logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Fountain pens for writing
in the mid 20th century

YOU ARE HERE: home > communication

While I was growing up, everyone other than office workers, wrote with pen and ink. By the 1950s I, like most children, had graduated from a pen which had to be dipped into ink to a fountain pen. Fountain pens could store ink.

The following images are courtesy of Heritage Vintage Pens who sell and repair such pens.

Old lever-style fountain pen with its top screwed on for carrying around

Old fountain pen with its top screwed on for carrying around. Note the lever at the side.

Old lever-style fountain pen ready for use

Old fountain pen ready for use, with its top unscrewed and pushed onto the back of the pen. This not only held it tidily, it also lengthened the pen making its balance better for writing.

Inside an old lever-style fountain pen showing the rubber reservior for holding the ink

Inside the fountain pen, showing the rubber ink reservoir - for illustrative purposes only as the pen could be filled with ink without opening it up.

When the pen was empty of ink, It was filled by dipping the nib into ink and repeatedly using a finger nail to pull out and let go the lever on the side. This accordingly squashed and released the reservoir drawing ink up into it. It was full when the process no longer generated bubbles in the ink.

The flow of ink from this type of pen was smooth resulting in even writing.

Filling a fountain pen

Old ink bottle containing ink for filling fountain pens

Ink bottle containing black ink. Photographed in Milton Keynes Museum

Fountain pens had a rubber balloon-like reservoir inside the body of the pen which stored the ink - see the photos above. Thus reservoir had to be squeezed and let go to suck up the ink through the nib from an ink bottle. A lever on the side of the pen did the squeezing (Much later, ink cartridges were the norm, which dispensed with the messy business of having to fill the pen.)

to top of page

Advantages of fountain pens over ordinary pens

Fountain pens had the advantage over the old style pens because they didn't have to be repeatedly dipped into ink. The flow of ink was smooth and continuous which made the writing appear much neater.

However fountain pens did tend to leak. Also, like with all pens, we had to let the ink dry on a page before turning it over or folding it. Blotting paper was available but never seemed to be on hand when needed in ordinary homes. Better-off homes and businesses had all these things ready laid out on desks, often in matching sets.

to top of page

Styles of fountain pens

1940s and 1950s business man's breast pocket with a range of fountain pens and propelling pencils clipped inside and a white pocket handkerchief - all the unspoken 'uniform' of his work

Business man's breast pocket with a range of fountain pens and propelling pencils clipped inside and a white pocket handkerchief - all the unspoken 'uniform' of his work. Screenshot from an old film.

A range of fountain pens were sold with different width nibs and with different body colours and decorations. Some were quite expensive and seemed to be status symbols. Like many status symbols, they were often sold in plush padded boxes and with matching propelling pencils - a common fall-back birthday or Christmas present. (Silver propelling pencils also seemed to be status symbols, but I never saw any that weren't tarnished and dirty-looking. They didn't appeal to me at all.)

to top of page

Personal fountain pens

Everyone seemed to be very fussy about no-one else using their fountain pens because the pressure of a different hand was supposed to spoil the nib for the original user. I don't know how true this was, but it seemed to maintain the status symbol image.

If you can add anything to this page, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

to top of page

facebook icon twitter icon

This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.