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The anatomy of a fountain pen

September 01, 2021 5 min read

The anatomy of a fountain pen

In 1883 Lewis Edson Waterman created the first fountain pen using the radius of a wheel. Since then, the fountain pen world has evolved a lot in terms of materials and shapes. However, there are always four main parts in each fountain pen: the barrel, the cap, the charging system and, last but not least, the nib.

The body

Nowadays, we can find fountain pens whose bodies have been elaborated with an immense range of exceptional materials.

Sometimes the material in which the barrel is made becomes a hallmark of the brand. For example, the most exotic woods are a distinctive mark of Graf von Faber-Castell pieces, such as the celluloid known as Auroloid is of Aurora.

The same is true for Japanese writing brands that manufacture traditional and complex pieces in which tradition and craftsmanship play a fundamental role. Thus, Nakaya is well-known for its ebonite pieces covered lacquered with Urushi.

In turn, we can distinguish three parts in the body .

  1. The grip section: This is the closest part to the nib, where it is inserted (or grabbed in the case of inlaid nibs). Generally, it remains covered by the cap when the fountain pen is closed. In some cases, we find that the grip section has been made with a different material than the rest of the body in order to turn this part into another ornament of the fountain pen. This is the case of Visconti Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

  2. The central part or barrel

  3. The rear section or culotte: generally made with the same material as the body. On one hand, we find fountain pens where the rear section is a continuation of the barrel, connected with it. One the other hand, there are fountain pens with a piston filling system that feature a gyratory culotte that allows to charge the fountain pen with ink.

The cap

This part not only protects the nib when the fountain pen is not being used, but it also prevents the ink from drying. Generally the cap presents ventilation holes to eliminate moisture condensation inside. Normally, it is made of the same material as the body, however some brands such as Graf Von Faber Castell, create caps in a different material given their fountain pens a special aesthetic.

Usually, the cap includes different components that embellish the piece:

  1. Lip: the inner part of the cap that allows close the piece properly.

  2. Finial: close to the top of the cap, where the clip is usually inserted. This part is especially important in the collection “Lord of the Rings Eye of Sauron” by Montegrappa, since these pieces present a gold-plated brass ring which can be unfastened and removed from the cap.

  3. Top: Integrated in the finial, is the top of the cap that we see if we put the fountain pen lengthwise in front of our eyes. This part is generally used by the brands to include some decorative element, such as a detail of the limited edition it belongs to, like the Scribo Letteratura, or the brand's logo, as Twsbi does.

  4. Clip: Often made with the same material of the rest of trims of the fountain pen. Initially it was designed as a tool to hold your pen, but nowadays it is also a distinctive sign of the brand, as it happens in Pelikan pens.

As a matter of fact, during the Second World War, the American army banned the wearing of any element that could be confused with the insignia of their uniform. Therefore, Sheaffer created smaller clips for their fountain pens so that they are known as Military clips.

Clips are so popular that one distinctive feature of the Cigar collection by the Japanese house Nakaya is the lack of them. Nevertheless, they have designed the rolling stopper for those who want to add a detail to these minimalist pieces.

We can find different cap closing systems, the most common are: pressing, gyratory, magnetic and screw on caps.

Although the cap plays a quintessential role in the design of the great majority of fountain pens, not all of them have one. We refer to retractable fountain pens, functional writing items that offer the convenience of a click pen without renouncing the smooth writing experience of a fountain pen. The brands that stand out for having well developed these complex and sophisticated mechanisms are Pilot with the Capless line, Platinum with Curidas collection, and finally Lamy with the model Dialog 3.

Charging system

It is the part of the fountain pen inside the barrel, which stores ink. Depending on the size and model, the charging system of the fountain pens vary from ink cartridges to converters or piston fillers. Learn more on our blog post: Fountain pen filling mechanisms


Finally, the nib. It is the most important part given that it will allow us to write. It can be both made of or plated in different materials such as: stainless steel, gold, palladium or ruthenium.

Furthermore, among gold nibs we can find different types of caratages: Nakaya and Platinum collections usually feature a 14K gold nib, Montblanc and Montegrappa Special Editions use 18K gold nibs, Sailor is well known for its 21K or 24K nibs , and finally Visconti chooses 23K palladium nibs for more of its Limited Editions and some of their regular lines like the Homo Sapiens or Divina lines.

Inside the nib, we can find different parts:

nib parts
  1. Slit: the very thin cut running from the breather hole to the tip of the nib that carries the ink from the feed to the tip and absorbs ink from the feeder allowing us to write. It is also known as channel of ink and air. Sometimes, we can find more than one channel, more than one, as in the case of music nibs.

  2. Feeder: normally is a black part made of plastic or ebonite; whose design is similar to a toothed comb. Its main function is to channel the ink from the reservoir to the nib in a way that it does not drip but flows continuously. It's thanks to the grooves at the bottom of the feed channel that the ink can descend by capillarity instead of descending by gravity. The principle of capillarity is the key which turned the fountain pen into a revolutionary invention.

  3. The fins: their main function is to regulate the ink flow which can vary depending on factors beyond the control of the manufacturer such as: temperature, cleaning or the way of writing. Thus, the fins collect the excess of ink and to avoid the dripping, and provide extra ink when it scarces.

  4. Breather hold or vent hold: a hole in the nib designed in order to allow air to go inside the nib and prevent it from breaking when we overpressure it while writing. When the ink comes out of the reservoir, a vacuum is created and if it is not regularly filled with air, the ink won’t flow.

  5. Tines: Side parts in which the nib is divided by the channel of air and ink.

  6. Tip: also known as Iridium due to material of which it used to be made. This is the part of the fountain pens that is in direct contact with the paper. You can find different tip shapes that will create a distinctive point to each stroke. Thus, some of the most special ones, and chosen by calligraphy lovers are the nibs stubs and italics that present a straight tip.

Understanding the functions of each component, will allow you to choose the option that best suits you, or make the best out of the fountain pen that you already have.

If you need more information just contact us, our team will be glad to help you.

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