February 15, 2015

Longhand, Shorthand

, and the reservoir nib.

[Posted on L&P on Oct 1, 2006.]
        Which came first, longhand, or shorthand?  Technically speaking, longhand came first, but the word “longhand” actually came second.

        Ron Dutcher asked about an 1827 book entitled The Traveler’s Oracle, written by William Kitchiner, a guide with tips and advice for early English travelers.  One of the tips is about fountain pens.  It states that, “A must have item is a gold nib, which is never corroded by ink, inserted into Lewis’s fountain pen, which is a convenient tool for the traveler”.  Lewis may be the English pensmith James Henry Lewis, who received British patent no. 4,426 on Dec 20, 1819 for a fountain pen that he called the “Caligraphic” [sic] fountain pen with “the barrel of a quill” as a pliable reservoir, or cartridge.  Claes Lindblad asked whether he was the same one who wrote a number of books on shorthand and stenography, or tachygraphy.  Lewis’s writings on shorthand and penmaking include the following books, but a complete list of his twelve books can be found in the Library Of Congress’s National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints.
        The Art Of Writing With The Velocity Of Speech (1812),
        The Ready Writer, Or, Ne Plus Ultra Of Shorthand (1812),
        The Best Method Of Pen-Making (undated, ca. 1820), and
        The Art Of Making A Good Pen (1825).
Most of Lewis’s shorthand books, as well as all the other shorthand books from the period, and there were many other competitors out there, contain a section on preparing a quill, or using steel nibs, or promoting the use of a fountain pen such as Lewis’s “Caligraphic”.
        Francisco de Paula Marti was another early Spanish stenographer who was also a pensmith and a penmaker.  In his book Taquigrafia Castellana, or in English, Spanish Tachygraphy; or, The Art of writing as fast as we speak, and as clearly as common writing (1st ed., 1803, 4th ed., 1824), in the chapter starting on p.74, there is a description of how to make a fountain pen to be used for writing shorthand, along with the above illustration of what looks like a basic, Bion-type fountain pen.  This was pointed out to me by Rene Alvarez from Chile, who was also the self-styled and self-described “Dr. of Thinkology” on the Zoss List.  Rene found the book in the Chilean National Library.  We met through Zoss in late 2001 and corresponded backchannel about Marti, and Rene sent me the above picture of the Marti fountain pen.
        David Nishimura changed the subject a little to a related topic when he wrote, “Not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but in early 19th-century England, was ‘fountain pen’ used to denote anything other than a reservoir pen?  After the advent of the mass-produced steel dip pen, inventors patented all sorts of clip-on devices to retain a few extra drops of ink next to the nib with each dip, and the patents for those devices often do call them ‘fountain pens’.  But does one see such devices, or such a confusion of terminology, prior to c. 1840?”.  Well, I jump on every opportunity that presents itself to flog this particular dead hobbyhorse, a favorite of mine as well, so I thanked David for rattling my chain.
        The first patents for metal nibs are Bryan Donkin’s 1808 British patent for a precious metal nib, and Peregrine Willliamson’s 1809 American patent for a steel nib.  James Perry’s first British patent for giving flexibility to steel nibs doesn’t come along until 1830, and Joseph Gillott’s British patents for steel nibs date to 1831 and 1837.  It’s quite conceivable that reservoir tips predate the steel nib, perhaps even by a few centuries.  Monks and scribes in the middle ages may have figured out ways to insert metal strips, or wires, or absorbent materials into a quill tip to get it to hold a little more ink than just one ordinary dip would hold.  The first mention of a reservoir device in the UK patents is UK patent no. 6,512 from 1833, is a patent by Stephen Perry, et al, for “Pens And Penholders”, including a reservoir nib, or reservoir penholder attachment called an “ink retainer”, and a hollow penholder outfitted as a piston-filler or finger-press-filler fountain pen.  UK patent no. 7,071 from 1836, is Sampson Mordan’s patent for “Manufacturing Triple-Pointed Pens”, but it is not for the so-called “music nib” with two slits and three tynes, but a nib with an integral reservoir.  And UK patent no. 7,535, John Edwards’s “Certain Improvements In Instruments Used In Writing”, is for a spiral coil of wire used as a reservoir attachment for nibs, and also a cylinder-piston-filler fountain pen, and a fountain inkstand.  But the first mention of such a device in the US patents, however, dates to the 1840s, as David suggests, and then after that the floodgates for the misuse of the term “fountain pen” are opened.  William Davison’s US patent no. 2,287 for the “Art Of Writing By A Construction Of Fountain-Pen” was issued on Oct 9, 1841.  It’s basically for an implement used to teach the art of writing, but it includes what is called a “fountain-pen”, which is really just a penholder with a reservoir-tipped nib.  And so, the confusion between the two began.  Before this, “fountain pen” was used exclusively to denote Bion-type, funnel-filled pens, or piston-filled pens.  It’s unfortunate that the first patent for a reservoir-tipped nib calls it a “Fountain-Pen”, but all these things were still so new, and they didn’t know what to call them.  It took time for unique terms to be devised to distinguish between a fountain pen and a reservoir-tipped nib.
        What is truly disappointing is that Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language does not even mention the word “fountain pen”, thus showing that the instrument was still not widely known at the time, even by such a prolific wordsmith and lexicographer as Johnson.  He did, however, own a silver quill pen, which had been presented to him as a gift, according to a note in the March 21, 1891 issue of Notes & Queries.  Also try the O.E.D., and its predecessor, the N.E.D., and look up the words “fountain”, “neb”, “nib”, and “pen”.  These dictionaries, the New English Dictionary On Historical Principles (1st ed., 1888-1928), ed. James A. H. Murray, and the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed., 1989), are both very strong in their etymological references.
        So did you ever wonder where the term
“longhand” came from?  It was a retronym that was necessitated by the creation of the word “shorthand”.  Before that, it was all just handwriting, or just a “hand”.  The word “longhand” was first used about 1660-1670, following the introduction 
of the word “shorthand”, which first appeared about 1630-1640, following the first books on stenography in the early 1600s, some of which used the phrase “short writing”, of which this blog is not an example.  Well, I hope, at least, that it’s not “tacky graphy”.

George Kovalenko.