A pen (Latin: penna, feather) is a writing implement used to apply ink to a surface, such as paper, for writing or drawing. Historically, reed pens, quill pens, and dip pens were used, with a nib dipped in ink. Ruling pens allow precise adjustment of line width, and still find a few specialized uses, but technical pens such as the Rapidograph are more commonly used. Modern types also include ballpoint, rollerball, fountain, and felt or ceramic tip pens.
Types of pens
The main modern types of pens can be categorized by the kind of writing tip or point on the pen:
- A ballpoint pen dispenses ink by rolling a small hard sphere, usually 0.5–1.2 mm and made of brass, steel or tungsten carbide. The ink dries almost immediately on contact with paper. The ballpoint pen is usually reliable and comes in both inexpensive and expensive types. It has replaced the fountain pen as the most common 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, glitter effects, neon, blurred effects, saturated colors, pastel tones, vibrant shades, shady colors, invisible ink, see-through effect, shiny colors, and glow-in-the-dark 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. Refill reservoirs, also known as cartridge converters, are available for some pens which use disposable cartridges.
- A marker, or felt-tip pen, 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 and drawing. Larger markers are used for writing on other surfaces such as corrugated 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.
These historic types of pens are no longer in common use as writing instruments, but may be used by calligraphers and other artists:
- 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. A particularly fine-pointed type of dip pen known as a crowquill is a favorite instrument of artists, such as David Stone Martin and Jay Lynch, because its flexible metal point can create a variety of delicate lines, textures and tones with slight pressures while drawing.
- The ink brush is the traditional writing implement in East Asian calligraphy. The body of the brush can be made from either bamboo, or rarer materials such as red sandalwood, glass, ivory, silver, and gold. The head of the brush can be made from the hair (or feathers) of a wide variety of animals, including the weasel, rabbit, deer, chicken, duck, goat, pig, tiger, etc. There is also a tradition in both China and Japan of making a brush using the hair of a newborn, as a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir for the child. This practice is associated with the legend of an ancient Chinese scholar who scored first in the Imperial examinations by using such a personalized brush. Calligraphy brushes are widely considered an extension of the calligrapher's arm. Today, calligraphy may also be done using a pen, but pen calligraphy does not enjoy the same prestige as traditional brush calligraphy.
- 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. 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 students in some parts of India and Pakistan, who learn to write with them on small timber boards known as "Takhti".
Ancient Egyptians had developed writing on papyrus scrolls when scribes used thin reed brushes or reed pens from the Juncus maritimus or sea rush. 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, generally made from bamboo, 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 survived until papyrus was replaced by animal skins, vellum and parchment, as a writing surface. The smoother surface of skin allowed finer, smaller writing by the quill pen, derived from the flight feather. The quill pen was used in Qumran, Judea to write some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date back to around 100 BC. The scrolls 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. Quill pens were still widely used in the 18th century, and were used to write and sign the Constitution of the United States in 1787.
A copper nib was found in the ruins of Pompeii showing that metal nibs were used in the year 79. There is also a reference to 'a silver pen to carry ink in', in Samuel Pepys' diary for August 1663. 'New invented' metal pens are advertised in The Times in 1792. A metal pen point was patented in 1803 but the patent was not commercially exploited. A patent for the manufacture of metal pens was advertised for sale by Bryan Donkin in 1811. John Mitchell of Birmingham started to mass-produce pens with metal nibs in 1822, and thereafter the quality of steel nibs had improved enough that dip pens with metal nibs came into generalized use.
The earliest historical record of a pen employing a reservoir 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. This pen may have been a fountain pen, but its mechanism remains unknown, and only one record mentioning it has been found. A later reservoir pen was developed in 1636. 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. In 1809, Bartholomew Folsch received a patent in England for a pen with an ink reservoir.
The first patent on a ballpoint pen was issued on October 30, 1888, to John J Loud. 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. Erasable ballpoint pens were introduced by Papermate in 1979 when the Erasermate was put on the market.
Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, a naturalized Croatian engineer and inventor of Polish-Dutch origin from the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia in Austria-Hungary, became renowned for further development of the mechanical pencil (1906) – then called an "automatic pencil" – and the first solid-ink fountain pen (1907). Collaborating with an entrepreneur by the name of Edmund Moster, he started the Penkala-Moster Company and built a pen-and-pencil factory that was one of the biggest in the world at the time. This company, now called TOZ-Penkala, still exists today. "TOZ" stands for "Tvornica olovaka Zagreb", meaning "Zagreb Pencil Factory".
In the 1960s, the fiber or felt-tipped pen was invented by Yukio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company, Japan. 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 times.
Rollerball pens were introduced in the early 1970s. 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 typewriter and personal computer with the keyboard input method have changed how users write, the pen has not been entirely replaced. Higher end pens including types such as fountain pens are still a status symbol.
Statistics on writing instruments (including pencils and pens) from WIMA (the United States 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). There is however also a thriving industry in luxury pens, often fountain pens, sometimes priced at $1000 or more. Pens are also used as advertisements for business entrepreneurs. Companies use pens to advertise their company names to possible customers.
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Notes and references
- Pen. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- "pen." Word Histories and Mysteries. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Credo Reference. Web. 13 September 2007.
- "How does a ballpoint pen work?". Engineering. HowStuffWorks. 1998–2007. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
- Egyptian reed pen Retrieved March 16, 2007.
- "pen." The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather guide. Abington: Helicon, 2010. Credo Reference. Web. 17 September 2012
- The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Cambridge Catalogue Retrieved March 11, 2007.
- Arnold Wagner – Dip Pens. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
- 'This evening came a letter about business from Mr Coventry, and with it a silver pen to carry inke in, which is very necessary.' Diary of Samuel Pepys, 5 August 1663:http://www.pepysdiary.com/archive/1663/08/
- The advertisement implies metal nibs had been in use for some years, but had not been generally accepted due to lack of flexibility and tendency to rust. It refers to 'Ivory Handles' with 'Gold Silver or Steel Pens to each', and says that 'new pens may be fitted in at pleasure', indicating only the nibs were metal. It also claims the pens have 'well-tempered Elasticity' and that the 'Steel Points' are treated to be rustproof, rust being 'a circumstance that has been long and universally complained of in this article'. "The Times". 8 June 1792: 4.
- He offered the patent, which had an unexpired term of 11 years, for sale together with the 'utensils peculiarly adapted to the manufacturing' of the metal pens:"The Times". 15 August 1811: 4.
- In 1832 a woman accused of stealing a silver pen from a London shop said in her defence that she had 'one of the common metal pens' with her:"The Times". 15 September 1832: 3.
- Bosworth, C. E. (Autumn 1981), "A Mediaeval Islamic Prototype of the Fountain Pen?", Journal of Semitic Studies, XXVI (i)
- GB Patent No. 15630, October 30, 1888
- The Ballpoint Pen, Quido Magazin. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
- History of Pens & Writing Instruments, About Inventors site. Retrieved March 11, 2007.
- "Losing touch with paper and pen". Rediff.com. 2003-05-05. Retrieved 2013-05-03.
- Guilfoil, John M. (August 17, 2008) The power of the pen. Boston.com
- WIMA website Retrieved March 12, 2007.
- Low-tech luxury Gift or accessory, jewelry designers see business in luxe writing tools, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, March 12, 2007.
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