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Fountain Pen Use In The Golden Era?


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#1 akustyk

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 22:22

I have a Parker 51 with the original user's name engraved on the barrel. I love that! There's so much history associated with this pen.

I am not sure, exactly, how long the golden ear of fountain pens lasted, but we can all agree that there was such a time. I wonder what it was like for the consumer. Yes, most of us are crazy about pens and have multiple pens, but did the average consumer buy just one pen for life? Or fountain pens the equivalent of today's smart phones: items of both utilitarian value and a symbol of status, but also fairly disposable? Did the average user develop the personal connection to this accessory that most of us, FPN members, do?

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#2 Shangas

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 22:28

I think it'd be fair to say, for most of its history, the fountain pen was a coveted item. They certainly were not cheap, and a person was unlikely to have more than two, or even three. Fountain pens from the big manufacturers could cost a lot of money, which people might not have been able to spend.

A fountain pen was certainly NOT a throwaway item. You didn't buy it, and once it ran out of ink, you chucked it in the bin. For something that cost $5-$8.00 in the 1920s (which was a lot of money back then), you would've refilled it. And if it broke, you got it fixed. It cost too much money to treat it as a piece of junk.
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#3 Waski_the_Squirrel

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 22:52

We live in a wealthy time. Once, there would have been one fountain pen and, as Shangas said, it would have been cared for, refilled, and repaired when broken. People did not own a lot of clothing, kitchen gadgets, or many other things. Anyone who has lived in an older home knows that the rooms were smaller and the closets were smaller (or nonexistent).

Now, we can afford many pens, lots of clothing, and, in many cases, it is more economical to throw something out than it is to fix it.
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#4 Scrawler

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 23:09

Pens were necessary utilitarian items. They had status associated with them. There were expensive pens and imitators that tried to look like and convey the idea that they were something more than they were.

#5 jar

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 00:17

I have a Parker 51 with the original user's name engraved on the barrel. I love that! There's so much history associated with this pen.

I am not sure, exactly, how long the golden ear of fountain pens lasted, but we can all agree that there was such a time. I wonder what it was like for the consumer. Yes, most of us are crazy about pens and have multiple pens, but did the average consumer buy just one pen for life? Or fountain pens the equivalent of today's smart phones: items of both utilitarian value and a symbol of status, but also fairly disposable? Did the average user develop the personal connection to this accessory that most of us, FPN members, do?


The manufacturers certainly tried to market fountain pens like smart phones and perhaps using even stronger terms then simply status.

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I remember a Parker ad that said something to the effect "He was chosen as most likely to succeed but he chose the wrong fountain pen ..." and had a picture of a man in a suit reading the Job Wanted pages.

There really wasn't a golden era of fountain pens ever. A Golden Era is just us looking back over our shoulder. At the time fountain pens played several roles, a minor tool (the wood pencil was King), a gift that was marketed as having some status or cachet ("This is the GIFT she will remember for years to come and think of YOU every time she corresponds."); not quite as high regard as having new shoes.






Edited by jar, 19 March 2013 - 00:19.

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#6 ImagineItReal

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 00:48

My great uncle, who gifted me my first fountain pen, a Pelikan 140, only owned and used one fountain pen his entire life. By the time I came around, he'd already retired as a school teacher and principal. Yet, scarcely a day would go by that he wouldn't use his fountain pen for correspondence, to keep in touch with family and friends in the old country. He had such beautiful penmanship and receiving a letter from him truly felt like a gift. But, yeah, he was of the old generation and only owned a single fountain pen.
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#7 Runnin_Ute

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 02:24

I don't know how many were owned by say my grandparents but I bet it wasn't many. Watches were the same way. If I take off the case back of the pocket watch that belonged to my grandfather, there are marks on the inside of it indicating that it had been serviced several times. The movement of this watch dates to 1908. (I have been able to verify this) The case back was engraved with his initials: CWT. This was/is gorgeous yet was a working man's watch. (grandpa was a plumber and owned his own company which is still in existence and in its third generation) I know there was at least one fountain pen in the house, having received letters from my grandma written with it. Also I have evidence they owned one (not sure what) as far back as the fall of 1923. (he died in 1959; grandma passed in 1994)

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#8 N2theBreach

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 03:39

When I was a wee tyke, I vaguely remember my parent's pens. One each. My mother had a burgundy pen with a hooded nib, which I assume was a Parker 51. My father had "a black one" with a traditional nib. They may have had their older pens in a drawer somewhere.

They kept their pens somewhere safe when they weren't being used. My mother's in her pocket book, my father's in his shirt pocket. I don't remember ever seeing them lying around, although we are stretching the limits of my memory, here.

#9 Shangas

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 06:49

When my father was in school in the 50s, he used to tell me how special fountain pens were. A fountain pen was expensive (especially for a lower-middle-class family such as what my father belonged to), and to own more than one, even back then, meant a lot. So they were treasured items.
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#10 Scrawler

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 13:23

When my father was in school in the 50s, he used to tell me how special fountain pens were. A fountain pen was expensive (especially for a lower-middle-class family such as what my father belonged to), and to own more than one, even back then, meant a lot. So they were treasured items.

In the 1950s there was a clear pecking order of social status determined by the pen you used. When my older sister was given a Parker as a Christmas present by a wealthy uncle from the US, her status in the school community went right up. The fact that it had imprinted Made in USA on it increased its status value even higher than Conway Stewart which was at the top of the status ladder.

#11 BillZ

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 14:16

Being 68 I remember FPs as part of life. That's what you wrote with period other than a pencil. I grew up not using dip pens but the school I attended still had desks with the hole for an inkwell across the top. You learned cursive in the 3rd grade and that's when you graduated to FPs. Most of us used Esties then because they were inexpensive and readily available. Later came the Schaeffer School pen with cartridges and the clear plastic body to keep up with the ink supply. Good pens were reserved for special occasions. I always remember my older brother getting a blue Schaeffer White Dot for 8th grade graduation. In high school I used Rapidograph drafting pens because I could get them cheaply through my father's work. They had the removable nib via the little round "wrench" that fit over the nib for removal. Wrote everything with Fount India Ink and never had any trouble with clogging. If I had anything to say about the experience it did help one learn a sense of responsibility toward possessions as you had to keep up with the pens and the maintenance plus being sure you didn't run out of ink at a crucial point in a test. Since you got points off your grade for scratch outs, math tests were nerve-wracking!! I graduated from High school in 1963 and ballpoints were already making inroads into the FP culture although they were really nasty things at the time.
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#12 PaperDarts

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 15:10

Think of any object that is in very common use today - like a cell phone. Some are "smart" phones that cost a lot and do everything except the supper dishes. Many "not-so-smart" phones do the job in humbler ways. That's how I remember fountain pens (though obviously, they all performed the same function, unlike the range of cell phones today!). Most were everyday objects that people kept in a handy drawer for frequent use. Some were special and reserved for the owner. I can still see the pens rattling around in a drawer in my grandfather's desk, as well as the beautiful Sheaffer that my godmother received when she got her degree. Getting a fountain pen in Grade Three was a big deal, but it soon became ordinary, something I used every day at school and to do my homework. (I can still see the ink on the page running as I wept over my long-division homework!!)
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#13 whych

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 19:23

We live in a wealthy time. Once, there would have been one fountain pen and, as Shangas said, it would have been cared for, refilled, and repaired when broken. People did not own a lot of clothing, kitchen gadgets, or many other things. Anyone who has lived in an older home knows that the rooms were smaller and the closets were smaller (or nonexistent).

Now, we can afford many pens, lots of clothing, and, in many cases, it is more economical to throw something out than it is to fix it.

Times have changed and we have been conned into having everything throw away because it's cheaper to replace it than repair it.
Not too many years ago a TV or radio lasted years and was repaired if it broke down. Now it is throw away and the model you bought last year is obsolete.
Up to the 70's or 80's everything was repairable. You even bought washers to repair hole in your kettle or pots.
You probably only ever had one or two fountain pens and you used your pencil till it was just too short to sharpen any more.
If you do a bit of digging on the board, you will find ads and references to spares and repairs that were carried out by the same shop you bought the pen and many manufacturers made it part of their strategy to point out how easy it was to get the pen repaired.

#14 Shangas

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 07:59

The crux of the matter is, back then, things were expensive. As the Squirrel wisely points out, "We live in a wealthy time". And indeed we do. We have more money to buy more things at at lower prices.

The unfortunate downside to this is, because we have more money to buy more things, it's not seen as a necessity to make items which last. This is because we can AFFORD to buy another one, if the other one doesn't last, or isn't designed to be repaired.

80 years ago, things were not like this. Back then, people had little spending-power. And when you bought something, you COULD NOT afford to buy something that didn't last. And companies recognised that if they sold things that didn't last...THEY wouldn't last. Because nobody had the time, or the money, literally, to buy junk that didn't last. If you sold (bleep), nobody would buy it, because nobody had the money to waste on something that wasn't worth every last farthing of what they spent.

So if you DID buy something...a typewriter, a fountain pen, a radio, a car, a record-player, a sewing-machine...you made DAMN SURE that you could REPAIR it. Because once you bought it, you would NEVER be able to buy another one, because it was so expensive. If it couldn't be repaired, that was a sign of poor workmanship and quality.

Guess what? That means lost customers for the manufacturer. So if these guys expected people to come back, they had to make things that lasted. Or if they didn't last, then they had to make sure that they could be engineered so that they could be repaired. NOT REPLACED - people didn't have the money for that.

Could you imagine telling Joe Schmoe that instead of repairing his Royal typewriter, he should throw it in the river and go buy another one? He'd probably punch you in the face and never come back. People couldn't afford to be so frivolous and carefree with their money back then.

If you read a lot of the manuals of the time, you'll realise that repairing stuff was a BIG thing.

Typewriters, sewing-machines, watches, fountain pens...I've read owners' manuals for all these things. And at the front, or back, of each manual, is always:

"There are SINGER/ROYAL/UNDERWOOD/ELGIN/WALTHAM/PARKER/WATERMAN dealers and service-centers in all major cities. If your sewing-machine/typewriter/watch/pen suffers from mechanical damage not caused by you, bring it in for a free servicing within the warranty period. Do not attempt to fix these items yourself. But our staff of friendly technicians will be happy to take a look for you".

Could you imagine buying a laptop computer and finding a message like that on the instruction-manual today? I certainly haven't seen one.
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#15 pencils+pens

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 12:04

Keep in mind that a part, a big part, of the demise of the repair culture is not greedy companies or lazy consumers, it is the cost of labor and the sophistication of the product.

In the allgeged Golden Age, labor was dirt cheap. A repair shop may have one or two master repairmen but the rest were largely unskilled labor who did the disassembly, cleaning and reassembly. The federal minimum wage came into being in 1938 and was 0.25/hour ($4.10 in 2012 dollars - see Wikipedia). That wage, after accounting for inflation, is half of the federal minimum today. So people could afford to take something and get it fixed since cost of the labor component of everything was small.

It was a lot easier to take all the vacuum tubes out of your radio and take them to your local hardware store or Radio Shack and run them thru the self-service tube tester. You found the bad one and replaced it - you didn't repair the blown tube. The vacuum tubes were replaced by circuit boards that last a lot longer then the vacuum tubes but once they are gone it is cheaper (see cost of labor) to just toss out the unit and buy a newer better "whatever" with all the latest features.

And then there is the value of a person's time. People were more willing to wait days or weeks to get something fixed, especially if the replacement was expensive in relative terms. Sometimtes they had to wait, due to lack of funds to get it fixed. Now people consider those same items to be necessities, whether they are or not, and when they break, they are replaced since the time "wasted" waiting for a repair is too valuable. We live in a totally different era that puts a higher value on time.

#16 jar

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 14:16

Another thing to remember about the so called Golden Age of Fountain Pens is that for those living in that so called Golden Age of Fountain Pens it wasn't all that Golden an Age of Fountain Pens. The fountain pens of the day were messy. Using fountain pens was messy. The feeds were not all that efficient, there was little or know air conditioning and the majority of fountain pens were lever filled sac pens and they blobs and leaked and belched and burped.

Ball points became popular because they were less messy and more convenient than the fountain pens of the s called Golden Age of Fountain Pens.

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#17 DrCodfish

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 21:09

My dad was a working man his whole life. This mens he was on the lower half of the economic ladder, and it also means he made his living in a hickory shirt, Frisko jeans, and either fishermans or loggers boots. A fountain pen was not an essential tool for garnering a day's wages, and of course, one of those high toned pens was pretty spendy, and easy to loose.

When he needed a pen, to endorse a check, sign an IOU, or whatever he usually used the one that was proffered. When ball points came along, a working man could afford to have a pen in his kit, and he didn't loose any sleep it if went missing.


#18 Sasha Royale

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 22:28

In the early 1950's, Dad was Director of Finance (Chief Financial Officer)
for his company. He handwrote business letters. Dad used a distinctive
turquoise ink, in his Parker 51 (just like General Eisenhower's). Dad
trusted only Parker fountain pens not to leak when carried.

A senior bookkeeper could afford his own fountain pen. The fine nib
Sheaffer was very popular. A junior bookkeeper used the company dip
pen. The secretary typed on a massive, black L.C. Smith typewriter.
On Monday morning, she would put on gloves and "top-off" the inkwells
at each desk, with a stock bottle.

That was the Golden Era. We are keepers of the flame. For now,
"txt sux = illitr8c".

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#19 Sasha Royale

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 22:35

I have a Parker 51 with the original user's name engraved on the barrel. I love that! There's so much history associated with this pen.

I am not sure, exactly, how long the golden ear of fountain pens lasted, but we can all agree that there was such a time. I wonder what it was like for the consumer. Yes, most of us are crazy about pens and have multiple pens, but did the average consumer buy just one pen for life? Or fountain pens the equivalent of today's smart phones: items of both utilitarian value and a symbol of status, but also fairly disposable? Did the average user develop the personal connection to this accessory that most of us, FPN members, do?


That isn't the user's name. It is the pen's name. Some fountain
pens have names. I have a Parker named "Nathan Sommersby" and a
Sheaffer named "British Midland Airlines".

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#20 ele

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Posted 20 March 2013 - 23:31

Another thing to remember about the so called Golden Age of Fountain Pens is that for those living in that so called Golden Age of Fountain Pens it wasn't all that Golden an Age of Fountain Pens. The fountain pens of the day were messy. Using fountain pens was messy. The feeds were not all that efficient, there was little or know air conditioning and the majority of fountain pens were lever filled sac pens and they blobs and leaked and belched and burped.

Ball points became popular because they were less messy and more convenient than the fountain pens of the s called Golden Age of Fountain Pens.

What age is this we speak of? I've used many vintage pens that aren't messy and don't leak...






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