Vintage and Classic Fountain Pens - Hepworth Dixon

Hepworth Dixon
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Glossary of Common Fountain Pen Terms
A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   R   S   T   U   V   W   Z
(also acrylic glass) Polymethyl methacrylate, a machineable thermoplastic resin of which pens are made, the most common synthetic polymer of methyl methacrylate (C5H8O2). Acrylic was first synthesized in 1928 and was first produced commercially in 1933. It is extremely tough and durable, and it can be manufactured in a broad variety of colours and patterns.

Discolouration of clear celluloid caused by slow oxidation. The colour of ambered celluloid can range from very slight to moderate to severe; severely ambered parts can be deep brown.

artist’s nib
A very flexible nib with a very fine point, usually 3XF (needlepoint). This type of nib allows an artist great latitude in the types of strokes he or she may use in drawing with pen and ink.

1. A person’s handwritten signature.
2. When capitalized and used in reference to writing instruments, Autograph indicates a pen or pencil with special provision (such as a solid gold cap band) for the engraving of a facsimile signature.


Term for writing that leans to the left. Backhand writing is most common among left-handed underwriters. Esterbrook advertised its Nº 2442 Falcon fine stub nib as being particularly suited for backhand writing. 

The "body” of the pen, generally cylindrical in shape; contains the ink reservoir (and filling system).

A German word (pronounced BIN-duh, plural Binden) meaning bandage, used to denote the (usually coloured celluloid) wrapper fitted around the barrel of a vintage Pelikan or similar pen.

A yellow alloy of copper and zinc, containing at least 50% copper. Specific brass alloys contain admixtures of other metals (e.g., tin, lead, or aluminium) to adjust mechanical properties or corrosion resistance. Electroplated brass is commonly used for metal pen parts such as trim rings and barrel ferrules, and it was formerly used by manufacturers of cheap nibs.

(adjectival form brassed, as in "a brassed clip’) The wearing away of a filled or plated metal surface to expose the base metal beneath (usually brass, hence the term).

breather hole
A small hole, drilled or punched into the point at the base of the split of the tines. Some breather holes on vintage pens were shaped like hearts, keyholes, or other fanciful designs. The breather hole is commonly supposed to assist smooth ink flow, although many pens do not have a breather hole and do just fine without it. The most practical purpose of the breather hole appears to be as a stress relief to prevent the point slit from spreading into a crack.

breather tube
A small plastic tube that runs from the end of the feed through the inside of the sac or barrel. During filling, ink is drawn in through this tube, and spills over into the reservoir or sac. The breather tube was adopted by some manufacturers (notably Parker and Eversharp) as a means to minimize leakage from pens used on aircraft (where the cabin pressure is often lower than normal sea level atmosphere).

(also stud, chiefly British usage) A type of filling system; operates by mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A button at the end of the barrel bends a spring-metal pressure bar to squeeze the sac laterally.


A detachable cover that snaps, slides, or screws onto the barrel to protect the nib and prevent evaporation of the ink supply.

cap band
(also band) A ring of metal placed around a cap near its open end for decoration or to reduce the tendency of the cap lip to split when the cap is posted too firmly onto a tapered barrel. Caps without bands are usually referred to as bandless. Vintage manufacturers swaged the cap band into a groove in the cap; a few modern makers still do this but most modern caps with bands are made in two parts and assembled with the band sandwiched between.

capillary cell
The perforated and rolled plastic film, enclosed in a metal tube, that forms the reservoir in the Parker 61’s capillary filling system.

A disposable single-use ink reservoir, generally made of polyethylene or other soft plastic. In use, the cartridge is pierced by a sharp "nipple” in the pen. Shown here is a Waterman C/F (economy model), the first widely successful cartridge pen, with a cartridge of blue ink. [Historical note] The earliest successful cartridge pens were produced by Eagle in the 19th century, and Waterman began making cartridge pens in France beginning in 1936 (an effort interrupted by the advent of World War II but revived at war’s end). Both of these companies’ pens used cartridges made of glass.

(abbreviated C/C) A type of filling system; uses a replaceable ink reservoir. A small nipple, usually of metal, is placed at the back of the section assembly to pierce a hole in the end of a pre-filled sealed removable cartridge. A converter that includes the reservoir and a filling system can be installed in place of a cartridge. The most common converter design uses the piston system. (Some makers also offer a modified version with a sliding tab instead of the usual twist knob; this is essentially a syringe filler.) Squeeze-type converters resemble an Aero-metric filler but lack a breather tube. View filling instructions here.

A protein derived from milk which is hardened by immersion in formaldehyde solution. Results in a beautiful, hard, lustrous material. This material was used extensively in European pen making during the 1940’s and 50’s prior to the advent of modern resins. Material is hygroscopic (absorbs water), avoid immersion in water at all costs.

(also celluloid; sometimes incorrectly referred to as pyroxylin) for a material of which pens are made, produced by plasticising cellulose nitrate (guncotton) with camphor. Beginning in about 1920, celluloid became the primary material for caps and barrels. More durable than hard rubber but less durable than many modern plastics, celluloid was supplanted in the 1940’s by acrylics, injection-moldable cellulose’s, and polystyrenes, but some modern manufacturers still produce pen models of celluloid. Celluloid has a charming warm feel in the hand and can be manufactured in many exciting solid and mixed colours. The manufacturing process for celluloid involves an extended curing period, and celluloid that is improperly cured is prone to crystallize, especially in thicker areas, and eventually crumble.

Machine-embossed or engraved with regular geometric patterns (fish scales, chevrons, etc.).

cigar shaped
A term describing a pen that is generally cylindrical in shape but tapers smoothly toward the ends, which are usually rounded to streamline the overall form.

A finger- or prong-shaped metal or plastic piece attached by one end to the cap, formed so that the other end presses against the cap as a clamp for securing the pen into a pocket or other similar location.

A pen with no clip on its cap. Clip-less pens were made primarily in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the latter part of this period, some companies offered the same pen models with or without clips.

clutch cap
A slip cap fitted with a set of spring fingers (the clutch) inside the open end to hold the cap on the pen body by friction against a clutch ring mounted on the body.

clutch ring
A decorative metal ring or band between the section and barrel of a pen with a slip-fitting cap. Good example would be on the Parker 51 which engages a set of metal spring fingers inside the cap (the clutch) to hold the cap in place.

A type of filling system; operates by mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, located beneath a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally when depressed by insertion of a coin or similar object into the hole. Some makers of coin fillers included their own "coin” discs with their pens.

(also convertor) A replaceable ink reservoir that can be refilled, designed for use in pens that accept cartridges. Converters exist in squeeze, piston, Touchdown, syringe, and button types, mimicking the respective filling systems but providing the convenience of cartridge use if desired. A sample is shown here with a cartridge (upper) and a piston-type converter (lower).

1. A fountain pen whose barrel is fitted with a blind cap that can be removed and replaced with a taper to convert the pen into a desk pen. Any pen whose filling system makes use of a blind cap can be fitted with a taper in this manner.
2. A pen that can be converted to use more than one filling system.


A pen that is made of clear material or has slots or holes cut out of it to expose the internal parts to view. Demonstrators were made so that dealers could show the features of standard pens to prospective purchasers. Modern clear pens, although they are usually called "demonstrators,” are intended for sale to the public and as such are not true demonstrators.

desk pen
A pen designed to be used as part of a desk set, as shown here. The barrel of a desk pen is finished with a taper for balance and appearance.

desk set
A set comprising one or more desk pens together with a desk base (of glass, metal, stone, or wood) with trumpets into which the pens are inserted point first.

A decorative part inserted in the end of a cap (usually more elaborate than a tassie or jewel).

Term used by Parker for the "inverted" rubber sacs used in Vacumatic filling pens (Vacumatics, 51s, etc.). The diaphragm seals the pen barrel and helps create the vacuum during filling, but does not contain the ink in the sense that a conventional sac does.

dry writer
A pen whose nib is adjusted to produce a light flow of ink (but not necessarily a fine line) that dries very rapidly. Because of limited lubrication from the restricted flow of ink, dry writers characteristically write less smoothly than pens adjusted for more flow.

A nib whose tip is shaped so that it can write when the pen is held inverted, with the nib facing downward toward the paper, as well as when the pen is held normally, with the nib facing upward. The line produced with the pen held inverted is finer than the line when the pen is held normally.


Hard rubber. When capitalized, a trademark currently held by Ebonite International, Inc.

(also 18C) A designation indicating an alloy that contains 18 parts of gold, by weight, per 24 parts of the total metal content. The same as 750.As a general rule, 18K nibs are actually inferior to 14K nibs in terms of their writing qualities. The higher gold content is marketed as a status and quality feature, but the real reason for it is that many countries have followed France’s lead in establishing laws requiring the alloy to be least 18K in order to be sold as "gold.” (This requirement’s original purpose was to prevent fraud in the jewellery trade.) See also karat.

A European mark indicating 18K rolled gold.

A Japanese mark indicating 18K rolled gold.

Decorated by the removal of material in an attractive design, generally by the use of a sharp scriber or similar tool. In reference to writing instruments, usually used to indicate the application of a person’s name or initials, or a personalized dedication.

1 A tube, usually of glass, that tapers to a small opening at one end and has a rubber bulb attached to the other end; used for dispensing small amounts of liquids in a controlled fashion, i.e., drop by drop. Early manufacturers often used the term filler to refer to the eyedropper supplied with an eyedropper-filling pen. 
2  (abbreviated ED) Colloquial term for an eyedropper-filling pen.

eyedropper filler
(colloquially shortened to eyedropper, abbreviated ED) Retronym indicating a fountain pen that has no self-filling mechanism. (Until the advent of self-filling pens, the term was unnecessary.) Operates by direct filling into barrel. Most eyedropper fillers unscrew, usually at the joint between section and barrel and ink is dripped into the pen with an eyedropper. In "safety” pens with retractable nibs, the ink is dripped into the opening that is left by the retracted nib. When self-fillers appeared, many manufacturers referred to eyedropper-filling pens as regular models to differentiate them from self-filling models. View filling instructions here.


(also feeder, feed bar, ink feed, underfeed) A usually cylindrical part against which the nib is placed, which carries ("feeds”) ink from the reservoir to the nib and delivers it in a controlled flow by means of capillary action. Feeds frequently have slots, combs, or other design elements providing increased surface area that capillary action can draw ink onto or release it from, as a means of controlling the evenness of flow (buffering). Early feeds were made of hard rubber; beginning in the late 1940’s, inexpensive feeds have been made of plastic, while high-quality feeds are still made of hard rubber.

1 (also filling system or filling mechanism) The mechanism that draws ink into the pen’s ink reservoir.
2 Early manufacturers’ term for the eyedropper supplied with an eyedropper-filling pen.

A designation indicating an alloy that contains 585 parts of gold, by weight, per 1000 parts of the total metal content. The same as 14K.

(also flex, as in "flex nib”) An adjective describing a nib that is made of a springy alloy and is tempered and shaped especially so that its tines flex during use, spreading apart under increased pressure to yield line variation that is unique to the individual user’s handwriting.

(also 14C) A designation indicating an alloy that contains 14 parts of gold, by weight, per 24 parts of the total metal content. The same as 585. See also karat.

A European mark indicating 14K rolled gold. See also 14K.
A Japanese mark indicating 14K rolled gold.

FP, F.Pen
Fountain Pen

The German word for fountain pen, literally "fillable quill holder".

(also trim) The exterior metal parts of a pen, including the lever, cap band, tassie(s), clip, etc.


Glass cartridge

A disposable single-use ink reservoir made of glass, to fit pens produced by a small number of manufacturers.

glass nib
A nib made of glass. Glass nibs are made by heating a bundle of glass rods and stretching with a slight twisting action to pull the individual strands together as they grow thinner, creating a tapered shape resembling a flame. After the glass cools, it is cut or broken at the thinnest point, which is then ground to shape. In use, ink flows to the tip by capillary action along the "cracks” between the strands of glass.

A soft, lustrous, very malleable yellow metal (atomic number 79) that is virtually impervious to corrosion or tarnish. Used to make pen bodies, furniture, and nibs. The purity of gold is measured in karats (24K = pure gold) or parts per thousand (1000 = pure gold). Pure gold is too soft to be used alone; mixing it with various other metals creates alloys of the desired hardness or colour.

gold filled - gold plated
Gold filled is made by placing a piece of brass or other cheaper base metal and placing it between 2 pieces of gold. The 3 pieces were then bonded together to make one piece of metal. It was then run through rollers until it was thinned down to the desired thickness.
Plating is the general name of surface-covering techniques in which a metal is coated onto a solid surface. It is also used for decorative purposes, typically to provide a silver or gold exterior. Electroplating is one of the plating techniques.
- Gold-filled: Describes a base metal part with a layer of heavy gilding fused to its surface
- Gold-plated: Describes a base metal part with thinner gilding, typically applied by chemical or electrical plating with gold.

Gold Plate, Gold Plated or Gold Electro-Plated.

gripping section
(also neck, point section, section) A small tubular part, usually about the length of a finger joint, that is attached to one end of the barrel and into which are inserted the nib and feed. In pens that do not use the entire barrel as an ink reservoir, the gripping section provides a mount for the sac, cartridge, or other reservoir.


hard rubber
(also ebonite or Vulcanite) A material of which pens are made, more fragile and less resistant to wear than most plastics. Until 1924, hard rubber was the primary material for caps, barrels, sections, and feeds; it remained in use for feeds and sections into the 1940’s and is still used for high-quality feeds. Occasionally, a manufacturer will produce a modern pen model of hard rubber. Hard rubber appears in many colour varieties.

hooded nib
Describes a pen in which the point is largely covered by a plastic or metal shell (first seen in Parker 51s, and widely imitated). As well as being an interesting design, the hood keeps the point from drying out and also protects it against damage. It also makes servicing these pens more difficult and hides what many consider to be the most attractive feature of a fine fountain pen.


1. The manufacturer’s mark on a pen, usually on the barrel but sometimes on the cap.
2. The manufacturer’s mark on a nib.

inner cap
A liner inserted into a cap, usually having a flat surface at its open end against which the flat end of the gripping section (the table) mates to provide an airtight space in which the nib cannot dry out while the pen is capped. In some pens, the inner cap also secures the clip into the cap.

Writing fluid; the stuff that is actually deposited on the paper to leave marks. Fountain-pen ink is a water solution containing aniline dye for colour, a fungicide to inhibit mould growth, and a small amount of surfactant (wetting agent) for better flow. Artists' inks, such as India ink, are usually pigmented suspensions rather than solutions, and they will clog fountain pens

inset nib
A nib that is inset into an opening in a shell-type section such that the nib is flush or nearly flush with the shell’s surface. Inset nibs are usually secured in position by the application of an adhesive before installation but can, in most cases, be removed for repair or replacement.

1. A brittle silver-grey metal of the platinum group, formerly used as a nib tipping material because of its hardness. See also tipping material. Modern tipping alloys contain little or no iridium.
2. A colloquial misnomer for tipping material in general.


A decorative piece of metal, plastic, celluloid  or (rarely) semiprecious stone applied to one or both ends of a pen; frequently surrounded by a tassie. See tassie


(abbr. K or KT; also carat, abbr. C or CT) A system for specifying the quality of gold alloys by stating how many parts of gold per 24 parts of the total metal content, measured by weight, are contained in a given alloy. 24-karat (24K) is pure gold, 12K is 50% gold by weight, and so on. 14K and 18K are the alloys most commonly used in pens.


(also laque; more usually seen as laqué, literally "lacquered” ) A remarkably durable and very glossy clear coating made by dissolving nitrocellulose or a similar material together with pigment in a suitable vehicle and applying the solution to a surface. In reference to pens, usually used on metals.

A type of filling system; operates by mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, located beneath a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally. A pivoting lever is mounted in the slot, with its pivot about 1/3 of the distance from one end to the other. Lifting the lever’s longer end depresses the shorter end to push against the pressure bar.

lever box
A somewhat trough-shaped metal box, fitted into the barrel with tabs at the ends or sides, designed to provide a mount and pivot pin for the lever in a lever-filling pen.

A type of filling system; operates by mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, attached to a rotating knob at the end of the barrel, squeezes the sac by grasping and twisting it.

limited edition
(colloquially, LE) A pen model whose production run is limited to a predetermined number of pieces, which are usually serially numbered as piece Xof Y, imprinted or engraved on the pen as X/Y (e.g., 273/350). See also limited production, special edition.

limited production
A pen model whose production run is limited to a predetermined time period, with no specific limit on the number of pens to be produced during that period. See also limited edition, special edition.

lockdown (Speedline)
Unofficial common name for the first generation of Parker’s Vacumatic filler design; uses a slotted tubular metal plunger with notches cut at the outer ends of the slots to lock the plunger in the depressed position.

Parker’s name for the stainless steel caps of various Parker models (notably the "51”) beginning in the 1940s’. Most of these caps have a frosted surface finish, and it is this finish that most collectors today associate with the name.


Japanese for "sprinkled picture,” pronounced roughly mah-kee-eh) A decorative treatment; the application of abstract or figural artwork to a lacquered surface (usually urushi) using gold powder. The gold is applied while the surface is wet and sticky, and the wet lacquer bonds the gold in place. The technique can involve the application of dozens or even hundreds of extremely thin coats of lacquer. To create maki-e finishes of high quality requires many months of labour by highly skilled artisans, and pens bearing such designs are very costly. The maki-e designs on inexpensive pens are usually applied by silk-screening and embellished by hand.

1  A yellow colour used in the late 1920’s. Unpopular at that time, Mandarin are today rare and highly prized.
2  An orange colour used from 1956 to 1959.

Indicates an extremely rigid nib, intended to permit the heavy writing pressure needed to make impressions on multipart (carbon) forms.

marble / marbled
Having an irregular pattern made by combining two or more colours. The term is used to refer to plastic, not to hard rubber.

military clip
A clip that is affixed very close to the end of the cap and also is usually shorter than a standard clip, made so that the pen can be clipped into a pocket whose flap can then be buttoned over the pen to conceal it.

music nib
A nib that is relatively flexible and has a tip shaped like a broad stub italic with very soft edges to allow for extreme freedom of use, especially at very high angles of elevation relative to the paper, as when a composer or arranger writes on the music desk while sitting at a piano. Music nibs often have three tines, with two slits to support a very heavy flow.


New Old Stock
(abbreviated NOS) A term usually used to describe an item that was not sold at retail and has been out of production for some period. Does not specify condition, as such items can be shopworn or faded.

The part that carries ink from the pen and deposits it on the paper. Nibs are generally made of 14K or 18K gold alloy or of stainless steel; nibs have also been made of palladium and titanium alloys, and of glass. Nibs are made in varying degrees of firmness ranging from extremely flexible ("wet noodle”), for producing attractive line variation, to extremely rigid (manifold), for writing on multi-part forms.

nib creep
The spontaneous accumulation of ink on the top surface of a nib; the ink is said to "creep” up out of the slit. Some inks are more prone to creep than others, but the root cause of the phenomenon is a nib slit that is either damaged or manufactured with insufficient attention to finishing; nicks, scratches, etc., can create a capillary path across the edge between the slit wall and the top surface. Platinum-plated nibs are more prone to nib creep than are un-plated nibs because platinum is more wettable than gold.

nib grade
Term for the size of a nib’s tip. Historically, the standard round grades are Needlepoint (3XF), Account (XXF), extra fine (XF or EF), fine (F), medium (M), broad (B), double broad (BB), and triple broad (3B). Most pen manufacturers today limit their production to fine, medium, and broad nibs, with a few offering extra fine. There is no true standard among manufacturers, but most European nibs are similarly sized. Japanese nibs tend to run about a size finer for a given marking; a Japanese M is about the same size as a European F.

nib number
A number imprinted on a nib to indicate the physical size of the nib, used commonly on vintage nibs but almost never on modern nibs. Nib numbers do not indicate tip size or whether a given nib is firm or flexible. From smallest to largest, numbers ranged from Nº 0 to Nº 10 or Nº 12.
There is no standard numbering; thus, nibs from different manufacturers, even though they bear the same number, are different in size. Nib numbers commonly referred to by collectors.

nib size
Another term of nib grade

A hard silvery metal that is malleable, ductile, and resistant to corrosion; used in alloys and as a plating material (frequently as an under-plating for gold). Nickel is one of the principal nonferrous metals in stainless steel.

(also peg) The tubular back portion of the section, onto which the sac is cemented in most sac-filling pens.


A nib shape that is ground so that the writing tip contacts the paper properly when the pen is rotated in the user’s hand. Oblique’s are made in left- and right-foot shapes, and there are variations in the angle at which the tip is finished.
The left-foot oblique is the most common style. A left-foot oblique requires counterclockwise rotation of the pen so that the nib, instead of facing straight upward, is leaning toward a right-handed writer or away from a left-handed writer. Most modern oblique’s are ordinary round nibs, not designed to produce line variation.
An oblique italic nib, which is designed to produce line variation, has a wide thin tip cut at an angle across, to create broad strokes in one direction (at a slight angle to the nib itself) and very thin strokes in the orthogonal direction. A crisp oblique italic nib is relatively lacking in smoothness but produces greater line variation than a cursive oblique italic, which is ground to be relatively smooth in use.

Parker’s trade name for the stainless steel used to make nibs for the company’s lower-priced pens; so called because the alloy contains eight elements. Used from 1948 into the 1950’s.

(also petrify; said of the rubber sac in any pen using a sac as an ink reservoir) To harden due to the chemical action of ink. Ossification is a slow process; a pliable sac becomes progressively more leathery and then stiff, to the point that when squeezed it will shatter into shards with shiny edges that give the appearance of broken glass. An ossified sac is typically strong enough to resist the squeezing action of the lever in a lever-filling pen; attempts to operate the lever in a pen with an ossified sac usually result in serious damage to the lever or the lever box.

A feed that lies along the upper surface of the nib instead of within the curve of the under surface; used mostly during the 19th century.

over-under feed
(also double feed, dual feed) A double feed, with parts that lie both along the upper surface of the nib and within the curve of the under surface; used mostly during the 1890’s and the first decade of the 20th century, and advertised as providing superior reliability. At first glance, an over-under feed can easily be mistaken for a plain overfeed.

A left-handed person who positions his or her hand and the paper so that the hand passes across the paper above (over) the line being written.


A strongly tarnish-resistant silver-white metal of the platinum group, used in pens as plating on nibs and, because of its relative hardness, as a component in some tipping alloys.

Colloquial shortening of pearlescent: having a translucent, iridescent appearance like that of pearls or, more particularly, mother-of-pearl. Usually refers to whitish or off-white colours.

The name Parker gave to the DuPont celluloid used in Parker’s pens beginning with the Duofold in 1926.

A type of filling system; uses a screw-driven piston. A knob at the end of the barrel drives a long-pitch screw shaft on which rides a piston. In some piston fillers, the knob is also threaded so that it "unscrews” slightly as the piston goes toward the nib and returns to its rest position as the piston is drawn back. This is the "differential” system. In other versions, the knob is fixed so that it can turn but does not travel lengthwise as the piston moves.

An all-purpose label applied indiscriminately to acrylics, cellulosics, styrenes, and other synthetic resins.

Finished by the application of a very thin metal coating, usually by electro plating. The clips, bands, and other metal trim parts of most modern pens are electroplated with such metals as chromium, rhodium, or 23K gold.

An alloy of platinum and ruthenium, usually with trace amounts of one or more other platinum-group metals; probably the first of the modern highly refined nib tipping materials.

A strongly corrosion-resistant grey-white metal, used in pens as plating on two-tone nibs and as an alloying component in some tipping alloys.

Parker’s name for the material of which the ribbed semi transparent sac used in the company’s Aero-metric filling system is made.

The tip of the nib. Sometimes used as a synonym for the nib as a whole.

point section
See gripping section

A class of injection-mouldable thermoplastic resins of which pens are made, polymers of the monomer styrene, (C6H5CH=CH), which is an oily liquid. Polystyrene plastics came into use as a pen material in the early 1940’s; but the earliest formulations suffered problems such as a tendency to shrink or to crumble with age. Much better formulations appeared before the end of the 1940s. Today the most common materials for the manufacture of low-priced pens are ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) and SAN (styrene-acrylonitrile), with polystyrene being used for very cheap products. Better pens are usually machined of acrylic.

pressure bar
A metal strip, sometimes with formed channels on its long edges, sometimes made of springy metal or attached to a spring, whose purpose is to squeeze the sac in a pen that uses a sac-based filling system. Some pressure bars are formed in the shape of the letter J and are called J-bars.


The space within a pen in which ink is stored.

A class of materials of which pens are made; includes acrylics, cellulosics, styrenes, and vegetal resins. See also ABS, acrylic, Celluloid, polystyrene.

retractable nib
A nib attached to a retracting mechanism so that the nib can be withdrawn into the body of the pen. Retractable nibs were a common feature of early safety pens, and the click-retractable Pilot Capless, introduced in 1964 by Pilot of Japan and still in production through several name changes, made fountain pens almost as convenient as ballpoint pens.

(also rhodanized, rhodinized) Plated with rhodium. Gold nibs are partially or completely rhodinated for appearance. Sterling silver furniture and body parts or overlays are sometimes rhodinated to prevent tarnish, and furniture of other materials may be rhodinated to impart the appearance of silver.

A hard silver-white metal of the platinum group, very similar in appearance to silver; sometimes used as a plating material because of its resistance to oxidation (tarnish).

rolled gold

Like gold filled metal, but the sheets were rolled out before being bonded. This is a cheaper material than gold filled and wears faster.

(also roller ball) A very small wheel or rolling ball affixed to the end of a clip to provide smoother entry into and exit from the user’s pocket.

A "rolling” of the pen about its long axis so that the nib is not aligned straight upward when the writer holds the pen in his or her usual way. People who rotate their pens typically do so unconsciously. In most cases, a right-handed person who rotates will rotate the pen counterclockwise so that the nib is more or less leaning toward the left shoulder. Left-handed underwriters who rotate typically rotate clockwise, so that the nib is leaning toward the right shoulder; left-handed overwriters’ rotation is more often counterclockwise.

A silver-gray metal of the platinum group, used as a nib tipping material because of its extreme hardness. Most modern tipping alloys are composed primarily of ruthenium.


A flexible rubber or silicone plastic ink reservoir, tubular and closed at one end. The open end is attached to the gripping section, usually with an adhesive such as shellac. Most sacs are plain cylinders, but some are necked down at the opening, and a few are tapered to make better use of the space within a tapered barrel.

Term applied to pens whose design reduces or eliminates the possibility of leakage in the user’s pocket or purse. Safety designs arose in the early part of the 20th century, when most pens were made of hard rubber and had a slip-fitting cap that was (more or less) secured by friction. Retractable nibs and screw-on caps were common safety features. Pens with an aperture in the barrel, such as lever fillers, are inherently "unsafe” because they contain a sac that can split or burst and leak through the aperture.

A term describing a nib that does not write smoothly. Scratchiness can result from improper shaping or finishing of the tipping material, misalignment of the tines, fractured or pitted tipping material, or wear. Because all of these defects tend to create sharp edges or corners on the nib’s tip, scratchy nibs frequently tear the fibres of the paper; if torn fibres are caught between the tines, the result can be a clog, bleeding and feathering, unduly wide and sloppy ink lines on the paper, or all of these problems.

A designation indicating an alloy that contains 750 parts of gold, by weight, per 1000 parts of the total metal content. The same as 18K.

In its most well known form, shellac mixes with an alcohol base to make varnish. It is commonly used as a sealant or adhesive for various joints and threads in fountain pens. Used also for securing ink sac to section nipple. See also varnish.

The cut that divides the tines of a nib. The slit must be narrow enough for capillary action to draw ink to the tip while at the same time wide enough to deliver the quantity of ink that the nib demands when writing.

special edition
(colloquially, SE) A pen model whose production run is limited in some way, such as for a particular retailer.

squeeze bar
A type of filling system; operates by mechanical ink-sac squeeze, with or without breather tube; differs from Aero-metric in that a squeeze bar filler’s breather tube, if present, lacks the tiny lateral hole that permits air-pressure equalization in the sac. The sac is contained within a metal sac guard to which a spring-steel pressure bar is affixed. The barrel conceals the filler during use and must be removed to expose it for filling. Depressing the pressure bar with a thumb or finger squeezes the sac laterally.

stainless steel
A class of strongly rust-resistant steels, grey in color, sometimes with the slightest hint of a brownish tint, containing varying amounts of chromium (no less than 11.5% by weight) and nickel. 18-8 stainless, for example, contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. Used for making furniture on some pens and for making nibs. Contrary to popular conception, stainless steels are not absolutely rustproof. Better grades of stainless (austenitic steels) are nonmagnetic.

Generally, any alloy of iron that has been strengthened by the inclusion of small mounts of carbon. Commonly, in reference to fountain pens, the stainless steel of which inexpensive nibs are made.

A designation indicating an alloy in which 92.5% of the total metal content, by weight, is silver; the other 7.5% is usually copper. The same as 925. On pens, used for caps, barrels, furniture, and overlays.

sterling silver
Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals, usually copper. The minimum fineness is 925. More easily moulded and shaped as pure silver because the copper. It is also more fragile than silver against dents and scratches at the surface.

Another term for striped. Frequently applied to the Parker Vacumatic and Sheaffer’s pens of the later 1930s and early 1940’s

(More correctly, stub italic.) The nib shape that is characterised by a moderately wide thin tip ground straight across, for creating broader strokes in a generally up-and-down direction than in a generally sidewise direction. A stub nib is narrower and produces less line variation than an ordinary italic or oblique italic. Stubs are also ground to be relatively smooth in use.


(also desk pen taper, quill) A long shaft, usually smoothly streamlined, that is attached to the back end of a desk pen’s barrel for balance and a graceful appearance.

A (usually metal) cup-shaped trim bezel applied to the end of the barrel or cap (or both), frequently as a ring surrounding a "jewel” or other decoration.

Describes a nib made with the addition of a hard alloy at the tips of the tines to reduce wear.

A hard silver-grey metal of the transition series, noted for its lightness, strength, and difficulty of working.
Used more recently as a nib material; produces a somewhat springy nib that is difficult to adjust and prone to bending if treated as if it were a true flexible nib.

(also furniture) The exterior metal parts of a pen, including the lever, cap band, tassie(s), clip, etc.

(also bowl, sheath, or tulip) The cup- or bell-shaped socket portion of a desk-set base, into which the pen is inserted.

(also 21KT, as used on nibs by Sailor of Japan) A designation indicating an alloy that contains 21 parts of gold, by weight, per 24 parts of the total metal content. The same as 875.

two-tone nib
(also 2T nib)  1  A yellow gold nib that is partially plated with a platinum-group metal (white or silver). In some instances, the nib is partially or entirely plated with a platinum-group metal and then, in the areas that are not to be silver in colour, plated with gold of a different hue; on the Montblanc 75th Anniversary Meisterstück pens, for example, the second plating is rose gold.  2  A steel nib that is polished very brightly to resemble a richer metal and then partially plated with gold to simulate the appearance of a two-tone gold nib. Two-tone steel nibs are used on some moderately priced pens and also on certain counterfeit models.


See feed.

A left-handed person who positions his or her hand and the paper so that the hand passes across clean paper below (under) the line being written. See also overwriter.

(pronounced oo-roo-shee; also known as Japanese Lacquer) A remarkably durable and very glossy natural lacquer coating made from the sap of the urushi tree (native to Japan, China, and Korea). The principal ingredient is urushiol, an organic oil toxin (found in plants of the family Anacardiaceae) that hardens by absorbing moisture from the air. Urushi can be coloured with pigments or dyes. It is also used as the substrate and binder for decorative techniques such as maki-e.  See also lacquer, maki-e.


A series of pens made by Parker from 1933 to 1948. The name is frequently shortened colloquially to "Vac” The salient feature of the Vacumatic is its compact pump filler, designed by Professor Arthur O. Dahlberg, an instructor at the University of Wisconsin, and perfected by Parker engineers.

A solution of resin (originally from a softwood tree, now also acrylic or urethane) with a drying oil (usually linseed or tung) in a solvent (traditionally turpentine); used as a wood finish. Sometimes used as a sealant or adhesive for various joints in fountain pens. See also shellac.
vegetal resin
A class of plastic materials of which pens are made. In contrast to polystyrene plastics, which are petroleum based, vegetal resins are made from plant material (generally in combination with celluloid). Vegetal resins are attractive and durable, but they are relatively costly and are used by few manufacturers.  

A thin layer of gold (usually 23K or 24K) over sterling silver. The chemical similarity of gold and silver causes a molecular bonding such that vermeil is more durable than gold plating over a dissimilar metal.


1. A mark included in the imprint on nibs made by anonymous makers; indicates that the nib’s gold content is warranted to be as described, usually 14K.
2. Used to combat fraudulent marking of plated steel or brass nibs in such a fashion that the term 14KT or 14KT GOLD was visible while the word PLATED or PLATE was concealed within the section.

The degree to which a solid can be wetted by a liquid; a higher wettability indicates that the liquid (e.g., ink) will flow over the solid’s surface more readily than it will flow over a less wettable solid. Palladium-plated nibs are more wettable than plain gold ones, and this difference produces better flow in plated nibs; but it also makes the plated nibs more prone to nib creep.

wet writer
A pen whose nib is adjusted to produce a heavy flow of ink (but not necessarily a broad line) that dries very slowly. Extremely wet writers are prone to produce feathering or bleeding; and because of copious lubrication from the ink flow, they characteristically write more smoothly than pens adjusted for less flow.

white gold
An alloy of gold with at least one white (silvery) metal; has a silver-white color similar to that of platinum. 18K white gold is used decoratively for pen bodies or furniture, and occasionally instead of rhodium- or palladium-plated yellow gold to make nibs for pens with silver-coloured bodies or furniture. The most economical white gold contains nickel along with smaller amounts of copper and zinc; but nickel has been linked to allergic dermatitis, and nickel-safe white gold alloys generally use palladium with a smaller amount of silver.

wing nib
(or wing point) A style of point developed by Montblanc in the 1950’s, and imitated by many other makers (particularly in Germany). It resembles the wing of a bird; it is usually widest at the base or heel, and tapers gradually toward the nibs, with "squarish" shoulders. It can be made more flexible than an equivalent point of normal design.


zoom nib
A nib shape developed by master nib designer Nobuyoshi Nagahara of Japan’s Sailor company. A Zoom nib produces a line that varies in width from broad when the pen is held at a relatively low angle to the paper, to very fine when the pen is held nearly vertically relative to the paper.

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