June 25, 2015

The Gravity Fillers


[Posted on L&P on July 22, 2006 and July 7, 2007.]
        The first gravity-filler fountain pen, US patent no. 630,526, is a jointless pen from William W. Stewart, the prolific inventor behind Mabie, Todd, & Bard.  This pen is said to be self-filling, but still requires an external device for filling, a custom-made eyedropper that fits right over the whole nib and section.  And Harold N. Carpenter’s “Fountain-Pen Filler”, US patent no. 887,919, is the first inverted-pen, gravity-filler ink bottle, a device for filling any eyedropper pen directly from the ink bottle by means of a cap with a pneumatic rubber pump.  The bottle was put into production by S. S. Stafford, and it could have been used to fill the pen in patent no. 630,526.  Also see Carpenter’s US patent nos. 1,082,711, 1,125,470, 1,152,601, and 1,152,602.
        A couple of much later gravity-filler pens that filled from their own proprietary ink bottles are George Osterhout’s US patent no. 2,001,263, and the one by the Japanese pen company Namiki, also known as Pilot, US patent no. 2,144,296.  The Osterhout patent included the ink bottle, and US patent no. 2,132,313 is for the proprietary Pilot ink bottle with its distinctive
urn, or cardioid shape.  The words “capillarity” and “gravity” do not appear in the US patent for the Pilot filling bottle.  However, both words do appear in the US patent for the Pilot fountain pen, which was meant to be filled from this bottle.  Throughout the specification, the phrase “capillarity and gravity” is used over and over, as in this statement “The ink-ducts serve as passages for ink, which is sucked from the bottle into the casing, under the action of capillarity and gravity”, but near the end, the specification makes a statement that clearly separates the two words, saying that “much importance should be placed on gravity”.  One can never completely discount capillarity, but I think the pen is more properly called a gravity filler.  And here are a couple of Pilot ads showing the pen being filled from different-shaped bottles, ad 1, and ad 2.
        John Chapman wrote, “These two look a lot like the filling system in the Pelikan Level 5 pen”, and he wondered what patent the Level 5 used.  But the Level 5 fills under pressure, and fills in any position.  It does not have to be inverted to be filled by gravity.  This is the US patent for the Level 5 pen and ink bottle, 5,888,008, and this is the German patent for the bottle, DE4,438,590, and the filling valve, DE4,340,760.
    I like these two quotes from the specifications for the two pens.  The Osterhout patent states, “The present invention . . . has for an object to provide an improved [fountain] pen that functions solely by the action of natural laws”.  And the Namiki patent states, “In brief, in known fountain-

pens, the idea has prevailed that capillarity should be regarded as of importance, whereas in this invention the idea is based on the fact that much importance should be attached to gravity”.  Who would have thought that one could patent gravity, just like Wirt with “his” capillarity?!  Maybe someone should have given Newton the heads-up, but then the apple might have hit him right in the eye instead of on the top of his head.

George Kovalenko.