If you’ve come across a Pitman’s Fono pen you may have wondered about its strange name, and whether there is a connection with Sir Isaac Pitman, famous for several things but mostly for his system of shorthand which was adopted worldwide.
Indeed there is a link and it’s pretty direct. Sir Isaac was, for the most part, a publisher, though he took an interest in many matters of language and orthography. The publishing house he built up in the Victorian period, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd, continued as the family business long after his death and remnants of it remain even today, subsumed within Longman Publishing, itself a part of Pearson Education.
A large part of the firm’s publishing was concerned with Pitman’s shorthand system and around 1930 the company began to make – or have made for them – pens which could be regarded as the best type to use for shorthand. The “fono” part of the name relates to Sir Isaac’s fonotypy, a rationalised method of spelling which he developed.
What of the pen itself? Well, it comes in several models with a very modest increase in trim between one and another. This one is the Deluxe version with a medium cap ring and rather good plating. The nib is warranted and semi-flexible. The pen sits well in the hand and is almost weightless, a feature much appreciated by those who wrote all day at work, though many people unaccountably prefer a heavy pen these days.
Though a very good pen, it isn’t really exceptional in any way. Pens like the Conway Stewart Scribe 330, issued around the same time, or some of the lower-priced Swans would have done the same job in the same way, and they probably claimed a bigger market share. Sales were evidently high enough for the pen to remain in production for a few years though and it is by no means a rare pen these days. In any given year around a dozen will appear in eBay and they’re well worth snapping up, both because they’re great writers and for their unusual history.