It’s All About Efficiency – Or Is It?

Technological progress, one might say, moves from less efficient to more efficient. That would seem reasonable. I often think about this in regard to the history of the fountain pen. It seems to start well, but by the latter end it tends to fall away. Perhaps in the later years of the fountain pen the target was not so much efficiency as something else.

The eyedropper filler was certainly a step up from the dip pen, in that you only had to mess around with ink occasionally instead of constantly. It was still a decided hack, though. Unscrewing the section (can be messy), loading the pipette, filling the barrel, screwing the section back on, tapping or shaking the ink through, rinsing the pipette. It’s all a bit of a distraction. The various coin fillers, match fillers and especially the admirable crescent filler were a notable improvement. Plunger fillers and syringe fillers are convenient and clean too. The button filler, especially the larger ones like the bigger Duofolds, are exceptionally convenient to use – were it not for the possibility of losing the blind cap. Pens with a fixed button filler, like the Stephens stud filler, may be among the most convenient pens of all. In the main, the industry settled for the lever filler. It’s a good system, but it can be messy when the ink is low in the bottle, and some of those levers seemed designed to do injury to the thumb. Later pens, like the Parker Aerometric fillers, seem like a cop-out from the struggle towards greater technological efficiency. Unscrewing the whole barrel to operate a squeeze filler works well enough, but it’s not elegant. I suspect that the unbroken line of the barrel trumped efficiency of use here.

Finally, we have the cartridge filler. Frankly, it has little to recommend it. You unscrew the barrel, remove the old cartridge (distinct risk of ick at this point), push another cartridge in, put the barrel back on and tap or shake the ink through. It’s not a self-contained system. We’re three-quarters of the way back to the eyedropper filler! The cartridge filler, it seems to me, is the means whereby very small quantities of ink can be sold at a premium to the gullible.

For myself, I love the elegance of Stephens’s clever button filler, but the pen that keeps returning to my desk is my old Conklin Crescent filler. It’s simple, intuitive, efficient and it has the technology on the outside, like a Richard Rogers building. That’s style!


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