Fountain pens to me, are the epitome of style and class. A page of written prose looks so much more elegant when written with a nib, no matter what width, style, type or colour.
My first experience goes back to the age of eight when I received my first fountain pen at primary school, with which, back then it was compulsory to learn to write. My first attempts at mastering handwriting with a fountain pen were dismal to say the least, and I still have memories of huge ink blots all over my initial exercise book pages, of which no amount of blotting paper could clean up. Being left handed it was doubly difficult for me as my hand would rub across the page, following the written word, meaning I would invariably end the day with smudged words and an inky left palm. I very quickly learnt to angle my book, positioning my hand above my work so as to at least leave something legible at the end of the day.
When writing with a fountain pen, it’s all about pressure. The heavier you press the nib on the page, the wider the nib spreads, so the faster the ink flows. We were taught to press firmly on down strokes and glide lightly upwards, creating a beautiful dark and light effect and I still write in this manner today, some 45 years later. Often, half way though a lesson, your pen would run out of ink, and in those days we had an ink well, a small round hole drilled in the top of our desks, which held our regulation school ink bottles perfectly. You would unscrew the casing, dip the nib into the bottle and draw the ink into the chamber by pulling up the small silver lever on the side, creating a vacuum which filled the chamber and away you went again. During school holidays, particularly over summer it was important to empty your pen of ink and fill it with water, to prevent the ink drying out and blocking the entire mechanism.
Perhaps my earliest memory of such a creature, was the gold Mont Blanc my Grandmother kept in her bureau, strictly out of bounds to us grandchildren, and kept specifically for writing invitations and thank you letters to her friends for the many dinner parties, social events and soirées she both hosted and attended. Sadly this is a custom which has now been all but lost in today’s society, but back then, they were imperative if you ever wished to be invited back. Grandma’s cursive or copperplate handwriting was beautiful, but the medium nib she used in penning such missives, made it all the more elegant. She always used ‘Cross’ blue fountain pen ink – a clear mid blue colour with light and dark shades which showed a coppery sheen when held against the light. That same colour is still my favourite today, and I go out of my way to ensure I always have a supply of it, whenever I visit a ‘Cross’ outlet. At school however, we were encouraged to use blue/black, which I always found grubby looking, and as soon as I entered upper school, I would plead with Grandma every holidays to be allowed to escape with a bottle of her treasured ‘Cross’ blue! Many of my school friends had by this stage graduated to cartridge style pen refills which were basically plastic tubes already filled with ink, that clicked into the barrel of the pen, piecing the cartridge on contact. Grandma, however would have none of this and for my twelfth birthday I remember being thrilled to have been given a Schaefer, sterling silver pen and pencil set which consisted of a fountain pen, ballpoint, and pencil. In upper school we were permitted to use ‘biros’ but I continued to use my beloved fountain pen.
When Grandma died, I was distraught. She and I both shared the same extravagance in all things designer and she was the Queen of style. Knowing of my love for gorgeous little expensive things, she bequeathed her beloved Mont Blanc pen to me in her will, and I still have it to this day. I’ve had various other cheaper versions over the years, and when I became an Author at the age of 39, My Boyfriend bought me a rather gaudy, jewel encrusted Cross Fountain pen, costing eye watering amounts of money, with which to sign books at signings, however Grandma’s Mont Blanc has a lovely feel and balance, and still to this day, 45 years on, it still shows off my handwriting in the best light. Of course it has the added bonus that whenever I use it, I think of her with the fondest of memories.
Nowadays, the art of fountain pen writing is all but lost, however it’s still possible to buy a fountain pen to suit any budget, at any good stationery store, and there are of course a myriad of different ink colours still available. The top brands, namely Crossand Mont Blanc offer their own brands of inks, nibs and accessories, and Parker, Schaefer and even Bic offer more affordable options.
It’s also important never to lend your fountain pen as it’s said the nib wears itself in to your own writing style, and having some foreign user writing with it can severely effect the balance, which makes my Grandma’s one even more special, knowing her pen obviously approved of its new owner.
Over the years I’ve dabbled with calligraphy, and explored writing in italics, particularly for hand written invitations to some of the more exclusive parties and events I’ve hosted, and each style requires a different nib, which, on good quality pens can be interchanged with relative ease, however by now I’ve realised that my own childhood learnings and cursive style are the most elegant, and I still doggedly cling onto the old fashioned notion of a hand written notes of thanks, to every private party I attend, written on Basildon bond paper, monogrammed of course, by the quill of my Grandma’s beloved Mont Blanc.