If you buy someone a fountain pen for Christmas, your favorite someone will rise up and call me blessed.
Not that long ago I heard that Biro, a manufacturer of cheap pens, has now accounted for 100 billion Bic pens. These little pieces of silliness are disposable and are now clogging up pipes, glutting our dump yards, and defying the world’s nature decomposition. So, let me urge you to stop buying Bics, buy a fountain pen, and be a person who uses the same pen for the rest of your life. It is a matter of stewardship. So, here an abbreviated history of fountain pens and pens.
We once wrote with feather quills from real birds dipped (the quills, that is) in ink, then we wrote with crude hand-made quill pens that were also dipped in ink, then we wrote with fountain pens that had a hidden reservoir that sometimes leaked, and then Mr. Biro invented the discardable ball-point pen, and now you and I have colors and shapes and any kind of pen we want. They are cheap and they are easy. Some see this as clear evidence of progress and improvement.
For reasonable people, Biro is a disaster.
Some of us prefer a pen that stays with you for life, like a fountain pen. I know that using a ballpoint pen is easy and that it is the end of a line of technological progress, but there is something special and personal about a fountain pen (unless you, for some unknown reason, are hard of heart). A fountain pen becomes your friend after you’ve filled it for years — and I prefer piston fillers rather than the little plastic cartridges that also clog up the world.
Go ahead, pick up a fountain pen and feel a work of art but Bics aren’t. They are cheap; the ink is fake; the pen has no balance; it makes one wonder how humans could do this to themselves. Try on a Pelikan or a Waterman — I’ve got a number of fountain pens and each is a friend.
One of my favorite fountain pens is a pen that was Mark Twain’s favorite: a Crescent Filler. When Twain was writing, in the (good ol’) days when everyone wrote with a fountain pen, the problem was that one had to dip the pen in a bottle of ink. This was messy, time consuming and a constantly interrupted one’s thoughts. Conklin designed a pen with a crescent-shaped device that made it easy and clean to draw ink into a rubber bladder that was sealed inside the pen. When Midwesterner Mark Twain signed on, it was an instant success. The Conklin fountain pen was a landmark of technological progress and improvement. But I have to admit that the best and most user-friendly fountain pen — for me at least — is a Pelikan.
The Bic pen by Biro was a technological marvel that told people that one of life’s singular niceties, a fountain pen one purchased and used for life, was a has-been that could be discarded. As for me and my house, we will use the fountain pen whenever possible.
I tell you the truth, grab a piece of history and pick up a fountain pen. Think the Egyptian Nile and the old papyrus — fountain pen; think of Athanasius or Gregory of Nyssa — fountain pen; think of Luther — fountain pen; think of Calvin (if you must) — fountain pen. Think Menno Simons — fountain pen. If it was good enough for the Cappadocians and Reformers, it’s good enough for me. Come to think of it, maybe it is the fountain pen that gave them their care for language.
Nothing discardable, friends. Do I have a witness?