured its dominance over the fountain pen for casual use. Although cartridge-filler fountain pens are still in common use in France, Germany, Austria,India and the United Kingdom, and are widely used by young students in most private schools in England and at least one private school in Scotland, a few modern manufacturers (especially Montblanc and Visconti) now depict the fountain pen as a collectible item or a status symbol, rather than an everyday writing tool.