Eyedropper Pens

There are eyedropper fillers and eyedropper fillers. They’re not all the same. I understand that there is a long tradition of their use in tropical and subtropical countries; India comes to mind. They had good reason to stick with them when the alternative was sac fillers. The temperature and humidity destroyed the sac in short order. Many modern Indian pens are eyedropper fillers. That’s what they’re used to and that’s what they like. Of course cartridge/converter pens don’t have the difficulties that sac fillers did but they hold very little ink whereas an Airmail with a small ocean of ink will serve even a very busy writer for a long time.

Here in the West there is no recent tradition of using eyedropper fillers. In fact, we dumped them as fast as we could when the first self filling devices came along. In recent years there has been something of a fashion for eyedropper fillers. People have even been ‘eyedroppering’ perfectly good pens.

None of these appeal to me in the least. Don’t have any, don’t want them either. I do have a soft spot for the old original eyedropper fillers, the ones made before 1920. They so often have glorious nibs and though they are invariably slender I love to use them. Those unaccustomed to their use complain about blots and blobbing but those difficulties are easily overcome.

Early fountain pens inherited style and decoration from dip pens. It didn’t stop there. Things like rope-work bands and intricate engine chasing were added. The rope-work didn’t survive long but the engine chasing was here to stay.

Technically, there were all sorts of problems to solve. Ink delivery could be imperfect with those slim over-and-under feeds. A twist of silver wire helped to lead ink into the section. A thin gold bar over the upper part of the feed delayed drying out.

Slip-caps fitting onto variously sculpted sections helped but did not solve the insecurity of such a cap! A bayonet fitting did but was fiddly to fit. Mabie Todd experimented with all those designs. The winner was the Swan Safety Screw Cap.

I always have one or two vintage ED fillers in my ‘collection’. I enjoy using them. Most are a little too slender for an extended writing session in my arthritic hands but I can write a letter with one. They’re mostly not fussy about ink and can use whatever comes to hand. They’re almost all a century old now. That adds to the pleasure of using them.

Many of the best ED pens are snapped up by collectors and remain under glass. That’s fine. Collectors probably get just as much pleasure from a pen they don’t use as writers do from a pen they do use. But I would encourage people to use them. That’s what they were made for and they do it so well.


3 thoughts on “Eyedropper Pens

  1. Deb. I have the exact same one you have pictured….and a couple of lovely ‘Safety screw caps’ amongst others , and I love them so very much.
    The one like yours there has an almost hypodermic fine nib , which opens with ease to a considerable width, and the script it produces is just amazing.
    My eyedroppers are my favourite pens , and I find them very easy to maintain.

    I have some Swan Minors too , and notice that the SM1 s are not nearly as well built as the SM2 !! My SM 2 /60 s are much more substantial than the SM1 !?
    But as you have said, they often ( and mine have..) come with the most awesome soft flexible nibs 🤗😊.

    Keep well .

  2. Dear Deb,

    great post! This is a 3201?

    The 32xx eyedroppers are some of my dearest pens at all.
    Such elegant Swans with highly expressive nibs.

    Four of them are inked right now… dry iron gall inks (DRI, ESSRI…) are perfect here.
    Sure two of them suffer a bit from “variable wetness”, especially the 3213 (quasi an ef nib) –
    here the feed seems to be a mismatched one from a 3×12…

    Best wishes

    1. Hello Jens!
      I don’t know what it is, to be honest. Great little pen, a stub nib with some line variation. A thoroughly splendid writer. I love pre-1925 Swans! This one is going out today, heading over the Atlantic.

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