Filling Mechanisms

Notes IV: Filling Mechanisms

by David E. Silber

There are a wide variety of mechanisms that have been used—are still used—to draw ink into the fountain pen.  Some are:

1. Dip pens had no reservoirs, and had to be dipped constantly to refill the nib with ink.  (We used those pens when I was in elementary school, and so my left-hand and the paper were constantly smeared with ink.)

2. The first pens to actually hold ink internally unscrewed behind the nib, and were filled by an eye-dropped, then screwed tightly back together.  Messy, but they held a lot of ink, and are collectively called “eye-dropper pens.”

3. About 1912, Sheaffer patented a mechanism that used a lever.  When opened, the lever depressed a bar, which depressed the rubber sac inside the pen barrel, emptying the air.  When released, suction drew ink up into the bladder, or sac.   The lever method of filling is still found on some modern pens because it is simple and relatively reliable.

4. Just a bit later, Parker introduced a filling mechanism that used a button at the end of the pen barrel which depressed a bar and the sac within.  A highly sophisticated system, but surprisingly easy to service.

5. Other filling systems used a plunger within the barrel (without a rubber sac) to expel air, and then to draw up ink when the plunger is pulled or pushed  back.\

6. Variations included a sort of hybrid plunger called a “vac filler” by Parker that was half sac, half plunger.  Though it held more ink then a rubber sac, it is difficult to service.  Another is a “snorkel” arrangement that Sheaffer introduced, where an extending tube goes into the ink bottle to kept he pen nib dry.  Still another uses a twist mechanism, etc.

7. Since about 1960, most pens use pre-filled cartridges that fit into the pen’s feed, and are discarded when empty. They are convenient and clean, though the range of colors available is restricted. (Note:A problem is that some manufacturers no longer make cartridges to fit their earlier pens.) A “converter” fits into the pen where the cartridge would but allows the pen to be filled from an ink-bottle.