What is the write size?

12th April 2018

by Guest Writer Penn’orth.

Pretty much everyone receives mailings. Most mailings end up in the recycle bin (destined to add to carbon emissions and waste resources). The junk mail I receive is shredded to be tossed into our compost bin in our garden. Every so often, there is something about the mailshot that catches your eye. In this instance it is a modest sized A5 brochure full colour six paged from a company called Write Size. This grabbed my attention, quite why I don’t know.

Recycling Bin

The Brochure emanated from a company called Write Size who were advertising their range of different sized pencils which the Company claims help children who are learning to write to establish a good grip which in turn helps their writing to ‘flow’.

At this point, I must declare an interest. I am deeply concerned about the ‘Educators’ across many parts the world who are charging head along towards the abandonment of handwriting in favour of only teaching keyboarding skill. This will detriment of developing in-depth understanding of language and the ability to use much more precision in employing words, not just through a spell checkers suggestions.


Therefore, product developers such as Write Size, who seek to encourage the development and use of writing by hand, are to be applauded.

Now Back to Write Size

The innovation by Write Size is to initially produce a range of pencils in three different sizes that have been scaled to fit children’s hands. This help’s the youngsters feel more comfortable when writing.

The pencils are ‘scaled’ for children of 2 to 6 years, 6 to ten years and those over ten.

Child holding pencil

It is also good that the company is supporting education in developing African countries too!

I do have a little concern which may be dispersed when I am able to use the pencils up close. A pencil is used and is sharpened, weight (a little) and the whole feel probably will shift and change. I would be very interested to see how such a pencil alters during its life.

For the moment it is ‘Thumbs up’ for innovation and another for encouraging and supporting children to write.

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Is this the most successful pen in the world?

8th February 2018

In the beginning (see my other blog, Solved – who invented he fountain pen) when fountain pens were beginning to exert real influence across the world, and yet were basically two tubes, a feeder and a nib, the unpredictable nature of the manufacturing process with a difficult material (black, hard, vulcanised or chased rubber) lead to problems with pens leaking. Many solutions were tried but most were not very successful or reliable. A metal sleeve sealed on three side was fitted into a gentleman’s suit jacket breast pocket, inside or out to contain any leakage of ink – very effective at containing ink but when the user extracted the pen from the sleeve it was often covered in ink, which was, of course, transferred to the gentleman’s hand……

Retractable Nibs

One of the earliest solutions, surprisingly still used to this day, is the retractable nib. Pens were manufactured with a moveable nib and feed section with a screw thread on the inside of the barrel which matched up to a thread on the outside of the feeder which carried the nib and screwed up inside the barrel. A sealing washer, usually of cork (not many synthetics at this time) helped to stop leaks, known as the ‘Safety pen’ this attempt was used by a number of pen manufacturers, but wasn’t always successful. For a look at a modern retractable nib pen seek out the Mont Blanc Boheme range, which are short ‘pocket’ or ‘handbag’ pens, often with a synthetic coloured ‘jewel’ adorning the clip.

Capless pen

Onoto THE pen

A rather more complex design was one championed by Onoto, the pen making arm of the De la Rue Company, best known for their security and bank-note printing, Titled on the barrel as ‘Onoto THE pen’ it is alleged that the name was chosen because it sounds the same in all languages. They produced high quality pens in BHCR (black, hard chased rubber, produced using the vulcanising process patented by Charles Goodyear in 1844 and used for making tyres.

Vulcanised rubber can be moulded and turned on a lathe and will polish to a high gloss although it is brittle and prone to oxidation. In early part of the 20th century perfected the plunger method of filling a fountain pen where a knob, on the end of the barrel and connected to an internal rod with a sealing ring inside the pen is unscrewed from the end and pulled out to its maximum, the nib is inserted into the ink, the plunger rod pushed down swiftly and with the vacuum created, the pen fills by using the external air pressure. Onoto also provided a seal, where by twisting the filler knob on the end of the barrel closed off the ink flow, making the pen leak-proof. The Onoto pens were highly regarded and popular, as witnessed by Winston Churchill writing home whilst serving in the trenches of the First World War: “Please send me an Onoto pen, I have stupidly lost mine!”

New Materials

With the 1920’s and 30’s came many innovations in pen manufacture, including new materials such as celluloid – bringing an enormous variety of colours and innovative filling systems and the first sight of a ‘click’ action retractable nib pen in the 1922 film ‘Dr Mabuse der Spieler’ Directed by Fritz Lang, there is a scene where Dr Mabuse brings out a pen and presses down on the end of the barrel, writes some word then presses the end of the barrel!

By 1932 the first firm evidence appears with the launch of the ‘Pullman Pen’ by the French company Meteore. This looks remarkably like the modern day Pilot Capless, using a push-button (click) action at the bottom of the barrel, differing only where the tiny door that seals the nib and feed is outside the barrel unlike the Capless, where the door is concealed inside the barrel and the main material is rippled multi-coloured ebonite rather than modern day metal.

Capless pens

In 1934, Italian company Aurora launched the Asterope which exposed the nib using button sliders to push the nib outwards and to retract it.

Over the next 30 years many innovations appeared in the world of fountain pens, including new materials such as acrylics with their astonishing range of colours, new filling systems such as cartridges, successful in the 1950’s after the first attempts in the 1890’s

Then in 1964, Japanese company Pilot Namiki introduced the Capless/Vanishing Point to coincide with the Tokyo Olympic games. Beautifully constructed, this is a serious pen, yet sales were mostly confined to Japan, with some being brought to the US with returning US Service Military and business people, until….

The Internet burst into life and EBay arrived resulting in many items hitherto restricted to Japan and their immediate neighbours being made available to the wider world. Pilot subsequently went on to market the Capless world wide with special editions, new finishes and colours understandably gaining fans across the globe.

Capless Fountain Pen


So, is it the most successful pen ever? Maybe not yet, but I predict it will be one of the most long lasting pens in production. It will have some way to go to beat the Parker 51, but given I am currently using my fourth, long may it continue

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How to clean a Fountain Pen

6th February 2018

Over time, dust, and other particles of dried ink can build up in the nib and feed. This can have a significant impact on how the pen preforms. You will find that the ink doesn’t flow as smoothly. This automatically makes you press harder on the surface you are writing on and therefore could cause damage to your pen nib. (Gordon Brown pressed down so hard he’s permanently damaged the prime ministers desk!) Cleaning your pen is time consuming but is costless and if done well, can extend the life of the pen.

There are many different ways to cleaning a fountain pen. For example, you have the Flushing method, the Syringe method and the basic method.

The Basic method

This technique is perfect for getting rid of all ink contained over the time it has been used. By forcing water through the nib, this ensures the best results possible. The water will push out any ink or dirt in preparation for it to be refilled with ink.

Step 1

Firstly, you must disconnect the pen. You do this by unscrewing the device (depending on the type of pen). Once disconnected, you then pull the nib and cartridge apart.

Open the Fountain Pen


Step 2

You then place the nib under the tap for at least 20 seconds allowing the water to flow from the opening right down to the tip of the nib ensuring the water has eliminated any signs of ink. It has been said you should use warm or room-temperature water, this is due to it being able to melt ink particles you may have that has previously caused the pen to block in the ink.

Cleaning the Fountain Pen


Step 3

After completing step 2, you then place the pen nib in a cup of room warm water (approximately 10 minutes) . This will eliminate any final blots of ink.

Draining the ink from pen


Step 4

You then place the nib in an upright position in a cup with a paper towel at the bottom. The paper towel will absorb the liquid that the nib may still contain. You then leave the nib for at least 20 minutes making sure all the water has escaped.

Place nib in cup with paper towel


Step 5

Finally once the nib has been drained and dried, you can then insert your new ink into the cartridge. You then reconstruct the pen to its former glory. With a dry paper towel, gently wipe the pen, removing any excess water or dust, to give it a new shiny look.

A Clean Fountain Pen


Do you have any tips or tricks on how to clean a fountain pen? If so please post a comment.

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A Blot on History – The Evolution of Ink

19th April 2018

Ink is employed in a myriad of differing and diverse situations, yet it has a singular task – that of conveying information from entity to another without the need for either to meet. Ink has to have a wide range of attributes, modified to suit the circumstances, but for use has to be liquid or semi liquid enabling marks to be transferred to a surface. Ink has probably contributed more to the growth of civilisations across the globe than any other single thing. So, why is there such an astonishing breadth of prices for this humble liquid? Let us have a rummage around history to look for ink’s origins and development. We have to go back a long way, to around 400,000 BC suggested by the discovery of pigments and mixing tools in Zambia, although no images have come to light as yet. The oldest known images so far are cave paintings dated about 35000 BC using charcoal in the form of burnt sticks from the edges of their fires, and crushed twigs to use as primitive brushes for the clays and soils gathered from their surroundings. Ink, in a form we would recognise, probably originates from the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Abyssinians and Mesopotamians when the first alphabets were created to replace pictorial images and collections of triangular marks in wax or clay tablets, which could be laid on papyrus rolls made by interweaving the flattened stalks of the papyrus reeds – the origin of the word ‘paper’.

Pen and Ink

As Civilisations developed, alphabets and languages expanded and increasing demands were made to keep track of businesses, shippers, the law and a myriad of other activities and at the forefront was the need for ink. There were many and varying mentions and recipes documented and recorded over the last two millennia, especially from the Mediaeval period and involve ingredients such as oak galls – for tannic acid, vitriol, sulphuric acid and iron sulphate to help create the pigment and wine or vinegar to speed the process.

Ink continued to be made in this complex way for centuries, right up to the middle of the 19th Century. In 1855 an 18 year old called William Henry Perkin was experimenting with a compound extracted from coal-tar called Aniline whilst trying to find a synthetic form of the anti-malarial drug, Quinine, vital for the survival of the traders across the British Empire where often malaria was rife. The precipitate he isolated dyed fabrics a rich deep purple which was far more resistant to fading than any other then known. These ‘Aniline’ dyes were the result of experiments with aniline to create a huge range of colours and hues, with the experience being transferred to ink makers. With the explosion in communications and more efficient transportation increases in literacy were Important to assist in the growth of commerce and the more efficient, and convenient fountain pen lead to the need for dye based inks which were non-clogging and free-flowing leading to major pen makers developing their own inks, with the urging of customers to use the inks supplied by pen makers.

Fountain Pen

With the increasing expertise in manufacturing, the bettering of engineering tolerances and sophistication of materials, greater demands fell on the ink makers to ensure there were no particulates present that could compromise ink-flow, to give the ink lubricating properties especially for the pen nib, as paper is a particularly abrasive substance, give the ink high resistance to fading in the presence of bright light (e.g. sunlight), to make the ink washable from clothes and fabrics, or to be a permanent as possible on paper, fabrics or vellum and parchment

Any one ink is unlikely to fulfil this brief list of properties, but Ink makers search for that unique ‘something’ that ink users search for. It can take several years to develop new ink, such as Diamine Shimmering ink, only time and customers will have the last word but the efforts involved in producing something special can be very demanding. I am an ink lover; I buy inks for a particular role, for an everyday use, for the sheer joy of the ink and the whisper of pen on paper and the creation that emerges on the paper. I love ink for its sheer diversity and the way it can communicate over and above just the words. Cost is secondary (my wife would probably disagree). As with many things, and pens and inks are no exception, purchases are often made on the basis of logo and are a triumph of marketing over substance, but, if you like the pen (yes, you…) then that is your decision.

Pen and Ink


So, why does Ink cost so much? Probably because we are prepared (not willing) to pay for it, or there is no alternative (see Printer makers and printer cartridges)

If you are a dip-pen user then the only limit is your ability to innovate. As for me, a fountain pen user, I’m happy my writing costs less than ball pens

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Solved! Who invented the fountain pen?

14th March 2018

Poking around on the internet recently, searching for some information about an obscure pen, I was not surprised to read some questionable statements, but was surprised at how many there were! I don’t confess to being the all-seeing oracle when it comes to fountain pens, but I have got some highly authoritative and weighty reference books to peruse, along with a fair few auction catalogues from a decade and more ago to help. I regularly cross reference with the net to help verify the information as best I can, but despite the widespread belief that everything is ‘on the net’ I can assure them that everything most certainly is not.

Fountain Pen

I think that the most unexpected discovery was the remarkable diversity of ‘authoritative’ statements about who it was that invented the Fountain pen. Before I cast my opinion into the cyber-world we need a definitive description of what exactly a Fountain pen is. I feel that the following simple and basic description should suffice.

“A tube fitted with a split nib that carries within itself a container to supply ink using a feed to control the flow to the nib which enables the user to write continuously for many pages without the need to recharge the pen.”

Using this description, the earliest known record of what sounds very much like a fountain pen is this: –

“The earliest historical record of a reservoir pen dates back to the 10th century. In 953, Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, the caliph of Egypt, demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen which held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib, and could be held upside-down without leaking, as recorded by Qadi al-Nu’man al-Tamimi (d. 974) in his Kitab al-Majalis wa ‘l-musayardt. No details of the construction or mechanism of operation of this pen are known and no examples have survived.

One thousand years ago, the unknown inventor said:

“We wish to construct a pen which can be used for writing without having recourse to an ink-holder and whose ink will be contained inside it. A person can fill it with ink and write whatever he likes. The writer can put it in his sleeve or anywhere he wishes and it will not stain nor will any drop of ink leak out of it. The ink will flow only when there is an intention to write. We are unaware of anyone previously ever constructing (a pen such as this) and an indication of ‘penetrating wisdom’ to whoever contemplates it and realises its exact significance and purpose’. I exclaimed, ‘Is this possible?’ He replied, ‘It is possible if God so wills’.”

From: Bosworth, C. E. (Autumn 1981). “A Mediaeval Islamic Prototype of the Fountain Pen”. Journal of Semitic Studies XXVl (i).

Sadly no details of the pen or an example are known.

Skip forward in time to the 17th Century, the time of the Restoration, the Plague, the Great Fire of London. Documented in coded detail, the great diarist, Samuel Pepys is introduced to a silver pen that would “write for a quire of paper” by a Mr Coventry, its is thought that it was possibly made in Paris, where a number of ‘instrument makers’ were making pens at that time, often credited to M. Nicholas Bion, who had no patents to his name – and was actually around some 50 years later!

Pen Ink

A problem for pen makers was the ink of the time was very corrosive and destroyed ordinary metals on contact. Nibs were cut from quills taken from swans and geese, but they were subject to wear and had to be replaced often. Gold offered a part solution – gold is highly resistant to acids, the drawback being the gold would wear quickly on the very abrasive paper surface. Before the advent of the fountain pen, and up to the latter half of the 19th Century, the part that we now call the nib was called the pen, and it was inserted into a penholder for use. The nibs were the tips of the tines, and particularly high-quality pens had small flakes of ruby welded to their nibs for smoothness and wear resistance.

Discovered in 1803 by British scientist Smithson Tennant, the element Iridium, a very hard and corrosion resistant metal of the Platinum group of metals was used in alloy with osmium, ruthenium and other platinum group metals. Iridium is so resistant to corrosion that it has been used to provide the standard Meter measurement bar in Paris. By the latter half of the 19th Century, the alloy, by now containing very little Iridium was becoming the material of choice to tip nibs. Its hardness enabled an ultra smooth surface to the tip whilst the act of writing polished the microscopic imperfections to give the ultra smooth experience we love from our pens

The search for a reliable, trustworthy fountain pen continued, one that would start as soon as nib touched paper, write without skipping or missing and wouldn’t leak or blot

In 1883 an insurance salesman was filling in a contract with a customer, when his pen leaked, discharging a blot, ruining the contract. By the time he returned with a new contract the customer had signed a contract with a competitor. The salesman was Lewis Edson Waterman who went on to create a pen that didn’t leak or blot, gave controlled flow and reliable results. This was the first reliable fountain pen – more than can be said for the story of its creation!

Ink leaking

This ushered in the golden age of fountain pens, with many companies being created, especially in the United States, many disappearing as fast as they appeared. In 1900 there were 144 pen makers just on Manhattan Island alone. Across the globe pen-makers exercised their art and produced a stunning array of pens

So, back to the original question – who did invent the fountain pen?

In my opinion, from the time early man first picked up a piece of burnt wood and made a mark on the cave wall the curiosity and inventiveness of Man has worked and refined over the centuries. Caps off to them all!

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