In the middle of the last century, pens were everywhere. There were fountain pens, writing implements with internal ink reservoirs and metal nibs, and ballpoint pens (you know, the kind that nerds in old movies have lined up in their breast pockets or click constantly much to the irritation of the other characters). Pens, coupled with typewriters, served the individual as the printing press served publishers of books and newspapers (they were popular then, too). Communication had a different pace in 1960: the newspaper was read at the breakfast, books were read on the bus to school or work, family news was read when the mail came and the letters opened. Letters: paper and ink; instantly recognized handwriting. Blots and smudges, misspellings, illegibility….
It was quite possible then, in 1950 or 60, that your first training in writing, as opposed to printing (the scribbler, the horse-leg pencil), was done with a dip pen and a bottle of ink set in the desk inkwell. You graduated to fountain pens, and moved onto ballpoint pens as your handwriting became reliably readable and your need for speedy notetaking grew.
Then there’s the typewriter. The peck-peck-pecking sound of 30 student typists! From the mid-nineteenth century, typewriter was the office writing machine; useful, too, for writers of fiction, but not so often found in the home. But by the 1960’s, when it – like Dylan – went electric, it was a fairly ubiquitous part of the household. And it was then that handwriting became less important and, correspondingly, various types of pens became highly regarded and collectible – the rarity of their use raising their personal value. Rich men signed their cheques with gold pens, while successful writers spent their mornings choosing the right implement from their stock of 100 pens.
From 1980 or thereabouts until now, a blink of history’s eye especially considering the long, long history of writing by hand, writing and communication have been transformed. The personal computer, the ever-shrinking and ultra-dynamic cellphone, both have revolutionized our writing lives, and our communication. Everything is instantaneously shared electronically. Now people often say, ‘I can’t read my own writing anymore, I’m so out of practice.’
But, with the demise of handwriting and ‘penmanship’, comes the rise of interest in writing, calligraphy, pens and inks! Just as people who now miss the hours of colouring in school are returning as grownups to adult colouring books, so people who laboured to learn to write with pens, but now mostly just use their thumbs and their phones, are returning to the pleasure of learning to writing with fountain pens, dip pens, even quill pens. So many brilliant choices are ready to hand from companies with a great sense of craftsmanship.
And the ink! O the ink! Sapphire blue, emerald, violet. Violet ink, didn’t Napoleon use it to write love letters to Josephine? Didn’t Colette use violet ink to write, ‘Writing only leads to more writing’ as well as many more poetic thoughts? Look at the beautiful pens and inks of J Herbin (since 1670!). These precious revivals of the fine art of writing by hand will inspire your own thoughts, poetry, and unique vision made visible in violet, emerald, sapphire…or, if you write hieroglyphics on papyrus, pharaonic black!
Take up your quill pen and write your words on parchment. Or use your Venetian Glass Pen to make a most sincere declaration of love (Valentine’s Day is coming up). Ink wells and dappen dishes will hold our ink. Seal your letters with love using brass seal and sealing wax. The Paint Spot has just received some Herbin Historical Writing sets. Take a calligraphy class if you need some training. Writing is the new colouring!
This article is written by Nom de Plume.
Read more about pens in our Advice Library “Pens for Writing and Drawing”
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