June 19, 2015

The Word ‘Fountpen’


Book. & Stat., June 1909, pp.8-9.

[Posted on L&P on Dec 7, 13, & 21, 2011, and rewritten on Dec 9, 2014, and May 7, 2015.]
        I always liked the neologism “fountpen”, which I thought had originated with the Canadian and British offices of the Mabie Todd Co. sometime in 1909 to advertize their “Swan” pens using such ad-lines as “Fountpen Points for Canadian Stationers”, and “Talk Fountpens, Sell Fountpens, Show Fountpens”.  The word was used by them throughout the First World War and into the 1920s, even though it never caught on generally.  Here’s another ad in The American Stationer for their “Longshort” stylo from
Feb 11, 1911, p.18, which also mentions “Swan” fountpens.  And here’s a window display of Swan “Fountpens” in a photo of a Los Angeles stationery store in Am. Stat., Nov 29, 1913, p.14But Mabie Todd was not the only one to use the term “Fountpen”.  Here’s a later ad for a Salz Bros “Pen and Pencil Combination” in Am. Stat., May 17, 1919, p.29, well before the combo craze in the late 1920s and early 30s.  It’s there on the side of the Salz combo, but it’s probably just shortened to fit into the barrel imprint.  And here’s another early combo, this time the Founcil combo from 1908, probably an eyedropper-filled combo.  And even though there is no “t” in the spelling of the name, the “t” is not exactly silent.  It’s implied, and it’s partially there in the pronunciation of the name, sort of like “Fountpen”.  It was also used in 1913 by Charles J. Dale, a jeweler in Oswego, N. Y., for his own-brand fountain pen, “Dale’s Dollar Fount-Pen”, and in some 1924 ads in Popular Mechanics by J. C. Ullrich Co. to advertize their “Independent” stylograph, which was said to have “All the best features of a fountpen”.
        But as it turns out, there is a much earlier use of the word than the one by Mabie Todd.  The “Auto-Safety Fount Pen” was made by the Safety Fount Pen Co. of Pittsburg, Penn.  It appears in their ads from 1904, and in the list of fountain pen manufacturers in Tools of Business, an Encyclopedia of Office Equipment and Labor Saving Devices from 1905.  The ads say that it is “Non-Rolling”, and it promotes “No Swearing” because it “Won’t Roll Off The Desk”.  It must have been in completion with Conklin’s Crescent Filler because it also borrowed the ad-line from the Conklin ad that appeared in the January 1904 issue of Century Magazine, the one with Twain’s endorsement from his letter dated Oct 4, 1903.  It reads in part, “I prefer it because it is a profanity saver; it cannot roll off the desk.  Very truly yours, S. L. Clemens”.
        And lastly, here’s a curious definition by Fowler in his A Dictionary of Modern English Usage from 1926,Fount is the poetical & rhetorical form of fountain; to use it in ordinary contexts, e.g., in fount-pen for fountain-pen, is a
George Kovalenko.