Please enjoy the original writing, Christian travel journal, and photography by a hapa haole named Gail Rhea.

Original Writing & Photography

by Gail Rhea






There are various myths associated with fountain pens being passed along even by some manufacturers that the uninformed are accepting as Truth carved in stone.

1. Iridium - Now mistakenly used as a generic word like Xerox is for photocopying or Kleenex for facial tissue, the tines of expensive fountain pens used to be tipped with iridium until World War II at which time it was replaced by various other materials because of the war effort. Today, although stainless steel or various alloys containing no or extremely little iridium is actually used, some manufacturers and sellers still refer to the tipping as iridium. I just thought you should know. Face it, iridium is highly expensive and if it was really being used on affordable modern pens, those being falsely advertised as having iridium tips would be prohibitively expensive.

2. Fountain pens have a break-in period, wear down according to your writing style and shouldn't be loaned to others because they'll ruin it - Wow. There's so much going on there, I'm not sure where to start.

a. Breaking-in a fountain pen - You don't "break-in" a fountain pen with a stainless steel nib. What actually happens is that you get used to the way it writes.

For gold nibs, because gold is a soft metal, over a long period of time the nib may gradually conform to the way you hold the pen. If you write properly, not bearing down but simply guiding the pen as you should and not laying more weight on one tine more than the other, the "break-in period" will take years. If you bear down enough for the break-in period to be a matter of weeks or a few months as the myth goes, you're ruining your pen all by yourself. Think about it. If you can alter a pen within a few weeks or months, how long could your nib last without being noticeably warped?

b. Wear down according to your writing style - See a (above). This used to be true because a long time ago, before World War II, tipping material for some pens wasn't very good except for those using the real, very expensive, iridium. (See 1 (above).) Now, though, it qualifies as an old wivesí tale. If it was still true that tipping wears down according to your writing style, you wouldn't be able to use your new pen for very many years after you buy it because the tipping will have worn away, and all those vintage pens that still write well with no more than a good cleaning or sac replacement wouldn't be around. This myth is true, however, for cheap pens that don't have quality tipped nibs like the old ones that regularly had to have their "points" (nibs) replaced, but it certainly doesn't apply to the majority of vintage or today's modern pens.

c. Shouldn't be loaned to others - While the tines of gold nibs may be sprung by too much pressure being applied by someone used to writing with ballpoint pens, there's no other danger to loaning a fountain pen for a short time except for having it walk away from you. For someone else to be able to ruin a pen other than by springing the tines, that person would have to write with it for a long time, just as long as you did to make the gold nib warp from the way it was when it was brand new.

To prevent their gold nibs being sprung, some people carry second loaner pens with steel nibs because these can take the excess pressure exerted by the unskilled. To prevent pens from walking away, simply hang onto the cap since there's nothing like pocketing a fountain pen without its cap and your pen will soon make its way back to you :D.

3. Use ink made by the manufacturer of your pen - Nope, there's no truth to this one at all. Although manufacturers make their pens to write well using their own brand of ink, you may use any ink made for fountain pens that you like. The only thing that happens is that your pen may write a little wetter or drier or exactly the same. It's simply a matter of personal preference and in the end, buying a different brand of ink only makes your money go to a company different than the one that made your pen.

4. Don't use ink over a year old - This is absolute nonsense which only benefits those who make money from your buying ink. The only reason not to use fountain pen ink of whatever age is if there's mold or sediment. In fact, vintage ink from the 1950s is still very desirable by those who know about such things. If you store your ink in a cool, dark drawer or cabinet and don't introduce contaminants, you should be able to use it all no matter how many years it takes. However, if you do see sediment, scum, or something growing, by all means, dump it immediately and go buy a new bottle.

5. Flex (flexible) nibs - Buyer beware! This is a misnomer typically used to describe nibs that are springy, that is, nibs that "give" as you write as opposed to those that are "nails" or stiff. True flex nibs have tines that spread apart and back together again according to the pressure applied yielding a line of varying width. The line of ink produced by a flex nib is expressive and unique to each individual's hand. The majority of flex nibs may be found only on vintage pens although some modern Pelikan and Parker Sonnets have semi-flex gold nibs. The only modern true flexible nib is that of the Namiki Falcon with Nakaya a close runner-up. (Labeled as "soft" nibs because the Japanese word for a "flexible" nib translates back into English as "soft," the fine Falcon nibs are, indeed, flexible and not merely soft.) If you want a modern pen described as having a flex nib, you're better off trying it before you buy to ensure whether or not it's really a semi-flexible nib or merely springy.

6. Scratchy nibs - In the majority of instances, this is another misuse of terminology because a truly scratchy nib would damage your paper as you write (which happens with some really cheap, rough-fibered papers anyway). What most people mean when they say "scratchy" is that it has "bite," meaning that the nib has a rougher feel compared to nibs that feel as smooth as if you're writing on glass with a finger coated with butter. A certain amount of the roughness may be alleviated by changing ink and/or paper since the writing experience is affected by various combinations of nib, ink, and paper. Some people, however, enjoy the scritch-scritch-scritch sound of such a pen on paper. 

7. Montblanc pens are prestigious and of the highest quality - Their marketing department and sales policy have certainly done a wonderful job giving this impression to the uninformed, some of whom look forward to the day they can help pay for the hype themselves. Unfortunately, the modern pens' reputation for cracking has generated a controversial storm. While some pens have cracked because of being dropped on hard surfaces, some have cracked spontaneously with no rough or abusive treatment due to the fragility inherent in the pens produced by Montblanc's injection-molded process. Fortunately, Montblanc Limited Edition pens tend not to be injection-molded and aren't that bad. All in all, since you can easily buy better quality pens for less, if you have your heart set on owning a Montblanc, you might be better off buying one that was made prior to 1959.

8. The nib should remain clean at all times - This expectation is outlandish and totally impractical. It leads me to wonder if those who have it are merely unknowledgeable or suffering from obsessiveness. While some nibs remain cleaner than others, we're talking about fountain pens fer cryin' out loud, and some seepage of ink up between the tines onto the top of the nib, called "nib creep," is perfectly normal as long as it's not so much that it pools and drips off onto your paper.

9. The tips of the nib's tines cross over one another - No, they don't. They lie parallel to one another and if they aren't parallel and even, the pen doesn't write properly. Gosh, I hear the strangest things! Go ahead. Get a magnifying glass or, better yet, a jeweler's loupe and see for yourself. This one came from an employee of a chain office supply store who was supposedly helping me buy a Waterman Phileas as a gift for a friend. Heh. The employee also bragged to me that he owned a Montblanc. (I was polite. I didn't roll my eyes until after I was out of the store.)


Return to top








Read the next page

Return to the table of contents for The Newbie's Guide to Fountain (and Other) Pens






Main Entrance Projection Room Reading Room Information Desk

Janitor's Closet



Copyright ©1993- Gail Rhea.

All rights reserved.