May 29, 2014

A Taxonomy of the Fountain Pen

[Posted on L&P on Nov 5, 2005.]

        In talking about his “fountain pen drive” in a message on Zoss on Mar 30, 2002, and saying it was similar to what Freud called the sex drive, Carlos Henrique Jacob asked whether “a cartridge filler can be called a fountain pen”.  Replying to his question, Michael Wright wrote that fountain pens could be broken down to “Genus = fountain pen, Species = eyedropper, or self-filler, or cartridge”, etc.  And then he signed the message, “Yours taxonomically, Michael”.
        A little later in the year, on Aug 14, 2002, and again on Zoss, Vance Koven proposed a taxonomy of fountain pen filling systems.  I played around with his version and rearranged it a bit, changing some of his terminology, but adopting some of it as well.  His taxonomy was broken down into three major classes, and my regrouping into two came about as a response to the research I had been doing on pen patents.  Somewhere near the end of that research, I realized that I could draw up a genealogy tree of the fountain pen, and genealogy and taxonomy are bed partners.  If you lay a genealogy tree on its side, in bed so to speak, it gives rise, or gives birth, genealogically, to taxonomy.

        The tree I devised started with a trunk composed of the reed brush, and the calamus, or reed pen, then progressed to the penne, or quill, and metal nibs, and penholders, and then branched out into the first fountain pens.  The fountain pens bifurcated into two branches, not three, those that filled directly into the barrel, and those that filled into something inside the barrel.  Thats the simplest taxonomic classification system for fountain pens.  It’s all about the fountain.  Much earlier, Claes Lindblad contributed a two-part article to the Pen Fancier’s Newsletter, Jan & Feb 1978, vol. 1, nos. 1 & 2, titled “Filling Systems In Fountain Pens”.  His list reads almost like an ur-taxonomy of fountain pen filling systems that preceded mine by about 24 years, and it’s noteworthy that he agrees that the fountain pen family tree splits into only two major limbs.  Any further subdivision into nibbed pens, and stylographic pens, or metal and glass nibs is superfluous because almost any kind of point can be placed in any kind of pen.  It’s not exactly the Linnean phylogenetic classification scheme, “Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, and Variety, or Common Name”, but here’s the taxonomic structure that I devised.
1. Kingdom
I. Family
A. Group
1. Subgroup
a. Type
i. Subtype
x. Variety, or Common Name
        Along the way, a parallel family of writing instruments sprang up.  Graphite was discovered and used in its crude state, then encased in wood, and then held in sliding, spiral-cam, and spring-loaded metal cases and holders.  These were sometimes joined up with fountain pens to make the first combos, so that the two families intermarried.  The slide and screw mechanisms for pencils were also adapted for the safety and piston pen mechanisms, and on it goes into the modern era, where some very bizarre hybrids and cross-pollinations occurred.
        Well, when you’re done, what do you do with it?  Some people may not “get” organizing pens using taxonomy, so what’s the goal here?  I view it as an intellectual exercise.  It’s analogous to pure mathematics.  Taxonomy?  What’s it good for?  Not much, but it sure is fun.  We do it because we can, not because it’s useful.  When you’re done with it, it’s all you’ve got.  It’s organized chronologically, so it’s a timeline of patent firsts in its purest, distilled form.  It’s not like Linnean taxonomy that’s useful for its binomial nomenclature, that is, “Genus, species”.  If nothing else, it can help one see the technological similarities in pens that, from outward appearance, might seem dissimilar.  It also helps to standardize terminology, and to place things in the same family according to their technology and function.  It’s just a “pure mechanics” categorization tool.  As John Glashan said in his cartoon in The Observer Magazine, Sept 21, 1980, p.33, “What is this for? / I don’t know, yet, but if it ever works, you can say good-bye to everything you hold dear”.
        I would like to thank Claes Lindblad, Carlos Henrique Jacob, Michael Wright, Vance Koven, Ron Dutcher, Rob Astyk, David Moak, Olle Hjort, Sterling Picard, Dave Johannsen, and David Nishimura for their contributions to this taxonomy.  There used to be an earlier version of the taxonomy online, but the images were not archived on the Wayback Machine, and now the only place to find the final, completed version is in the second volume of my patent book, pp.275-6.
        Here’s an example of the taxonomic structure for a certain writing instrument
, the Waterman’s 52, or the whole Waterman’s #52-58 series, or any “Waterman’s lever filler”.
1. Writing Instruments, the Pen Kingdom, or Pendom, or “The Writing Hemisphere
II. Fountain pen that fills into something inside the barrel
A. Unassisted self-filler
1. With sac
e. With lever
i. Common type
x. Lever attached to the pressure bar, “Waterman’s”
So it could be referred to as “1, II, A, 1, e, i, x”.  It’s a writing instrument that’s a fountain pen that fills into something inside the barrel, an unassisted self-filler with a sac and a common lever attached to the pressure bar, and it is of the “Waterman’s” variety, commonly called a Waterman’s 52.  It is, first of all, a writing instrument, by its Kingdom name, but it is, of course, a fountain pen, or Penna fons, or Fons penna, by its Family name, and its Linnean binomial nomenclature, or its genus-species-and-variety, is Vectis repletus Watermania”, or “Waterman’s lever filler”.
        Here’s the earlier version of the taxonomy that I mentioned above.  If you have any issues with its arrangement, please feel free to send me a message about it.

    George Kovalenko.