Fountain Pen History, the end!

Well, almost.  This is a Biro De Luxe dating from around 1950 and it is this pen and those very much like it, not the very early ballpoints, that caused global panic among the giants of the fountain pen industry.

The very first pen to feature a rotating ball to put ink to paper was invented by a Mr. John. J. Loud, he was granted a patent for a rotating  ball device on 30th October 1888.  Unfortunately, while the idea was evidently sound the implementation was less so.  The pen wrote intermittently, often clogged up and would only write at all when held perfectly vertically, and, as a result the venture failed and the idea was discredited.

Exactly fifty years later, in 1938, a Hungarian journalist and inventor, Lazlo Biro, patented a much improved version that actually worked reasonably well.  He acquired another patent in Argentina in 1943, he and his brother had emigrated there in 1940.

The ‘Biro’ pen was further improved and the British Royal Air Force became very interested in the technology as it was ideal for use by bomber crews during WW2 as fountain pens were notoriously unreliable at high altitudes and varying air pressures.

Biro sold the patent to Harry Martin, a British businessman who collaborated with the ‘Miles Aircraft Company’ to set up the ‘Miles Martin Pen Company’  and manufacture the Biro ballpoint pen.

Immediately after the cessation of hostilities the revolutionary new writing instrument was launched.  The advertising boasted claims that were unthinkable for even the best fountain pen on the market. The new pen would, it was claimed:

* Never leak.

* Never smudge.

* Never ‘blob’.

* Dry immediately.

*Last 6 months without refilling.

*Work well with Carbon paper.

*Write on an aeroplane.

These claims could have immediately killed off the fountain pen industry were it not for one very important feature: it cost about a week’s wages for the average pen buyer at the time.

The ensuing delay of the onslaught of the ballpoint on the fountain pen industry gave the major pen manufacturers a little breathing time to plan for the future and, in 1947, when the rights to the ballpoint expired, other manufacturers, notably Mentmore/ Platignum were able to respond by bringing a ballpoint pen to market.  The average wage had also risen significantly since the end of the war and now a ballpoint pen was accessible and affordable.

In 1951 the Parker company, with typical thoroughness, improved the design and produced what was to become a market leader, the Parker ‘Jotter’.  Shortly afterwards it was improved further to incorporate a textured Tungsten ball which increased friction along with ink transference and an ingenious method of improving the lifetime of the ball.  Earlier ballpoints suffered from gradual wear to one side of the ball leading to flattening and failure to write.  Parker’s solution to this was to design the refill and the click action mechanism so that every time the pen was activated the refill rotated causing even wear and very little distortion at the point.  By 1958 the Jotter featured the Parker ‘Arrow’ clip and a metal collar at the end of the barrel to prevent splintering.  Six decades later the ‘Jotter’ is largely unchanged and still instantly recognised and a global best seller.

Unfortunately many of the lesser fountain pen manufacturers did not have the resources, finances, expertise and ingenuity of many of the giants of the industry, such as Parker, and, unable to compete in a radically changed environment were forced into liquidation.

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