I expect I’ve written about this before but after all these years I’m entitled to repeat myself now and again!
I understand that many people – particularly those who like to try a lot of inks – enjoy what they regard as the convenience of the cartridge filler. For myself, I have little interest in inks and I regard that system as an inelegant solution to the problem of getting ink into a pen. It’s expensive and wasteful. I appreciate that you can refill cartridges but I suspect that not many people do. The converter option is a little better, but I still feel that it’s poor engineering that demands that you pull a pen apart every time you have to fill it. Many converters seem to hold a very small quantity of ink, too.
Another relatively modern solution is the Aerometric, Parker’s improvement on the old squeeze filler. At least it enables the use of bottled ink and it gives the pen a decent charge but, once again, there’s this business of pulling the pen apart to fill it. I find that unsatisfactory.
I like sac fillers and I don’t see a lot of difference between the varieties: lever fillers, button fillers, crescent fillers, matchstick fillers and various more esoteric methods. They – allowing for the size of the pen – hold a decent amount of ink, are easy to operate and easy to service. Over the decades inventors of sac filling systems showed a lot of ingenuity, though it might be said that none of these solutions are tremendously elegant. They’re a little Heath Robinson and perhaps that’s part of the reason why we like them.
There is a variety of pens describe as vacuum fillers, not the best of descriptions as most pens fill by creating a vacuum. There’s the Parker variety, essentially a bulb filler with delusions of grandeur. In some ways it’s a good system, easy to use and giving a huge draught of ink but it’s complicated to service and in many cases has a comparatively short time between services.
The Sheaffer and Conklin versions are inferior copies of the De La Rue Onoto plunger filler. Unlike the original, they do not appear to have been designed with servicing in mind. That said, while they’re working they both provide excellent filling, easy to use and capacious.
I don’t know if anyone makes a basic bulb filler these days. Langs and Mentmore made a variety of them in the 30s, some quite sophisticated and not all that different from the Parker vac. When they were new they were probably good but as time and wear acted on them they suffered more and more from the major problems of many ink-in-the-barrel pens, blotting and leaking. A big bulb filler holds enough ink to create considerable mayhem and that was probably the reason that they never became all that popular and were often a low-cost solution.
Another economical system that has been pretty well abandoned is the syringe filler. Again, it may suffer from leakage problems and it’s clumsy, having a long activator filling most of the barrel when it’s extended.
What does that leave us with? Well, there are Sheaffer’s various ink sac and plunger pens like the Touchdown and Snorkel. They’re fun and they certainly have their adherents but as a filling system their limited capacity works against them.
Then there’s the good old eyedropper filler. Well, it’s old. I’m not so sure about good. The system was pretty hastily abandoned the moment an alternative came along and that must tell you something. There are many people today who delight in converting all sorts of pens into eyedroppers. All I can say about that is that the pens are theirs and they’re entitled to do whatever they want with them. I had a modern eyedropper once, a very large Indian Wality. It was the worst pen I have ever owned, dripping ink every time you looked at it. I’ve had Wality pens with other filling systems that were great.
Now we’re getting down to it. There’s the piston filler and when it’s properly executed, as most German manufacturers seem to have managed so well, I think it’s one of the top two efficient, capacious and elegant filling systems. The other one that I think is as good if not better is the Onoto plunger filler that I mentioned earlier. It’s one of the first self fillers and remains about the best.
I’ve probably missed a few systems, like the Parker 61 capillary filler. Actually, that’s a good filling method, provided you don’t want to change the colour of ink you’re using. If you do, you have to clean it out thoroughly, and that may well occupy a day or two of your time.
Naturally, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I’ll be delighted to hear your counter-arguments provided they are backed up with reasoning and evidence. “You suck! Cartridges are great!” doesn’t really count as a cogent argument.