Pen, an instrument for writing with a fluid. Pens of some sort have been in use from very ancient times, adapted to the material upon which the written characters were to be impressed. Upon stone or metallic plates gravers of steel served for writing, and such are referred to by Job in speaking of an "iron pen." For the waxen tablets of the ancients a metallic stylus was employed, one end of which was sharpened for marking, and the other was flattened for erasing the marks and smoothing the wax. It was also the practice in ancient times, as among the Chinese at the present day, to paint the letters with a fine hair pencil. Pens of reed also were made at a very early period for the use of a fluid ink upon papyrus. The reed selected for this purpose is described as small and hard, and about the size of a swan's quill. It was found in Egypt and Armenia and along the shores of the Persian gulf. The introduction of paper rendered finer pens necessary, and quills of the goose and swan next came into use, and for extremely fine writing those of other birds, as of the crow, were found well adapted. A great trade grew up in these articles, and continued for several centuries.
Poland and Russia were largely engaged in it, and immense flocks of geese were raised in those countries chiefly for their quills. In a single year St. Petersburg furnished to England over 27,000,000 quills. Germany and the Netherlands have also been large producers of goose quills. To prepare them for use, they are sorted according to quality, dried in hot sand, cleaned of the outer skin, and hardened by dipping them into a boiling solution of alum or of diluted nitric acid. Quills are still preferred by many to all other pens. - In 1803 Mr. Wise of Great Britain produced pens of steel of barrel form, mounted in a bone case for carrying in the pocket. These were expensive and little used. The late Mr. Gillott of Birmingham began the manufacture about 1820, and introduced great improvements in the steel pen, making it of thinner and more elastic steel, and of higher finish and temper. Mr. Perry also was among the first large manufacturers; and the improvements which followed reduced the cost so much that a gross of the pens, now made without the barrel, could be purchased for about the price of one of those made by Mr. "Wise. Other makers succeeded, and a great variety of forms of pen were devised to give the required elasticity and the capacity of holding a proper supply of ink.
The trade centred in Birmingham, which supplies many countries in Europe, as also the principal demand for steel pens in the United States. Many unsuccessful attempts were made in the United States to compete with the English manufacturers, but within a few years large quantities have been made in this country of a good quality. The process of making steel pens, as carried on by Mr. Gillott, is briefly as follows. Fine sheet steel, made at Sheffield, about 8 ft. long by 3 ft. broad, generally prepared from Swedish bloom, is cleaned of scale by sulphuric acid and washed. After being passed through rollers to reduce it to the exact thickness required, the steel is slit into strips wide enough to allow of the cutting of three or four pens. These are passed through a cutting machine, which by means of dies punches out the pens, or, as they are now called, the blanks. The blanks are passed through a succession of operations, each performed separately, generally by women or girls. The side slits (a, fig. 1) are first cut by punches worked by small hand levers. Then the hole between these is punched (5, fig. 1). The preceding processes have now made the steel brittle; the blanks are therefore annealed by putting a quantity of them into an iron box, which is heated.
They are then stamped in a die with the name of the maker and any other desired mark, and next receive their final shape by being placed in a grooved die shown in fig. 2. They are next tempered in oil and polished with emery powder by revolving in a large cylinder, after which the nibs are ground. Then follows the most important operation, that of making the central slit, upon the nicety of which the value of the pen greatly depends. This is done in a hand press, similar to those previously used, but the cutting is effected by two chisels, one fixed on the table, the other in the lever, and so accurately adjusted as just to clear each other. Being further tempered in a revolving cylinder over a charcoal stove, and given a brown or blue color, they are glazed with lac dissolved in naphtha, when they are selected and counted. - The manufacture of pens of elastic material furnished with durable points of some extremely hard substance began in England with attempts to secure bits of metal to pens made of glass, tortoise shell, and horn. This finally led to the production of gold pens, the manufacture of which is carried to the highest perfection in New York, the best pens being made here and sent to Europe and other parts of the world.
In 1823 John Isaac Hawkins, an American residing in England, imbedded pieces of diamond and ruby in the points of tortoise-shell pens, which were softened in water to receive the stones. The same manufacturer, hearing that bits of-an extremely hard native alloy of iridium and osmium, sent by Dr. Wol-laston to a penmaker to be used for points, had been returned as too hard for working, obtained these for his own experiments, and was the first to produce the famous "diamond points " soldered to gold pens. The right to make gold pens was purchased of Mr. Hawkins by Mr. Cleveland, an American clergyman then in England, who on his return induced Levi Brown, a watchmaker in Detroit, to undertake their manufacture. This was about the year 1835. The experiment was attended with little success. Mr. Brown removed in 1840 to New York, and there introduced the business, which gradually increased in importance as the quality of the pens was improved, and the price.diminished by their more rapid production. At first the pens were cut with scissors from a thin flat strip of gold, and a slit being cut in the nib a bit of iridium was soldered to each point separately, and the points were then rounded up into shape with a mallet upon a stick. The inferior pens thus made by hand sold for $5 to $10 each.
The first machines, and almost the only important ones in use applicable to the different branches of this work, were invented by Mr. John Rendell, who was employed by Mr. Brown. He continued to make these machines of various forms and of extraordinary perfection from the year 1844, and furnished them to Mr. Bagley and Mr. Barney, who were well known as among the early makers of gold pens. To these inventions is chiefly due the excellence of the gold pens made in this country. Mr. Rendell systematized the process, giving to each workman his peculiar branch, and thus nicety and certainty of good work were attained. Great improvements have been introduced, and the cost of production materially lessened, the general process being similar to that for steel pens. The finishing consists in fixing iridium points, which is done by laying them in a notch at the end of the slit and fusing them on with a flux. A copper emery wheel grinds the points to the desired shape and thickness, when they may be further brightened by dilute nitric acid and a polishing wheel. - Pens have also been made of hardened gutta percha, and of caoutchouc similarly treated; but they have not proved of much service.
The so-called "Protean fountain pen" contains a supply of ink in its hollow handle, and the tube which holds it extends nearly to the point, the pressure upon which in writing causes the ink to ooze down to it just as it is required. These pens are furnished with holders suitable for carrying in the pocket, and thus are always at hand for use with their own supply of ink.