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A ballpoint pen

A pen (Latin pinna, feather) is a long, thin, rounded device used to apply ink to a surface for the purpose of writing, usually paper. There are several different types, including ballpoint, rollerball, fountain, and felt-tip. Historically, reed pens, quill pens, and dip pens were used. Modern-day pens come in a variety of colors and assortments. The most common contain blue or black ink.



The main modern types of pens can be categorized by the kind of writing tip or point:

A letter written on paper with a rollerball pen, and the tip of that pen
  • A ballpoint pen dispenses viscous oil-based ink by rolling a small hard sphere, usually 0.7–1.2 mm and made of brass, steel or tungsten carbide.[1] The ink dries almost immediately on contact with paper. This type of pen is generally inexpensive and reliable. It has replaced the fountain pen as the most popular tool for everyday writing.
  • A rollerball pen dispenses a water-based liquid or gel ink through a ball tip similar to that of a ballpoint pen. The less-viscous ink is more easily absorbed by paper than oil-based ink, and the pen moves more easily across a writing surface. The rollerball pen was initially designed to combine the convenience of a ballpoint pen with the smooth "wet ink" effect of a fountain pen. Gel inks are available in a range of colors, including metallic paint colors and glitter effects.
  • A fountain pen uses water-based liquid ink delivered through a nib. The ink flows from a reservoir through a "feed" to the nib, then through the nib, due to capillary action and gravity. The nib has no moving parts and delivers ink through a thin slit to the writing surface. A fountain pen reservoir can be refillable or disposable, this disposable type being an ink cartridge. A pen with a refillable reservoir may have a mechanism, such as a piston, to draw ink from a bottle through the nib, or it may require refilling with an eyedropper. Refillable reservoirs are available for some pens designed to use disposable cartridges.
A fountain pen
  • A felt-tip pen, or marker, has a porous tip of fibrous material. The smallest, finest-tipped markers are used for writing on paper. Medium-tip markers are often used by children for coloring. Larger markers are used for writing on other surfaces such as cardboard boxes, whiteboards and for chalkboards, often called "liquid chalk" or "chalkboard markers." Markers with wide tips and bright but transparent ink, called highlighters, are used to mark existing text. Markers designed for children or for temporary writing (as with a whiteboard or overhead projector) typically use non-permanent inks. Large markers used to label shipping cases or other packages are usually permanent markers.
Reynolds pen used in India

Historic types

These historic types of pens are no longer in common use:

  • A dip pen (or nib pen) consists of a metal nib with capillary channels, like that of a fountain pen, mounted on a handle or holder, often made of wood. A dip pen usually has no ink reservoir and must be repeatedly recharged with ink while drawing or writing. The dip pen has certain advantages over a fountain pen. It can use waterproof pigmented (particle-and-binder-based) inks, such as so-called India ink, drawing ink, or acrylic inks, which would destroy a fountain pen by clogging, as well as the traditional iron gall ink, which can cause corrosion in a fountain pen. Dip pens are now mainly used in illustration, calligraphy, and comics (notably manga).
  • A quill is a pen made from a flight feather of a large bird, most often a goose. Quills were used as instruments for writing with ink before the metal dip pen, the fountain pen, and eventually the ballpoint pen came into use. The shaft of the feather acts as an ink reservoir, and ink flows to the tip by capillary action. Quill pens were used in medieval times to write on parchment or paper. The quill eventually replaced the reed pen.
  • A reed pen is cut from a reed or bamboo, with a slit in a narrow tip. Its mechanism is essentially similar to that of a quill. The reed pen has almost disappeared but it is still used by young school going students in some parts of Pakistan, who learn to write with them on small timber boards known as "Takhti". Popular belief has it that writing with a reed pen improves handwriting.


Ancient Indians were the first to use the pen. According to ancient text the earliest of pens made in India used bird feathers , bamboo sticks etc. The old literature of Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharta used this kind of pen roughly 5000 BC. Ancient Egyptians had developed writing on papyrus scrolls when scribes used thin reed brushes or reed pens from the Juncus Maritimus or sea rush [2]. In his book A History of Writing, Steven Roger Fischer suggests that on the basis of finds at Saqqara, the reed pen might well have been used for writing on parchment as long ago as the First Dynasty or about 3000 BC. Reed pens continued to be used until the Middle Ages although they were slowly replaced by quills from about the 7th century. The reed pen is still used in some parts of Pakistan by young students and is used to write on small boards made of timber. The reed pen is generally made from bamboo

The quill pen was used in Qumran, Judea to write some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then introduced into Europe by around 700 AD. It was used in 1787 to write and sign the Constitution of the United States of America. The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 on the northwest bank of the Dead Sea date back to around 100 BC. At that time they were written in Hebrew dialects with bird feathers or quills. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europeans had difficulty in obtaining reeds and began to use quills. There is a specific reference to quills in the writings of St. Isidore of Seville in the 7th century[3]. Quill pens were used until the 19th century.

A copper nib was found in the ruins of Pompei showing that metal nibs were used in the year 79[4]. There is also a reference in Samuel Pepys' diary for August 1663. A metal pen point was patented in 1803 but the patent was not commercially exploited. John Mitchell of Birmingham started to mass produce pens with metal nibs in 1822[5], and thereafter the quality of steel nibs had improved enough that dip pens with metal nibs came into generalized use.

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 earliest historical record of a reservoir fountain pen dates back to the 10th century. In 953, Ma'ād al-Mu'izz, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, 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.[6][7] While a student in Paris, Romanian Petrache Poenaru re-invented the fountain pen, which the French Government patented in May 1827. Fountain pen patents and production then increased in the 1850s, especially steel pens produced by the same John Mitchell.

Waterman pen and fountain pens made for Air France’s Concorde

In his Deliciae Physico-Mathematicae (1636), German inventor 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 first patent on a ballpoint pen was issued on October 30 1888, to John J Loud[8]. In 1938, László Bíró, a Hungarian newspaper editor, with the help of his brother George, a chemist, began to work on designing new types of pens including one with a tiny ball in its tip that was free to turn in a socket. As the pen moved along the paper, the ball rotated, picking up ink from the ink cartridge and leaving it on the paper.

Bíró filed a British patent on June 15, 1938. In 1940 the Bíró brothers and a friend, Juan Jorge Meyne, moved to Argentina fleeing Nazi Germany and on June 10, filed another patent, and formed Bíró Pens of Argentina. By the summer of 1943 the first commercial models were available[9]. Erasable ballpoint pens were introduced by Papermate in 1979 when the Erasermate was put on the market.[10]

Modern marker pens

In the 1960s the fibre, or felt-tipped pen was invented by Yukio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company, Japan[11]. Papermate's Flair was among the first felt-tip pens to hit the U.S. market in the 1960s, and it has been the leader ever since. Marker pens and highlighters, both similar to felt pens have become popular in recent years.

Rollerball pens were introduced in the early 1980s. They make use of a mobile ball and liquid ink to produce a smoother line. Technological advances achieved during the late 1980s and early 1990s have improved the roller ball's overall performance. A porous point pen contains a point that is made of some porous material such as felt or ceramic. A high quality drafting pen will usually have a ceramic tip, since this wears well and does not broaden when pressure is applied while writing.

Although the invention of the personal computer with the keyboard input method have changed how users write, the pen has not been entirely replaced.[12] Higher end pens including archaic types such as fountain pens are still a status symbol.[13][14]


United States

Statistics on writing instruments (including pencils) from WIMA (the U.S. Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association) show that in 2005, retractable ball point pens were by far the most popular in the United States (26%), followed by standard ball point pens. (14%). Other categories represented very small fractions (3% or less)[15]. There is however also a thriving industry in luxury pens, often fountain pens, sometimes priced at $1000 or more.[16]

See also


  1. ^ "How does a ballpoint pen work?". Engineering. HowStuffWorks. 1998–2007. Retrieved 2007-11-16. 
  2. ^ Egyptian reed pen Retrieved March 16, 2007.
  3. ^ The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Cambridge Catalogue Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  4. ^ Arnold Wagner - Dip Pens. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  5. ^ More about the pen trade from The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter site. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  6. ^ Bosworth, C. E. (Autumn 1981), "A Mediaeval Islamic Prototype of the Fountain Pen?", Journal of Semitic Studies XXVl (i) 
  7. ^ ""Origins of the Fountain Pen "". Retrieved September 18 2007. 
  8. ^ GB Patent No. 15630, October 30, 1888
  9. ^ The Ballpoint Pen, Quido Magazin. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  10. ^ Papermate official site.
  11. ^ History of Pens & Writing Instruments, About Inventors site. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  12. ^
  13. ^ The power of the pen
  14. ^
  15. ^ WIMA website. Retrieved March 12, 2007.
  16. ^ Low-tech luxury Gift or accessory, jewelry designers see business in luxe writing tools, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, March 12, 2007.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PEN (Lat. penna, a feather, pen), an instrument for writing or for forming lines with an ink or other coloured fluid. The English word, as well as its equivalents in French (plume) and in German (Feder), originally means a wing-feather, but in ancient times the implements used for producing written characters were not quills. The earliest writing implement was probably the stilus (Gr. -ypa j L), a pointed bodkin of metal, bone or ivory, used for producing incised or engraved letters on boxwood tablets covered with wax. The calamus (Gr. KaAaµos) or arundo, the hollow tubular stalk of grasses growing in marshy lands, was the true ancient representative of the modern pen; hollow joints of bamboo were similarly employed.

An early specific allusion to the quill pen occurs in the writings of St Isidore of Seville (early part of the 7th century),' but there is no reason to assume that it was not in use at a still more remote date. The quills still largely employed among Western communities as writing instruments are obtained principally from the wings of the goose (see Feather). In 1809 Joseph Bramah devised and patented a machine for cutting up the quill into separate nibs by dividing the barrel into three or even four parts, and cutting these transversely into "two, three, four and some into five lengths." Bramah's invention first familiarized the public with the appearance and use of the nib slipped into a holder. In 1818 Charles Watt obtained a patent for gilding and preparing quills and pens, which may be regarded as the precursor of the gold pen. But a more distinct advance was effected in 1822, when J. I. Hawkins and S. Mordan patented the application of horn and tortoise-shell to the formation of pen-nibs, the points of which were rendered durable by small pieces of diamond, ruby or other very hard substance, or by lapping a small piece of thin sheet gold over the end of the tortoise-shell.

Metallic pens, though not unknown in classical times - a bronze pen found at Pompeii is in the Naples Museum - were little used until the 19th century and did not become common till near the middle of that century. It is recorded that a Birmingham split-ring manufacturer, Samuel Harrison, made a steel pen for Dr Joseph Priestley in 1780. Steel pens made and sold in London by a certain Wise in 1803 were in the form of a tube or barrel, the edges of which met to form the slit, while the sides were cut away as in the case of an ordinary quill. Their price was about five shillings each, and as they were hard, stiff and unsatisfactory instruments they were not in great demand. A metallic pen patented by ' "Instrumenta scribae calamus et penna; ex his enim verba paginis infiguntur; sed calamus arboris est, penna avis, cujus acumen dividitur in duo." Bryan Donkin in 1808 was made of two separate parts, flat or nearly so, with the flat sides placed opposite each other to form the slit, or alternatively of one piece, flat and not cylindrical as in the usual form, bent to the proper angle for insertion in the tube which constituted the holder. To John Mitchell probably belongs the credit of introducing machine-made pens, about 1822, and James Perry is believed to have been the first maker of steel slip pens. In 1828 Josiah Mason, who had been associated with Samuel Harrison, in the manufacture of split rings, saw Perry's pens on sale in Birmingham, and after examining them saw his way both to improve and to cheapen the process of making them. He therefore put himself in communication with Perry, and the result was that he began to make barrel pens for him in 1828 and slip pens in 182 9. Perry, who did much to popularize the steel pen and bring it into general use, in his patent of 1830 sought to obtain greater flexibility by forming a central hole between the points and the shoulders and by cutting one or more lateral slits on each side of the central slit; and Joseph Gillot, in 1831 described an improvement which consisted in forming elongated points on the nibs of the pens.

The metal used consists of rolled sheets of cast steel of the finest quality made from Swedish charcoal iron. These sheets, after being cut into strips of suitable width, annealed in a mufflefurnace and pickled in a bath of dilute sulphuric acid to free the surface from oxidized scale, are rolled between steel rollers till they are reduced to ribbons of an even thickness, about in. From these ribbons the pen blanks are next punched out, and then, after being embossed with the name of the maker or other marks, are pierced with the central perforation and the side or shoulder slits by which flexibility is obtained. After another annealing, the blanks, which up to this point are flat, are "raised" or rounded between dies into the familiar semicylindrical shape. The next process is to harden and temper them by heating them in iron boxes in a muffle-furnace, plunging them in oil, and then heating them over a fire in a rotating cylindrical vessel till their surfaces attain the dull blue tint characteristic of spring-steel elasticity. Subsequently they are "scoured" in a bath of dilute acid, and polished in a revolving cylinder. The grinding of the points with emery follows, and then the central slit is cut by the aid of two very fine-edged cutters. Finally the pens are again polished, are coloured by being heated over a fire in a revolving cylinder, and in some cases are coated with a varnish of shellac dissolved in alcohol. Birmingham was the first home of the steel-pen industry, and continues its principal centre. The manufacture on a large scale was begun in the United States about 1860 at Camden, N. J., where the Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1866.

Metals other than steel have frequently been suggested by inventors, those most commonly proposed being gold, silver, zinc, German silver, aluminium and aluminium bronze. Dr W. H. Wollaston, it is recorded, had a gold. pen composed of two thin strips of gold tipped with rhodium, apparently made on the principle patented by Donkin in 1808, and Lord Byron used one in 1810. Gold being extremely resistant to corrosion, pens made of it are very durable, but the metal is too soft for the points, which wear quickly unless protected by some harder material. For this purpose iridium is widely employed, by fusing the gold round it with a blowpipe.

Various devices have been adopted in order to increase the time for which a pen can be used without a fresh supply of ink. These fall into two main classes. In one, the form of the nib itself is modified or some attachment Pens. is added, to enlarge the ink capacity; in the other, which is by far the more important, the holder of the pen is utilized as a cistern or reservoir from which ink is supplied to the nib. Pens of the second class, which have the further advantage of being portable, are heard of under the name of "fountain inkhorns" or "fountain pens" so far back as the beginning of the 18th century, but it was not till a hundred years later that inventors applied themselves seriously to their construction. Joseph Bramah patented several plans; one was to employ a tube of silver or other metal so thin that it could be readily squeezed out of shape, the ink within it being thus forced out to the nib, and another was to fit the tube with a piston that could slide down the interior and thus eject ink. In modern fountain pens a feed bar conveys, by capillary action, a fresh supply of ink to replace that which has been left on the paper in the act of writing, means being also provided by which air can pass into the reservoir and fill the space left empty by the outflowing ink. In another form of reservoir pen, which is usually distinguished by the name stylograph, there is no nib, but the ink flows out through a minute hole at the end of the holder, which terminates in a conical point. An iridium needle, held in place by a fine spring, projects slightly through the hole and normally keeps the aperture closed; but when the pen is pressed on the paper, the needle is pushed back and allows a thin stream of ink to flow out.

See J. P. Maginnis, "Reservoir, Stylographic and Fountain Pens," Cantor Lectures, Society of Arts (1905).

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Simple English

A pen (Latin: pinna, feather) is a tool used for writing or drawing. The ink of the pen is pressed onto paper and dries very fast.

Quill pens are one of the oldest type of pens. A quill pen is the feather of a bird, usually a goose. The end of the feather (the quill) was kept very sharp and had to be dipped into ink after every few words.

Dip pens are an old type of pen. Like the quill pen, they have to be dipped in ink many times during writing or drawing. The writing end, called the "nib", is made of metal.

Fountain pens are like dip pens, but can hold enough ink inside to write several pages before being refilled.

A ballpoint pen is usually a cylindrical plastic shaft with a smaller shaft that holds ink. It has a very small metal ball on the writing end that rolls the ink onto the paper.

A stylus is a pen that cannot write on paper and is usually made out of plastic. They are usually used with touchscreens.

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