Do you wonder why people love to still write with fountain pens? Did you know that fountain pens are a way to help the environment? The best fountain pens are made of high quality materials that last forever! The most expensive pens have gold or platinum nibs and even carbon fiber barrels. But, even the a fairly-priced fountain pen have a durable construction with quality materials that will last you a lifetime. And, there’s no other writing, drawing, or sketching experience like that of a smooth silky nib dancing on good paper.
In this article, I jot down my thoughts about my love of fountain pens and how using one can help the environment in a small, but significant way.
The Writing Experience: Unique
I love fountain pens. Through the years, I’ve collected quite a few daily-writers.
A sentence or signature written with a fountain pen is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a natural reflection of your mood. The writing point, or nib, molds and flexes under the pressure of your hand as it glides across the paper.
The pen will translate your mind and heart.
A heavy spirit will appear on the page as a broad streak.
A new day, when the sun is shining and the penance is light, the lines become thin and graceful.
Save the Planet: Do the Math
MORE: NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE ABOUT FOUNTAIN PENS
Okay, here’s a problematic rub.
Today, almost everyone who writes, at home or office or school, writes with a disposable pen (or even plastic refillable ones).
A single, well-kept fountain pen can replace hundreds of disposables.
Here’s the math!
Assume there are 100 million office workers in the United States. This isn’t too far off an estimate.
Each person uses two different pens in a month, even with refillable ink sticks.
These cheap pens break, get lost, or stolen. That’s a total of twenty-four pens per year for every person.
For 100 million office workers (which discounts everyone else who writes, students, teachers, etc.) that’s 240 million pens thrown away into the garbage heap.
Now throw in the globe, China, India, and any nation with mass-production, and we have a major problem.
Disposable Pens are The Worst
What about the plastic packaging?
Cheap, mass-produced pens create huge amounts of non-biodegradable packaging waste.
All this stuff doesn’t disappear from the soil (it’s plastic!) and who knows how much damage it does sitting in the Earth for thousands of years.
The pen experts (and myself) say the wise alternative is to indulge in the sub-culture of the fountain pen. Because of their durability and resilience to the effects of time, a good quality fountain pen is environmentally friendly.
A single, well-kept fountain pen can replace hundreds of disposables.
They also will work for the duration of your lifetime, maybe longer, becoming a great heirloom for future generations.
This makes the fountain pen extremely cost-effective in the long term on a personal level.
Over the course of their life, their initial purchase cost is offset by the savings, which perishable writing tools quickly consume. As a wise choice for anyone mindful of their habitat, a fountain pen is a slap in the face of our throw-away culture.
…a fountain pen is a slap in the face of our throw-away culture.
The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword
Fountain pens have character.
A small change in pressure of the pen to paper, will produce a variety of line variations, thick and thin, curvy and splotchy. Whatever your fancy, the pen can do it. They are the hallmark of sophistication, not simplicity or carelessness like a ballpoint. Although fountain pens require a bit of care, so does everything that has a personality.
And therein resides my love for them. Each pen I own in my collection is different from the others, and more importantly, from any other writing instrument in the world. Fountain pens are objects of patience, kindness, and self-control.
A person might disregard the fountain pen as obsolete, forgotten instruments of times’ past, replaced by better tools and technology. This stigma, however, is a misconception. They are not hard to use, do not leak as often as commonly believed, and work better than most any other hand held instrument for recording things on paper.
Fountain pens are more like finely-tuned European sport cars.
They function and act as well as any other kind of vehicle, but require gentle thought and consideration. Without tender maintenance, they will donkey on you, refusing to budge. Then without further notice, they will fail.
Catastrophic failure usually happens to those who are unwary. A well-loved pen, however, will spend years gliding across good paper—nice n’ slick.
A working fountain pen is therefore a sign of a person’s ability to take care of business. Mishandling things too often—a spouse, a pet, a car—is the mark of an impatient, unkind, and undisciplined person. Such a person should not own a fountain pen.
Fountain Pens Last a Long Time
To calm the stormy waters, I should note that the contemporary fountain pen, and even many older vintage models, are extremely durable and can take quite a bit of abuse. An owner ought to have little to no worry.
The modern fountain pen is made of sturdy plastics and metals that resist corrosion by the environment. The writing tips, or nibs, of a fountain pen tend to be made of robust, sometimes precious, metals: gold, silver, platinum, and exotics, like palladium or rhodium, and good ol’ stainless steel handle the heavy use of everyday writing well.
The downside is some of these metals happen to raise the cost of the top shelf brands. The most expensive pen I own is a Visconti. But, there are affordable everyday writers.
This pen is my favorite.
How to Maintain a Fountain Pen
Use the best inks. That’s the best and simplest advice.
Interestingly, one of the greatest dangers to pens is the use of poor quality ink.
A bad ink will destroy a pen.
These inks happen to have thicker, less soluble pigments or chemical lacquers that can clog the inside workings of pen like a blood clot. In some cases, inks can be acidic and corrosive, and can degrade or stain the pen’s ink reservoir, discoloring a once beautiful translucent barrel.
There are other sites (here’s one) that can show you how to keep a pen in great working order.
Briefly, these are the 5 steps you can do to maintain your fountain pen, aside from using good ink.
- Remove the nib from the barrel (unscrew)
- Clean the nib with clean water (distilled water is best)
- For a more thorough cleaning you can soak the nib in water overnight
- Dry the nib after washing with water
- Reattach the nib to the pen barrel
You can perform this nib wash every few weeks or whenever changing ink colors. If you plan to store your pens for a long time, wash the pen ink reservoir and nib thoroughly with distilled water and allow it to dry before storage.
To prevent any residual ink from drying in the nib feed, store your pens vertically with the nib up.
Ink Technology in Living Color
Many ink companies have risen to the challenge of manufacturing inks that are safe for fountain pens. These inks are gentle, designed to flow freely through any fountain pen, and bind to paper smoothly and effectively.
Some inks even contain lubricants or detergents that clean the pen as they are used. Two great brands of fountain pen ink are Noodler’s Ink and Private Reserve, distributed and recommended by fountain pen retailers and avid pen collectors.
Fountain pen ownership truly makes rainbows accessible for public consumption.
Take a long and deep drink.
Imagine: Lake placid blue, fiesta red, south seas blue, and my morning favorite, coffee. The ink colors available are so vivid and real; you can taste the ocean, party the afternoon, touch the water, and smell the caffeine. A color for every mood.
It doesn’t take a lot of money to get started in the joys of owning and caring for a fine writing instrument.
The easiest way to begin is to purchase an inexpensive, but excellent quality pen.
The first one I purchased was 10 years ago, a graphite-colored Lamy Safari (~$25), and I still use it regularly today.
Now for the crazies, you’ll find pen trade shows and conventions near you….
Be careful though. Love hurts.
3 thoughts on “Save the Planet: Why Write with a Fountain Pen?”
My mom, who has gorgeous handwriting, got me into fountain pens when I was young. She’s bought me a few and given me a few of her older ones.
You’re certainly right that a good pen reflects the mood of the writer, which is a beautiful thing. That and the choice of ink offer a unique picture of the moment of creation.
I enjoyed your ode to good pens!
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