I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when the young woman at the estate sale pointed to the object I was buying and asked me, "How does that work?"
"It's a fountain pen..." I began.
"We thought it was a pen," she said, "but my mom and I couldn't figure out how to get it to write. I think it belonged to Great-Grandpa."
I pulled off the cap and unscrewed the body of the pen to show her the place where the ink is stored. "This one holds a little ink cartridge. Other fountain pens have a built-in ink storage device that you squeeze or pull after you put the tip of the pen into a bottle of ink. Then you reassemble the pen and start writing." I put the pen back together, licked my thumb, ran the nib across my thumb, and produced a faint blue line when I pulled the pen point across a scrap of paper.
"Cool!" she said. And she charged me a dollar.
It is cool.
I've been in love with pens since I was a little kid, and started using fountain pens during high school -- even though by that time everyone else was using ballpoints. The picture shows three of my recent finds: a basic Sheaffer cartridge pen with a fine point, an older Sheaffer with a 14k nib, and a Parker 51 Special. Oddly enough, I prefer the way the less-valuable Sheaffer cartridge pen writes, to the harder-to-find Sheaffer gold nib and the iconic Parker 51.
I only have one inkwell in my collection so far.
It's a small solid rectangle of clear glass with two wells for ink, stamped MADE IN ENGLAND. I won it in an eBay auction from the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, UK. It was found in the building that houses the Centre. My inkwell was made many years after Miss Austen died, but I like having the connection with her nonetheless.
Next time, I'll tell you about the box of ballpoint pens I found at an estate sale, and the interesting history of an American business I uncovered when I started researching them online.