How can a question be answered definitively?

Can someone give me an example?


Question: What is a fountain pen?

Answer (from Wikipaedia):

A fountain pen is a pen that contains a reservoir of water-based liquid ink. The ink is fed to the nib through a “feed” via a combination of gravity and capillary action. Filling the fountain pen reservoir with ink involves replacing a disposable ink cartridge, filling the pen with an eyedropper, or using one of a variety of internal mechanisms which suck ink into the reservoir from a bottle through the nib. Older pens had an internal rubber sac which was squeezed and released to create the suction needed. Most modern pens can use either a disposable cartridge, or a removable reservoir with a screw or piston mechanism to fill the pen.
These Parker Duofolds from the 1920s used the Lucky Curve feed system and self-filled using a “button filler”. They were quite long; nearly 7 inches long when posted.
These Parker Duofolds from the 1920s used the Lucky Curve feed system and self-filled using a “button filler”. They were quite long; nearly 7 inches long when posted.


  • 1 History
  • 2 Using fountain pens
  • 3 Nibs
  • 4 Filling mechanisms
  • 5 Cartridges
  • 6 Fountain pens as works of art


The earliest historical record of a reservoir pen dates to the 10th century. The sultan of Egypt in 953 demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen which held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib via gravity and capillary action. It is likely, however that attempts at a fountain pen go back much further into the past.

In his Delicia Physic-Mathematicae (1636), Daniel Schwenter described a pen made from two quills. One quill served as a reservoir for ink inside the other quill. The ink was sealed inside the quill with cork. Ink was squeezed through a small hole to the writing point. The earliest surviving reservoir pens date to the 18th century. Progress in developing a reliable pen was slow, however, into the mid-19th century. That slow pace of progress was due to a very imperfect understanding of the role that air pressure played in the operation of the pens and because most inks were highly corrosive and full of sedimentary inclusions. Starting in the 1850s there was a steadily accelerating stream of fountain pen patents and pens in production. It was only after three key inventions were in place, however, that the fountain pen became a widely popular writing instrument. Those inventions were the iridium-tipped gold nib, hard rubber, and free-flowing ink. William B. Purvis, an African American, is credited with inventing the ink-feeding tube and patented it on January 7, 1890.

M. Klein and Henry W. Wynne received US patent #68445 in 1867 for an ink chamber and delivery system in the handle of the fountain pen.

The first fountain pens making use of all these key ingredients appeared in the 1850s. While a student in Paris, Romanian Petrache Poenaru invented the fountain pen; an invention which the French Government patented in May 1827. In the 1870s Duncan MacKinnon, a Canadian living in New York City, and Alonzo T. Cross of Providence, Rhode Island created stylographic pens with a hollow, tubular nib and a wire acting as a valve. Stylographic pens are now used mostly for drafting and technical drawing but were very popular in the decade beginning in 1875. It was in the 1880s that the era of the mass-produced fountain pen finally began. The dominant American producers in this pioneer era were Waterman and Wirt, based in New York City and Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, respectively. Waterman soon outstripped Wirt, along with the many companies that sprang up to fill the new and growing fountain pen market, and remained the market leader up until the early 1920s.

At this time fountain pens were almost all filled by unscrewing a portion of the hollow barrel or holder and inserting the ink by means of an eyedropper. This was a slow and messy system. Additionally, fountain pens tended to leak inside their caps and at the joint where the barrel opened for filling. Now that the materials problems had been overcome and the flow of ink while writing had been regulated, the next problems to be solved were the creation of a simple, convenient self-filler and the problem of leakage. Self-fillers began to come into their own around the turn of the century; the most successful of these was probably the Conklin crescent-filler, followed by A. A. Waterman’s twist-filler. The tipping point, however, was the runaway success of Walter A. Sheaffer’s lever-filler, introduced in 1912, paralleled by Parker’s roughly contemporary button-filler.

Meanwhile many inventors turned their attention to the problem of leakage. Some of the earliest solutions to this problem came in the form of a “safety” pen with a retractable point that allowed the ink reservoir to be stoppered like a bottle. The most successful of these came from F.C. Brown of the Caw’s Pen and Ink Co. and from Morris W. Moore of Boston. In 1907 Waterman began marketing a safety pen of its own that soon became the most widely distributed such pen. For pens with nonretractible nibs, the adoption of screw-on caps with inner caps that sealed around the nib by bearing against the front of the section effectively solved the leakage problem (such pens were also marketed as “safety pens”, as with the Parker Jack Knife Safety and the Swan Safety Screw-Cap).

In Europe, the German supplies company which came to be known as Pelikan and was started in 1838, first introduced their pen in 1929, based upon the acquisition of patents for solid-ink fountain pens from the factory of Slavoljub Penkala from Croatia (patented 1907, in mass production since 1911), and the patent of the Hungarian Theodor Kovacs for the modern piston filler by 1925.

The decades that followed saw many technological innovations in the manufacture of fountain pens. Celluloid gradually replaced hard rubber, which enabled production in a much wider range of colors and designs. At the same time, manufacturers experimented with new filling systems. The inter-war period saw the introduction of some of the most notable models, such as the Parker Duofold and Vacumatic, Sheaffer’s Lifetime Balance series, and the Pelikan 100.

During the 1940s and 1950s, fountain pens retained their dominance: early ballpoint pens were expensive, prone to leaks and had irregular inkflow, while the fountain pen continued to benefit from the combination of mass production and craftsmanship. This period saw the launch of innovative models such as the Parker 51, the Sheaffer Snorkel and the Eversharp Skyline, while the Esterbrook J series of lever-fill models with interchangeable steel nibs offered inexpensive reliability to the masses.

By the 1960s, refinements in ballpoint pen production gradually ensured its dominance over the fountain pen for casual use. Although cartridge-filler fountain pens are still in common use in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, particularly among schoolchildren, modern manufacturers (especially Montblanc) now market the fountain pen as a collectible item or a status symbol, rather than an everyday writing tool.

As of 2006, fountain pen manufacturers include Montblanc, Lamy, Faber-Castell, Parker, Pelikan, Namiki/Pilot, Caran d’Ache, Rotring, Visconti, Delta, Aurora, Stipula, Sheaffer, Hero (from China), Cross, and Waterman. Most fountain pen manufacturers also sell their own brand of inks, not necessarily manufactured by themselves, but there are independent manufacturers of fountain pen inks, including Private Reserve, Nathan Tardif’s Noodler’s Ink, Diamine and J. Herbin. The fountain pen inks of A.T. Cross are made by Pelikan, Bexley’s by Private Reserve and Yard-o-Led’s by Diamine.

Using fountain pens

Together with the mass-manufactured pencil and the introduction of cheap wood-based paper, the fountain pen was responsible for a major transformation in writing and in the nature of paperwork during the 19th century. They gave birth to the precursor of the modern office, which would only come about at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th with the gradual introduction of the typewriter and early duplicating machines.

The fountain pen and, to a lesser extent, the pencil replaced the relatively hard-to-use combination of the dip pen, blotter, and sand tray employed until then for writing. Using a dip pen was, in fact, a complex and often frustrating exercise due to the irregular flow of ink from the nib and other factors.

Fountain pens are regarded by many serious writers or artists to be the best tools for writing or drawing with ink on paper. However, they can be more expensive, harder to maintain, and more fragile than a ballpoint pen. In addition, they cannot be used with the various oil and particle-based inks (such as India ink) prized by artists, an ability found in dip pens, reeds, or quills.

That said, fountain pens require less hand pressure when writing than either ballpoint or rollerball pens. This allows for longer, more comfortable writing sessions with less hand fatigue.

The nib of the fountain pen is usually made of stainless steel or gold. Gold nibs are tipped with a hard, wear-resistant alloy that typically utilizes metals from the platinum group. The tipping material is often called “iridium”, even though hardly any penmakers still use that metal in their tipping alloys. Steel nibs may also have harder tips; those with un-tipped steel points will wear more rapidly due to abrasion by the paper. The nib will adjust itself more readily to the user’s style the more rapidly the nib wears down.

The nib usually has one slit cut down its center, to convey the ink down the nib by capillary action, as well as a “breather hole” of varying shape to promote the exchange of air for ink in the pen’s reservoir. The whole nib narrows to a point where the ink is transferred to the paper. Broad calligraphy pens may have several slits in the nib to increase ink flow and help distribute it evenly across the broad point. Nibs divided into three ‘tines’ are commonly known as ‘music’ nibs, as their broad line is suited for writing musical scores.

Although the most common nibs end in a round point of various sizes (fine, medium, broad), other nib shapes are available. Examples of this are oblique, reverse oblique, stub and italic.

Fountain pens dating from the first half of the 20th century are more likely to have flexible nibs, suited to the favored handwriting styles of the period. By the 1940s, writing preferences had shifted towards stiffer nibs that could withstand the greater pressure required for writing through copy paper to create duplicate documents. These more closely emulate the ballpoint pens modern users are experienced with, but are often described as feeling like “writing with a nail” by those who prefer the feel of a more flexible nib.

Filling mechanisms

The reservoirs of the earliest fountain pens were mostly filled by eyedropper. This was a relatively awkward and messy process: consequently very few eyedropper-filling pens are made today. However, the absence of complicated mechanisms meant that an eyedropper-filler could hold much more ink than could a self-filling pen of comparable size.

After the eyedropper-filler era came the first generation of mass-produced self-fillers, almost all using a rubber sac to hold the ink. The sac was compressed and then released by various mechanisms to fill the pen.

The Conklin crescent filler, introduced c. 1901, was one of the first mass-produced self-filling pen designs. The crescent filling system employs an arch-shaped crescent attached to a rigid metal pressure bar, with the crescent portion protruding from the pen through a slot and the pressure bar inside the barrel. A second component, a C-shaped hard rubber ring, is located between the crescent and the barrel. Ordinarily, the ring blocks the crescent from pushing down. To fill the pen, one simply turns the ring around the barrel until the crescent matches up to the hole in the ring, allowing one to push down the crescent and squeeze the internal sac.

Following the crescent filler came a series of systems of increasing complexity, reaching their apogee in the Sheaffer Touchdown and Snorkel systems. With the introduction of cartridge pens by Waterman-Jif, though, many of these systems were phased out in favour of convenience (but reduced capacity). Today, most pens use either a piston filler or a cartridge; many pens can use a converter, a device which has the same fitting as the pen’s cartridge, but has a filling mechanism and a reservoir attached to it. This enables a pen to either fill from cartridges, or from a bottle of ink.

The piston filler was first introduced in the original Pelikan of 1929 (although the concept was from Croatia). The idea was simple: turn a knob at the end of the pen, and a screw mechanism will draw a piston up the barrel, sucking in ink. While the capacity of these pens was less than that of the better sac systems and eyedropper pens, they were easier to fill. Their limited capacity is due to size of the piston unit: some of the earlier models had to dedicate as much as half of the pen length to the mechanism. The advent of telescoping pistons has improved this.

The Touchdown Filler was introduced by Sheaffer in 1949. It was advertised as an “Exclusive Pneumatic Down-stroke Filler.” To fill it, the cap is unscrewed at the top of the barrel and the plunger is drawn out to its full length. The nib is immersed in bottled ink, the plunger is pushed in briskly, and the cap is screwed on. The nib is kept in the ink for approximately 10 seconds to allow the reservoir to fill. Some of Sheaffer’s pens are exclusively Touchdown Fill, but some, such as the Legacy 2, can alternatively use a cartridge.


Most European fountain pen brands (for example Caran d’Ache, Faber-Castell, DuPont, Montegrappa, Stipula, Yard-O-Led, Pelikan, Waterman, Montblanc, Monteverde, Delta (brand) and Rotring) and some pen brands of other continents (for example Bexley, Retro51, Tombow and Acura) use so called “international cartridges” (AKA “European cartridges” or “standard cartridges” or “universal cartridges”), in short or long sizes, or both. It is to some extent a standard, so international cartridges of any manufacturer can be used in most fountain pens that accepts international cartridges. Also, converters that are meant to replace international cartridges can be used in most fountain pens that accept international cartridges. Some very compact fountain pens (for example Waterman Ici et La and Monteverde Diva) accept only short international cartridges. Converters can not be used in them (except for so-called mini-converters by Monteverde).

Many fountain pen manufacturers have at various times developed their own proprietary cartridges, for example Parker, Lamy, Sheaffer, Cross, and Namiki. Fountain pens from Aurora, Hero, Duke and Uranus accept the same cartridges and converters that Parker uses and vice versa. Cartridges of Aurora are slightly different from cartridges by Parker. Hero, Duke and Uranus have made few fountain pens that take international cartridges. Corresponding converters to be used instead of such proprietary cartridges are usually made by the same company that made the fountain pen itself. Some very compact fountain pens accept only proprietary cartridges made by the same company that made that pen, for example Sheaffer Agio Compact and Sheaffer Prelude Compact. It is not possible to use a converter in them at all. In such pens the only practical way to use another brand of ink is to fill empty cartridges with bottled ink using a syringe.

Fountain pen cartridges are closed by a small ball of plastic, held inside the ink exit hole by glue or by a very thin layer of plastic. When the cartridge is forced inside the pen, a small pin pushes in the ball, which falls inside the cartridge. Many schoolchildren make a hobby of opening used cartridges and collecting the balls inside, with predictably messy results.

Fountain pens as works of art

Fountain pens are often prized as works of art. Ornate pens are sometimes made of precious metals and jewels; others are inlaid with lacquer designs in a process known as maki-e. An avid community of pen enthusiasts collect and use antique and modern pens and also collect and exchange information about old and modern inks, ink bottles, and inkwells. Collectors often tend to prize being able to actually use the antiques, instead of merely placing them under glass for show.

This is not to say that all fountain pens are so called “expensive collectors’ items” (you can, of course, collect anything), however; good quality steel pens are available cheaply, particularly in Europe, and there are even some “disposable” fountain pens available.

A definitive answer is usually just a long, authoritative and complete one, Cooliegirly.

Perfect, Mister Micawber! :lol:

So, as it seems, a definitive answer would also be an exhaustive answer. I only knew the meaning of ‘final’ and I’d have said that ‘to answer definitively’ is ‘to answer once and for all’:

[i]- Will you marry me?

  • I’m not sure. Tell you what. I’ll give you a definitive answer tomorrow.[/i]

Hi Conchita

My first reaction was the same as yours. But after seeing MM’s response, I think that’s also a definitive answer. Maybe there are simply two types. :lol: