Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

11 July 2012

Return to a lost love, the fountain pen

I used to love writing with a fountain pen. But I didn't love the ink that stained my palm from dragging through what I had written—a problem many left-handers have. So I reluctantly returned to ballpoint pens.

They skipped. They blobbed. They dragged across the paper. They laid down an uneven line that dented two or three sheets in the tablet. No matter how hard one pressed, their mark was weak and timid. Their thinness made them hard for my arthritic hands to hold and caused my hand to cramp. The pressure they required to get a  solid line made writing an effort, not a pleasure.

Then came computers. I didn't care what the etiquette books said about writing thank-you notes and formal letters by hand, I wrote everything I could on the computer.

Then came the rollerback pen. I loved them with a passion . . . for a while. Once again, I wrote smooth, bold lines with ease. But the longer I used them, the less love blinded me. On glossy stock, such as many greeting cards, they smeared and took forever to dry. On rough stock, the ink often bled. My infatuation waned.

But I still lusted after fountain pens. It was not only the ease of moving across the paper I craved, nor just  the way the flow of the ink responded to slight changes in press to give character and grace to my unattractive handwriting. No, my right-handed husband began acquiring fountain pens, and so fountain pen catalogs began arriving in the mailbox, catalogs full of thick-barreled pens that would be easy on my arthritic hands; pens of brilliant colors and patterns and cool materials such as celluloid and wood; pens overlaid with silver or gold filigree; pens with a variety of tips for even more dramatic lines.

Then came eBay. I didn't look at pens there for a long time. I didn't want to end up with a vintage fountain pen that needed an expensive repair, and of course I was still left-handed.

Then a writer friend told me the secret words that would allow me to return to my true love: fast-drying ink.

I hesitated. I could not believe the answer could be so simple. My searches at and the pen stores I knew about didn't turn up any fast-drying ink. My writer friend came to the rescue again with more secret words: Noodler's Ink's  Bernanke Black and Bernanke Blue. Made for left-handers; dries instantly.

Next I stumbled on fast-drying inks from  J. Herbin, whose bottles featured a channel on top for one's pen, and whose ink seduced with both name and appearance. Rouge Opera, the color of red velvet theater curtains. Vert Empire, the color of the laurel wreath that crowned Napoleon. Terre de Feu, reminiscent of dried blood and probably perfect for penning a horror story. Café des îsles, the faded color of ink on aged documents. 

Back to eBay's huge selection of pens. Many new and unused ones had prices under $10. I was back to writing with fountain pens.

Now, I sit anywhere in the house and write; I don't have to go to computer if I need to write more than a paragraph. My handwriting has improved and has new flourishes. My grocery lists are bright and bold, and I make more to-do lists than ever.


Charles Gramlich said...

You make me jealous, but seeing as how my handwriting is virtually unreadable I will continue to forge ahead on my computer. I did write a big piece of a nonfiction article the other day with a pen. The first time I've done that in a while.

Anonymous said...

Fountain pens are making a huge comeback as people incorporate pen and notebooks into their writing systems. They are affordable and reliable. Personally, I prefer pen and paper over using a computer.