As Writer’s we like putting pen to paper, so to speak. Have you not wondered where the fountain pen, biro or pencil originated from? These instruments which we use daily…
The idea of writing instruments designed to carry their own ink supply had been a theoretical idea, but it was not until the beginning of the 1700’s, that the theory was being put into practice.
THE FOUNTAIN PEN: The first fountain pen was designed by M.Bion a Frenchman in 1702, but it was more than a 100 years later in 1809. When American Peregrin Williamson, patented his design in 1809.
John Scheffer obtained a British patent for his design of 1819, for his idea of a half quill – half metal pen.
Then in 1831 John Jacob Parker patented his design of a self-filling pen, but it was the design of Lewis Waterman, who patented the first practical fountain pen in 1884.
If it had not been for early fountain-pen inventors; using the hollow channel of a birds feather to create an ink reservoir, to replace the constant use of dipping into an ink well. The Romans created a reed style of pen, from the hollow tubular-stems of marsh grasses. By cutting one end to create a nib or point, with which to write with, they filled the stem with ink, and squeezed the stems, thus forcing the fluid into the nib. We would never have started a creative revolution in the design of new pens. Another design was to use a reservoir made of hard rubber, and fit a metal nib at the bottom. Unfortunately this did not have the required effect of producing a smooth writing instrument.
It was Lewis Waterman an insurance salesman, who was inspired to improve upon the early fountain-pen design, by adding an air hole in the nib, and three grooves into the feed mechanism. His mechanism consisted of the nib, which made contact with the paper, a feed to control ink flow. The aim of the barrel was to hold the nib, protect the reservoir, which in turn the writer holds.
By now we had reached a stage in pen designs, where they all contained some form of internal reservoir to hold ink.
The pens would have an internal reservoir, which would consist of a self-filling rubber sack, opened at one end. To fill with ink, the reservoir was squeezed by using an internal plate, and then the pen’s nib inserted into the ink. As pressure was released so the reservoir would fill up.
The period between the late 1800’s through to the mid 1900’s, saw a battle as pen companies, each sought to become the brand leader in reservoir pen designs. The earliest known design of that time would be the Eyedropper, which had no internal filling mechanism. Most open by unscrewing a section of the pen, after which the barrel is filled with ink using an eyedropper. As long as the seal was tight, no ink should leak out.
Parker introduced the Button Filler, which had an external button connected to the internal pressure plate. Then Walter Sheaffer responded by designing the Lever Filler, a slight variation on the Button Filler, for it used an external lever, that fitted flush with the pen. Back came Parker, not to be outdone, with their Click Filler, using two protruding tabs, to deflate reservoir, and they clicked when reservoir was full. Then Waterman introduced the Coin Filler, with slot in barrel, and by use of a coin, one could deflate and fill reservoir.
Some of the early inks were known to corrode the steel nib tips, which led to the introduction of a gold tip. However, gold also had its problems; it was too soft, for the purpose of writing. To overcome this design flaw, they used Iridium (A hard yellow-white chemical element that occurs in platinum ores) on the tip of the nib.
Early nibs were available in straight, oblique and italic designs. As the years went by, and the need to communicate grew, so did the demand in pens, and a larger selection of pen nibs; wider, longer and shaped.
Everything changed in the early 1950’s, with the introduction of a new range of fountain pens, without the need of a reservoir. They would revolutise the design for the future.
The reservoir had gone, to be replaced with a disposable ink cartridge, originally made of glass, then later of a rubbery plastic. When they arrived on the scene, they were an immediate success … sixty years on and they are still going.
THE BALLPOINT PEN: Laszlo Biro a Hungarian journalist, observed newspaper ink dried quickly, and was smudge free. His creative juices were activated, and by 1938 he had invented the first Ballpoint pen.
The thicker ink used for newspapers would not flow unaided, which led to a small ball-bearing being fitted to the pens tip. The idea was, as the ball rotated it collected ink from the reservoir and placed it on the paper. So simple, yet so clever.
In 1940, Laszlo Biro and his brother George emigrated to Argentina, and applied for a new patent in 1943, and sold licensing rights to the British, as the Royal Air Force needed a pen that would not leak at high altitudes. The success of this pen brought it to the forefront of pen design.
Laszlo and George Biro went on to form the Eterpen Company and commercialised the Biro pen, which was hailed as an ultimate success. One of its main advantages was that it only needed re-filling once a year.
The Biro brothers neglected to apply for a U.S.Patent. As World War Two was coming to an end, so a new battle was just starting: The Battle of The Ballpoint Pens.
For it was in May 1945, the Eversharp Company joined forces with Eberhand – Faber acquiring Biro Pens of Argentina and rebranded the product as Eversharp CA (Capillary Action).
Milton Reynolds saw the Biro Pen whilst in Buenos Aires, and returned to America with a few of them. By October 1945, Reynolds had copied the Biro design, thus breaking Eversharp’s patent rights, and started the Reynolds Pen Company. The release of this pen was an overwhelming success. It was released on the 29th October 1945 priced at $12.50 and went on to sell $100,000 worth on the first day.
Eversharp sued Reynolds for breach of patent rights.
By December 1945, England’s Miles-Martin Pen Company had stepped in releasing their own design of the Biro Pen.
Advertisers claimed these pens would write for two years before the need to refill. Sales rocketed, but it was not long before problems arose; some leaked, some worked some of the time, and others were known to fail all together.
The consumer was dis-satisfied with the ballpoint pen, and sales nose dived, and by 1951, the ballpoint pen died a consumer’s death.
In January 1954, Parker Pens tossed their hat into the ring, by introducing their version of the Ballpoint Pen, known as the Jotter, which worked, so the battle for the ballpoint pen had been won. Then in 1957 they introduced a tungsten carbide textured ball bearing in their pens.
A French Baron named Bich, removed the h from his name, and started the BIC Pen Company in the 1950’s, and by the end of the 50’s had acquired 70% of the European market.
By 1958, BIC a major player in the pen market had acquired 60% of Waterman Pens and by 1960 owned Waterman Pens outright.
BIC Ballpoint Pen Company dominates the market, selling cheap pens, whilst the likes of Parker, Sheaffer and Waterman sell the expensive Ballpoint Pens.
THE PENCIL: In 1564, in an area of Seat Waite Valley in Borrow Dale, England; Graphite which is a form of carbon was discovered, and so the first pencils were produced.
The main break through into the world of pencil technology came in 1795, when French chemist, Nicolas Conte used a mixture of fired clay and graphite before housing it in a wooden case.
Pencils got their name from the old English word meaning ‘brush’. Conte’s method of Kiln firing powdered graphite and clay allowed pencils to be made to any hardness or softness. The variations have changed over the years: H – 2H – 3H – HB – B – 2B – 3B and so the list goes on.
In the early days, pencils were sharpened by means of knives, similar to that used to shape feather quills. Then in 1828 a French mathematician, Bernard Lassimone applied for a patent on an invention to sharpen pencils. Then in 1847 Therry des Estwaux invented the first manual pencil sharpener, and the design is similar to that found in most stationers to-day.
John Lee Love an American designed the “Love Sharpener” a simple design yet portable. The pencil would be inserted into an opening within the sharpener and rotated by hand. Shavings would remain within the sharpener. This was patented in November 1897.
In the early part of the 1940’s Raymond Loewy the first electric pencil sharpener, released by the Hammacher Schlemmer Company.
According to French scientist Charles Marie de la Condamine, South American Indian Tribes were using a form of rubber for attaching feathers to their bodies. So it was in 1736, he brought a sample to the Institute de France in its natural form, for further studies on its possible applications.
Sir Joseph Priestley scientist stated in 1770 that he had observed a substance being used to wipe pencil marks from paper. This same substance was brought back to France by Condamine. Early types of rubber had their limitations, for it had a tendency to rot and crumble.
In came Edward Naime an English engineer and in 1770 he introduced rubber onto the market.
Charles Goodyear stepped into the frame in 1839, with his process to stop rubber crumbling, and make it a long lasting product. He named his process: Vulcanization, after Vulcan, the roman god of fire. In 1844 he patented his process. Now that rubber had become a stable product, rubber or erasers became a product for removal of pencil marks on paper.
What I find quite interesting though. Before we started using rubber or erasers to remove pencil marks from paper, our ancestors had used breadcrumbs.