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Fountain Pen Filling System History


4lex
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I was just ruminating on the fountain pen filling system history. What I can't figure out is, why piston filling mechanism was not widely used in the UK and US, since it is superior to filling systems using ink sac. I have nothing against lever fillers but looks to me like advantages of piston fillers are the reason it is today the only widely used filling mechanism apart from cartridge/converters.

Was there an issue with the patent? I know Pelikan bought the original patent from a Hungarian engineer Kovacz. But I believe other European manufacturers started using same or similar filling system soon after. Why didn't Parker and others follow suit?

Inked: Sailor King Pro Gear, Sailor Nagasawa Proske, Sailor 1911 Standard, Parker Sonnet Chiselled Carbon, Parker 51, Pilot Custom Heritage 92, Platinum Preppy

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There may be a problem with your premise. Compared to a lever-filler, button-filler, or some of the plunger approaches, pistons are slow, fiddly, delicate, and inconvenient, especially when it comes time to flush the pen. Most have lower capacity than similar-sized lever or button fillers. And they are substantially more expensive to manufacture than lever or button fillers.

Compare filling actions: pull the lever, release it, you're done; vs. unscrew the blind cap and put it somewhere safe if it's a separate part, twist a dozen times to lower the piston, immerse the end of the pen and twist a dozen times in the other direction, lift the pen out of the ink, reverse direction and twist again until a few drops come out, reverse direction and park the piston--all holding the pen in the ink bottle and trying not to knock it over--try to find the blind cap, put it on, mesh the fiddly threads, and screw it down tight, but not too tight.

And when it comes time for service, the sac pens are incomparably easier to repair.

The question for me would be why people put up with pistons except as a novelty.

ron

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When there were alternatives like the Sheaffer and Onoto plunger fill systems why would anyone even consider anything as slow or limited or inefficient as a piston filler system?

 

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Every type of fill system has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage of lever fillers is that when the ink bottle gets fairly empty, it's really hard to deal with the lever, even on a wide mouth bottle (and if you've got a small pen like a ringtop that issue is compounded).

Personally, I really like piston fillers. Even though my favorite pen is a Parker 51, and at the moment one of the EDC pens is a Parker Vacumatic (and another one is a Laidtone Duofold, which is a button filler).

And yes, I've had to be really careful about where I put blind caps. Especially after my first Noodler's Konrad (since lost) had the nib borked because the blind cap somehow got stuck in the cap without my noticing it.... :blush:

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

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There may be a problem with your premise. Compared to a lever-filler, button-filler, or some of the plunger approaches, pistons are slow, fiddly, delicate, and inconvenient, especially when it comes time to flush the pen. Most have lower capacity than similar-sized lever or button fillers. And they are substantially more expensive to manufacture than lever or button fillers.

Compare filling actions: pull the lever, release it, you're done; vs. unscrew the blind cap and put it somewhere safe if it's a separate part, twist a dozen times to lower the piston, immerse the end of the pen and twist a dozen times in the other direction, lift the pen out of the ink, reverse direction and twist again until a few drops come out, reverse direction and park the piston--all holding the pen in the ink bottle and trying not to knock it over--try to find the blind cap, put it on, mesh the fiddly threads, and screw it down tight, but not too tight.

And when it comes time for service, the sac pens are incomparably easier to repair.

The question for me would be why people put up with pistons except as a novelty.

ron

I have nothing against lever filler systems. It is quite fun changing ink sacs and a lot of great pens were using it. I have no doubt that many people prefer it. But the fact is that there is a reason why today piston filler is the go to filling system for manufacturers who want to offer something else than cartridge/converter.

I don't see TWSBI or any major manufacturer coming up with a pen using ink sac any time soon. But it is interesting to hear that some people find lever and button fillers more efficient.

Inked: Sailor King Pro Gear, Sailor Nagasawa Proske, Sailor 1911 Standard, Parker Sonnet Chiselled Carbon, Parker 51, Pilot Custom Heritage 92, Platinum Preppy

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That's all there is to it? Another argument about which is best?

"Don't hurry, don't worry. It's better to be late at the Golden Gate than to arrive in Hell on time."
--Sign in a bar and grill, Ormond Beach, Florida, 1960.

 

 

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I have nothing against lever filler systems. It is quite fun changing ink sacs and a lot of great pens were using it. I have no doubt that many people prefer it. But the fact is that there is a reason why today piston filler is the go to filling system for manufacturers who want to offer something else than cartridge/converter.

I don't see TWSBI or any major manufacturer coming up with a pen using ink sac any time soon. But it is interesting to hear that some people find lever and button fillers more efficient.

IIRC Visconti has offered several lever fill pens as did the reborn Conway Stewart, the Sheaffer Balance II LE and the reborn Conklin offered Crescent fillers. Also IIRC Delta and Conway Stewart also had button fillers.

 

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I don't see how a piston filler can compare to a lever filler, while piston fillers are such a pain to fill and clean and maintain and repair, the lever fillers are such a joy/delight to use.

Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous  Who taught by the pen

Taught man that which he knew not (96/3-5)

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Looks like this is now an argument what filling system is better. That was not my intention. Maybe I should reframe the question. Why is lever filler endangered species while piston fillers are thriving?

Inked: Sailor King Pro Gear, Sailor Nagasawa Proske, Sailor 1911 Standard, Parker Sonnet Chiselled Carbon, Parker 51, Pilot Custom Heritage 92, Platinum Preppy

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IIRC Visconti has offered several lever fill pens as did the reborn Conway Stewart, the Sheaffer Balance II LE and the reborn Conklin offered Crescent fillers. Also IIRC Delta and Conway Stewart also had button fillers.

I know. Thats my point. You have to look to a niche manufacturers or 90s limited edition to find recent examples.

Inked: Sailor King Pro Gear, Sailor Nagasawa Proske, Sailor 1911 Standard, Parker Sonnet Chiselled Carbon, Parker 51, Pilot Custom Heritage 92, Platinum Preppy

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since it is superior to filling systems using ink sac.

 

looks to me like advantages of piston fillers are the reason it is today the only widely used filling mechanism apart from cartridge/converters.

 

It seems many don't agree with your statements above.

 

Regarding the piston filling system, the brand X, Y and Z use it, and they are considered superior to other brands and when argued why are this brands are superior, one of the main reasons given is that this brands use the piston filling system, and when you ask why they consider the piston filling system superior, they say because brand X,Y and Z use it, so they are running in circles.

 

Best regards.

Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous  Who taught by the pen

Taught man that which he knew not (96/3-5)

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Perhaps some of the reason for the survival of piston-filling is historical. I suspect that the early use of piston-fillers in Europe had more to do with the difficulty of getting latex in Germany during several key points in the history of fountain pens--during the First World War, for instance. No latex means no sac means no lever or button. The pistons naturally appeared in more expensive brands because they were too expensive to build for low-end pens. As jar pointed out, US manufacturers, who had easier access to rubber, worked out other solutions to filling pens.

After the arrival of the ballpoint and the collapse of the fountain-pen market in the US, fountain pens held on in Europe--both as student pens, which moved to CC-filling to reduce cost, and at the premium end, where German piston-fillers were already well established, and could make the transition from writing instrument to luxury good. The great US brands with their other filling systems withered away, leaving reconfigured companies making CC pens. So the market came to associate piston filling with high-end German pens and with luxury by default. With the increasing focus on cost, CC filling displaced lever and button fillers in low-end and mid-range pens simply because the CC approach eliminates a number of assembly steps that would be rather hard to automate. In India, where demand is only now declining and assembly cost using humans is much less an issue, eyedropper, CC, and piston-filling pens exist side by side. No one form has displaced the others.

ron

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Perhaps with the exception of a syringe filling an empty cartridge all of them filling systems work with the vacuum filling physic system, with some differences and thats all. At least for me.

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That's all there is to it? Another argument about which is best?

 

I am not an engineer. I don't care about which is best.

Which is more fun ? :P

Auf freiem Grund mit freiem Volke stehn.
Zum Augenblicke dürft ich sagen:
Verweile doch, du bist so schön !

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I am not an engineer. I don't care about which is best.

Which is more fun ? :P

 

A better question. Still, I was thinking there would be some filling system history here.

 

I don't think any system is best, but some are fun to play with.

 

It is some fun to be regaled by the piston filler proponents, though. So erstwhile. Well, can you get some ink in the reservoir or not? I suppose that is the question. Whether . . .

"Don't hurry, don't worry. It's better to be late at the Golden Gate than to arrive in Hell on time."
--Sign in a bar and grill, Ormond Beach, Florida, 1960.

 

 

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Which is more fun?

My Sheaffer Snorkels probably win the "cool" factor contest, followed by the Parker button fillers (I have a Challenger and a Laidtone Duofold). My Parker 61s are probably the easiest to fill -- just stick the end of the capillary filler in the ink bottle and wait.

I still prefer piston fillers overall. And that with my favorite pens being a 51 Aerometric and a couple of Vacumatics.

Ruth Morrisson aka inkstainedruth

"It's very nice, but frankly, when I signed that list for a P-51, what I had in mind was a fountain pen."

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Maybe this makes me a bit dull, but I like eyedroppers.

 

Greatest ink capacity.

No moving parts to go awry.

Ease of manufacture (more bang for the buck).

 

The idea of the fluid transferring mechanism staying at home with the ink bottle does make a lot of sense, in light of these benefits, doesn't it?

 

Ok - I'll give you the occasional inky fingers and a low "fun factor" when filling. :unsure:

 

Now, to answer the OPs question as to why not the piston in the US - there was one. Remember the Nozac? If Conklin had been a bigger player, if Conklin had survived, maybe the piston filler would have had more impact in America.

 

Bob

Shouldn't phonics be spelled with an f?

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Perhaps some of the reason for the survival of piston-filling is historical. I suspect that the early use of piston-fillers in Europe had more to do with the difficulty of getting latex in Germany during several key points in the history of fountain pens--during the First World War, for instance. No latex means no sac means no lever or button. The pistons naturally appeared in more expensive brands because they were too expensive to build for low-end pens. As jar pointed out, US manufacturers, who had easier access to rubber, worked out other solutions to filling pens.

After the arrival of the ballpoint and the collapse of the fountain-pen market in the US, fountain pens held on in Europe--both as student pens, which moved to CC-filling to reduce cost, and at the premium end, where German piston-fillers were already well established, and could make the transition from writing instrument to luxury good. The great US brands with their other filling systems withered away, leaving reconfigured companies making CC pens. So the market came to associate piston filling with high-end German pens and with luxury by default. With the increasing focus on cost, CC filling displaced lever and button fillers in low-end and mid-range pens simply because the CC approach eliminates a number of assembly steps that would be rather hard to automate. In India, where demand is only now declining and assembly cost using humans is much less an issue, eyedropper, CC, and piston-filling pens exist side by side. No one form has displaced the others.

ron

This sounds plausible. Rubber was cheap in US at the time. Germans made first steps in synthetic rubber in WW1 but it was expensive so it is quite possible thats why you don't see that much of lever fillers on the continent.

Although there was a problem with lack of rubber in the US during WW2 when Axis got hold of 90% of world rubber supplies. And because rubber was cheap and plentiful before the war US did not have good synthetic rubber technology and manufacture. They even reduced speed limit on highways to 35 mph to reduce wear and tear on the tyres.

It may be this was the reason why the production of FP for the civilian market was limited during ww2. Which made Parker 51 Most Wanted pen on the planet.

In terms of technology US had patents for piston filling pens even before Germany. Frank M Ashley patented one in 1911. It may well be that lower manufacturing cost would give ink sac an advantage.

Inked: Sailor King Pro Gear, Sailor Nagasawa Proske, Sailor 1911 Standard, Parker Sonnet Chiselled Carbon, Parker 51, Pilot Custom Heritage 92, Platinum Preppy

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I don't think the argument is why lever-fillers and not pistons - it's why pistons and not plungers, pneumatics, and the variations of bulb-fillers (Vacumatic, Waterman Ink View, etc).

 

The important transition was from making an internal rubber sac the ink vessel to making the pen barrel itself the ink vessel. Most of the higher end manufacturers abandoned levers and buttons in the 30's in favor of filling systems that the barrel walls held the ink - Conklin's Nozac was the only American piston filler at the time. I'm guessing that sacs and levers were much cheaper to produce, because they remained the domain of the cheap pens well into the 40's.

 

I'd have to think that the return to some buttons and levers in modern Limited Edition pens is a retro-thing, and nothing functional.

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