It was the summer of ’96, when I was introduced to my first fountain pen — Hero, a Chinese variety — by my father. Many of us who attended school through the 90s would recall using a fountain pen at some point. The charm of carrying around an inkpot, sometimes spilling it across the pages, is an evergreen memory in my life. So, a few years back, when my boss gifted me a Parker Beta Fountain Pen as my Secret Santa, I knew time travel was on the cards. Since then, my collection has grown steadily, including a Sheaffer, a Mont Blanc, a couple of JInhao, a few Flair, and Pierre Cardins and multiple Parkers. Most importantly, as I started using them, I realized there’s growing interest in the old-school nib and a community of users in Mumbai itself.
One visit to one of the iconic pen stores – Apsara Pen Mart – in Fort will give you an idea that the fountain pens are very much a part of the present as it was back in the day. So, in case you wish to inaugurate your very own fountain pen collection, here are a few tips.
Fountain pens are modern now
Remember how, sometimes, the nib would leak or the barrel would overflow, causing an unpleasant ‘Holi’ of ink? However, times have changed, and you don’t need to worry about leakage if you choose the right kind of filling mechanism. Here are some to consider:
Cartridges – They are the fountain-pen counterpart of refills. You can buy them in bulk, too; they are as cheap as 6 cartridges for Rs 20.
Converters – These help you change the ink using the rinse or flush technique. If you want to keep changing the colour of the ink, go for converters. Only downside: It fills half the amount of ink as compared to a regular cartridge.
Eyedroppers – In this mechanism, the barrel or the body of the pen becomes the ink counter. There’s an increased risk of leakage, but if you can ace the filling game, this can last as long as your pen does.
Weight and watch
Comfort is essential while selecting your first fountain pen. Writing instruments with beautiful heavy bodies can sometimes strain your arm if you write for long hours. There are some feather-light pens, however, that will make you feel like you are hardly holding anything. But with these, you need to be more careful about accidents, as they break easier.
Pro-tip: Make sure that your pen doesn’t pass through multiple hands, because the nib adjusts according to the angle you are used to writing in. It smoothens with time, hence, your pen gets used to your angle, and will roughen over time if various people write with it.
Know your nibs
Your first step to being a fountain pen user is to understand the lovely, complicated world of nibs. Here’s a starter pack:
Round nib: The most commonly used nib, it has a circular tip, and produces uniform width for all sorts of strokes. These are further classified into four types, Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium (M), and Broad (B) depending on the thickness.
Oblique nib: The tip is cut slightly at an angle to one side to increase smoothness.
Warranted nib: Look for engravings saying ‘warranted 14K’ or ‘warranted 10k’, indicating the gold content.
Italic nib: Designed mainly for calligraphy, the tips are wide and flat, and they produce broad down strokes and narrow cross strokes.
Hooded nib: Most of the nib, barring the tip, is shielded by a plastic hood. One of the earliest examples is a Parker 51.
A brief history of fountain pens in India
If you’re thinking of starting or growing your fountain pen collection, chances are that you’re already quite fascinated with this beautiful writing instrument. Here’s a glimpse of its evolution in India.
1932: Ratnam Pens, or Swadeshi Pens, is established. The Rajahmundry-based company has a framed letter from Mahatma Gandhi saying, “Dear Ratnam, I must thank you for the fountain pen… I have used it and it seems to be a good substitute for the foreign pens one sees in the bazaars.”
1951: Airmail, one of India’s first pen companies, is established in Vile Parle (E).
1962: Apsara Pen Mart is founded in Mumbai, as a roadside stall selling pens and watches.
1993: Flair Pens brings Pierre Cardin to India.
1996: Luxor launches Parker in India.
2002: William Penn establishes its first outlet in India to retail high-end brands.
Fountain Pen Resources in Mumbai
Maintaining a fountain pen collection is no joke, and it helps to have a few resources handy in case your favourites need a fix. Be very careful about who you trust your pens with; repairing certain kinds of pens is both an art and a science and there’s pretty much no substitute for experience and expertise in this matter.
We’ve curated some tried, tested, and trusted stores in the city that you can both buy pens from, as well as get them fixed.
SHUKLA AND CO: Shop no 18, Nagindas Master Road, Fountain, Fort. 2267 1157
APSARA PEN MART: Shop No. 65, MG Road, Fort. 2263 2633
MITHA PEN MART: 43, Yusuf Building, MG Marg, Fort. 2204 6626
LAXMI FOUNTAIN PEN DEPOT: 282, Abdul Rehman Street, Masjid. 2342 8472
JANATA BOOK CENTRE: Shop 14, Gopal Mansion, Station Road, Bandra (W). 2642 5593
Budget pens for beginners
Maybe it’s been a while since you last used one of these things. Don’t break the bank immediately; instead, pick out one of these and get used to the feel of putting pen to paper once again. Parker Beta and Parker Vector (Rs 200 – Rs500), Jinhao 611 (Rs 200), and Artex 62 (Rs 150 – Rs 200) are all recommended.
Guide to care
Do not apply much pressure when writing as that can damage the nib. When not in use, store the pen in a pen stand or a cup upside. If the nib points downwards, the ink can clog the feed.
Wash your pen once a month and every time before you change the ink colors. Use clean water to rinse the nib before changing colours. Keep rinsing the water until clear water comes out.
With the right amount of care and attention, a fountain pen can be passed on for generations.