I have loved stationery all my life. As a child if I ever had a bit of spending money, such as on holiday, I was always drawn towards the stationery counters in Woolworth’s and W H Smith. Even today, as an adult, I have an abiding love for note books, pens and pencils. In this post I’m going to look at pens and the enormous changes I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’ve covered stationery in general before but this will go into more detail about just pens.

When I started school wooden barreled dipping pens and inkwells were still being used in classrooms. We had ‘ink monitors’ who were chosen by the teacher. A different child was chosen each week. I far preferred being ink monitor to being milk monitor! Each morning blue-black ink was made up from a powder mixed with water. This was then poured into a class set of china inkwells. Each child’s wooden desk had a hole in it which held the inkwell. There was also a groove along the top to stop the pen rolling down the slope of the desk lid. The ink monitor’s job was to put a full inkwell into every hole.

Our pens were not tapered and polished like this one but the picture gives a rough idea.

The pens were the most basic design which you now only see in art cupboards in schools. Each pen consisted of a simple wooden barrel which had a very basic metal nib pushed onto the end. For those of you who didn’t live through this phase of pens the pictures might help to clarify things.

Blotting paper was essential as you couldn’t turn a page over without blotting the writing first or else it would smudge. If you pressed too hard the nib parted and you got a double pen stroke. If your nib snagged on the paper you got dots of ink spotting your book. And was there is no reservoir, you had to dip your pen in the inkwell every few words. And you always ended up with ink stains on your fingers – which didn’t wash of easily!

Ball-point pens (now known as Biros but often referred to as Bics when they were first around) were available in the 1950s/ early 60s but we were absolutely forbidden to use what the headteacher called ‘new-fangled rubbish’. The name Biro is usually credited to a Hungarian-Argentinian inventor László Bíró, whose name inspired a catch-all term for modern ballpoints. As for Bic, Marcel Bich believed in the potential for the ballpoint pen, adapted and improved the ballpoint invented by the Hungarian László Biró, and in December 1950, launched his own ballpoint pen in France under the BIC® brand, a shortened and more memorable version of his own name. To this day I would always rather write with a pencil, fibre-tip, roller-ball or fountain pen than a Biro. Mr Lewis’ legacy!

I didn’t have a fountain pen until I was eleven when I was bought one especially for starting in high school. I used the same one all the way through that school. It was a Platignum and I used to buy Quink (I favoured Royal Blue) ink to fill it with. You put the nib in the ink and squeezed the small rubber tube inside the handle (I can’t find a picture to illustrate this). Later came cartridge pens which made everything a lot easier. A nice pen was a lovely gift to give on a special occasion. There were everyday brands like Platignum and then there was Parker. There were even higher ranking pens than Parker in existence but they didn’t reach small places like ours and were too expensive anyway. Looking up pen history for this post I learned that Platignum wanted to call the brand Platinum but weren’t, at that time, allowed to register a trade name which was also registered as a precious metal.

When I was a student fibre tipped pens appeared on the scene. We had a stationery shop on the campus and I remember buying my first one, a Tempo. I thought it was wonderful. Whilst researching for this post, I learned that the development of fibre tipped pens was based on the brushes which had been used to write with in the East for centuries.

The choice appears endless now. I still love fountain pens best and also like using fibre tips and roller balls. We can add into the mix:

gel pens, marker pens, highlighter pens and, one of the most recent types, the dry-wipe pen which I made great use of when teaching.

As always, I make every effort not to infringe copyright. If, however, anyone objects to my use of a photograph in my blog, please contact me and it will be removed. Credit to Wikipedia, Google Images and Pinterest.

16 thoughts on “Pens

  1. I remember well the built-in ink wells in the desks of my junior school, not to mention those primitive and messy nibbed pens. Thanks for the interesting note on the history of “Biros” and “Bics”. Although I never attended secondary school in the U.K., I did wonder why “Biros” didn’t become more commonplace at the time; perhaps there was also a cost factor involved. I agree, there’s nothing like writing with a fountain pen, even the messiest writing seems to become more legible, but of course, the emphasis on penmanship declined years ago. Were you taught to write in the Marion Richardson style?

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  2. Like you, I loved everything to do with pens and writing. Thanks for the research and photos, as well as your memories. And even though mine are slightly different, it was fun to travel back in time with you.

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  3. I was taught the Palmer method for cursive writing, although I never mastered it, and at a certain point gave up trying to spite the teacher who gave me a ‘C’ in penmanship. (As my mother used to tell me, I was a good one for cutting off my nose to spite my face.) I used a fountain pen in high school just to be different.

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  4. I just happened upon this post because I was writing a poem about a fountain pen and it reminded me of learning to write with a dip pen at primary school in the 1950s. I did a google and found your blog. What a treat to read and relate to everything you have written!

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  5. I think my first fountain pen, when I was a child, was a Platignum (probably given to me by my dad, or it might even have been an old one of his or my sister’s – I usually got hand-me-downs) and I remember Quink only too well – never liked the smell of it. Likewise the school ink was that blue-black type, but I don’t actually remember using dip pens there – I did later on, for art, but never really got the hang of them which is sad as there are some ‘posh’ ones I’d love to try now that have glass nibs! Later I switched from ballpoints back to fountain and bought myself a Parker, which I used for years with coloured ink (usually purple!) for handwriting letters. These days I use a 0.3 Copic Multiliner as it has good waterproof ink and a thick barrel that doesn’t hurt my fingers or thumb (the latter of which seems to think it’s heading into old age faster than me!)

    Before fibre-tip pens, there were felt-tip, but most were alcohol-based with a very strong smell. I can remember one – black with a very thick barrel and a chisel-shaped nib, a marker pen really, but I can’t recall its name at the moment.

    Some of the best fibre-tip pens are made by Stabilo and Caran D’ache. I’ve been using those makes since the early 1970 for drawing (when I’m in a creative frame of mind).

    Reading some of your comments about handwriting – when I was at school, I was completely unable to keep my lines to a vertical margin – they’d drift off to the right the lower I got down the page, and my teacher always took me to task for that. Much later, I somehow got away from that tendency, though I’m not sure how. I’m sure it was to do with stress (I was bullied a lot at school), so when I left, things improved. Nowadays I just have very illegible handwriting – probably thanks to having used a computer keyboard too much.

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  6. I appear to have missed this posting but I certainly recall the wooden-barrelled pens and the trays of inkwells. The girls wore pinafores to keep the inevitable splashing from ruining their dresses but the boys simply had to take their chances. I distributed the inkwells occasionally but it was mostly the hands that became inky.

    Years later, in grammar school, our history master, one year, started using an Osmiroid fountain pen that featured a broad, italic nib that produced stylish, calligraphy (once mastered) so many of us purchased Osmiroids and the different coloured bottles of ink that the history master used. It made cursive even more attractive.

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  7. Wow! That was a trip down memory lane. My first fountain pen was an Osmiroid with my name inscribed on the side. Writing with cap attached to the top the pen made it nicely balanced. I loved writing in ink, preferably black. Later I had a pen with different width nibs that screwed for calligraphy – great fun! Now I use ‘Zebra’ pens that are cheap but flow well, with a comfortable grip… without inky fingers! Sue (b. 1947)

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