A Brief History of Fountain Pens

Written by the fine folks over at pens.co.uk. I hope you enjoy!

Do you keep yours safe in a drawer or carry it wherever you go? 

Technological advances and modern communication don’t diminish the importance or popularity of the pen. A written signature can still be a powerful weapon. Penning it in a stylish fountain pen is still the preference of many. 

How did this classic writing tool become so popular that it’s still preferred in the modern world?  


Ancient Times 

History shows us the need for a practical writing tool that didn’t mess as quills were prone to do. Unfortunately it took many centuries before proper fountain pens were invented. 

In 973AD already people were looking for a better option. This we know from writings of a caliph in Northwest Africa. 

Someone fulfilled his wish but the pen didn’t survive so we don’t know how it worked. 

Around the 16th century Leonardo da Vinci made drawings of a more practical pen. He probably used it for his own work but no physical proof of this invention survived. 


Before the Modern Fountain Pen 

People’s frustration with messy pens continued. Most writing materials—even pencils—left paper and hands dirty. 

A precursor of the fountain pen was the dip pen. The problem with these pens was the tediousness of repeatedly dipping the nib in an ink well to write. 

This evolved into pens that carried ink inside them. This was the birth of the fountain pen. 


 The Patented Pen 

Pens with ink fountains were manufactured informally in the 1600s. They still had many flaws. They stopped writing or had ink leaks because the air going back into the reservoir couldn’t be regulated. 

The need for a proper writing tool was universal. Every nation developed in terms of industry and education. In every sphere impractical writing tools resulted in frustration.

A famous story involves Lewis Waterman who lost an important client because his new fountain pen leaked onto a contract.

This spurred him on to invent a more reliable pen. His and others’ dedication led to a few patents being filed in the 1800s: 

  • Petrache Poenaru filed the first patent in France in 1827. Many inventors were inspired by the tubes of feather quills. However they didn’t know how to apply the science to make better pens. Petrache experimented with this concept and used a swan quill as a barrel. 
  • Waterman was one of the inventors. He filed a patent in 1884. An air hole and a few grooves prevented blockages and ink spills. 

Most of the early fountain pens could be filled by opening the reservoir and replenishing the ink with an eye dropper. This was almost as tedious—and messy—as the ink well. There was still a lot of improvement necessary. 

At least the fountain pen market saw developments. Inventors kept on improving on the first crude pens. 



The fountain pen started gaining momentum and popularity in the mid 1850s. For the next few decades there were many changes: 

  • Pens with caps or retractable nibs were sold. This enabled people to carry fountain pens in their pockets without them leaking. 
  • From 1890 onwards self fillers were invented and quickly became popular. Pens contained a sack of ink. When a pen was empty ink was sucked in by deflating and then releasing the sack. These actions were controlled by buttons and levers, as designed by many manufacturers. 
  • The use of better nibs that didn’t corrode made pens last longer. Gold and later Iridium were used. Nibs were designed to wear down according to the owner’s writing style. This made it important to own one’s own fountain pen. 
  • Rubber and free flowing ink remarkably improved pens’ performance. 
  • Later in the 1900s pens were refilled by inserting glass or plastic reservoirs. This method is still in use today. 


Fountain Pens Today 

The 1900s brought other writing inventions such as the ball point pen. These did provide more practical writing tools. However, the popularity of fountain pens never wavered. 

Even in the 21st century vendors report an increase in fountain pen sales. Four times more fountain pens were sold in 2012 than in the previous year. 

It’s still a stylish way to write with added benefits: 

  • Fountain pens are seldom discarded so they’re eco-friendly and economical writing tools 
  • Cursive writing presents better when written with a fountain pen 
  • Fountain pens don’t require much pressure from the writer so they’re more comfortable to write with than ballpoint pens 
  • They carry a sense of style and status. 


It literally took centuries to develop a tool that makes writing easy for everyone. The fountain pen was a victory. Many inventors helped writing move with the times. The fountain pen paved the way for many other writing tools popular today. As a front runner it deserves an honorary place in my pocket.


Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post with no money exchanging hands. Simply a content (this post) for mention exchange.

About Cody 42 Articles

Finance student, hockey player, baseball player, James Rollins and Steve Berry fan, and fountain pen enthusuast.