The persistence of ink

Fountain pens are lovely and useful tools, but, like all tools, they have to be maintained or they quickly become useless. And that means a thorough cleaning every few weeks when they’re used regularly and whenever you get to it when they’re not.

I have four fountain pens currently on my desk, which is a small sample of my collection; I am an unabashed “penophile” and own hundreds of pens of every type. I don’t use any of them as often as I should, unfortunately.

fountain pens

The ink runs out or dries up eventually, so I have to take them apart and clean them. Yesterday I cleaned the red pen, which has a converter (a refillable ink cartridge that has a screw mechanism for drawing up the ink from a bottle). I rinsed both the nib and the converter under running water until the water ran clear, then, because I’ve had fountain pens for a long time and I know their ways, I put the parts in clean water and let them soak overnight. The persistence of ink is such that even when you think that pen is clean, it really isn’t. Not by a long shot.

fountain pen parts being cleaned

The water this morning was almost dark enough to be used as ink itself. So I rinsed the parts again, and let them stand in clean water again until no more ink washed out, then refilled and reassembled the pen.

It beats sharpening a quill with a pocketknife, for sure, but is still more work than most people want to do with their writing instruments. Cheap, predictable, disposable and always “on” are great qualities in a pen, none of which apply to fountain pens.


They are expensive and so is the ink they use. They leak. They skip. They blob. The nib has to be protected so that it doesn’t get tweaked out of alignment because once it does, the pen is ruined. And of course, nibs eventually wear out with continuous use. You risk terrible stains if you travel with one in your pocket, especially on an airplane. Sometimes they write and sometimes they don’t, and you never know when they’re going to dry up on you. You have to replace the ink cartridge or fill the converter frequently when you’re using the pen. Refilling can get very messy if you’re not careful. Some people think using fine pens is pretentious and will mock you it at every opportunity and tell you how they would never spend that much money on a pen (Mont Blanc users, in particular, get this a lot).

Without question, a quality fountain pen makes a bold statement, and you have to have the courage of your convictions to use one. And you have to be willing to care for it, like a chef cares for his knives.

But there’s nothing quite like the heft and balance of a finely made pen or the glide of a gold nib across the page as your words spool out of your hand. Ink has its own inimitable magic, and the simple act of putting pen to paper, I am certain, activates different pathways and synapses in the brain than the ones used for keyboarding. That can lead one to think differently, have different ideas, use different words, craft different stories. Different is good.

So much of my communication is done on and through my computer now that I relish the chance to get a pen in my hand and write, actually write, the words that run through my head.

The pen is mightier than the sword, so in this dangerous world, I always carry a pen. ~ Ashleigh Brilliant



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