Basic AnatomyBelow is a diagram displaying the form of fountain pen one is most likely to encounter if they pick up any pre-1960s pen. This configuration was most commonly produced by pen manufacturers from the early 1920s to the late 1950s when cartridges became the preferred method of refilling a pen and before ball points took the public by storm.
|Fig. 1 Esterbrook SJ: fountain pen in most basic form|
|Fig. 2 Ink sac attached to pen section|
Under The Cap
Before one looks under the cap one must realize that most pens from this time period have threaded (screw on) caps. Again there is a good reason this came to be, which will be touched on farther down. Attempting to pull off a threaded cap can strip the threads or crack the cap itself.
|Fig. 3 Nib and section|
|Fig. 4 Underside of nib|
Nib tipping is added to the ends of the nib tines to make them more wear resistant, paper is abrasive and over time would wear away at the nib faster if it was not tipped, especially softer gold nibs. Tipping is formed of very hard alloy called iridium and is welded to the nib separately during production. Some steel nibs like the one shown do not have iridium tipping, instead the ends of the nib and rolled over and heated forming a smooth, durable surface. Even though iridium tipping is tough it is not bullet proof, in other words it's possible to find vintage pens with their tipping worn away. They will write scratchy but the tipping can be replaced by a restorer that specializes in nib repair, which in some cases is cheaper than trying to find a comparable replacement.
While this post only shows and speaks about the basics, I'd like to point out there are many other filling systems one can and will encounter once they start looking at fountain pens. In the future I plan to make further posts highlighting some of these systems, which can seem overwhelming to someone who is just starting out.
Please feel free to ask any questions you might have. I'll try to answer what I can or point you in the direction of someone who I know should have the answer.
*I say dangerous because there are some repair books and old out of date repair manuals circulating on the internet that advise the use of open flame or a heat gun to open pens. The majority of pre-1950s fountain pens are made of celluloid which is highly flammable, so open flame and heat guns that can get hot enough to ignite celluloid are very dangerous. Old materials can be fussy and if you don't know what you are doing you can cause irreversible or costly damage to them. Then there are pens with threaded sections and friction fit sections. Just do not do anything unless you are sure of what you are doing.