Fountain Pen Etiquette

You’ve finally done it—you bought your first fountain pen or you pulled that forgotten one you bought years ago out of the back of a drawer. Congratulations! Now you’re excited to get involved with other like-minded enthusiasts and learn all you can about fountain pens. You join your local fountain pen club and excitedly attend your first meeting. But are you ready? Did you know there are actually proper ways to handle fountain pens—especially if those pens are not your own? So, to help you avoid embarrassing yourself, I’m going to give you the rules of fountain pen etiquette.

Ask before you write:

The most important rule of fountain pen etiquette is to ALWAYS ask before you touch another person’s pens. This may seem like an obvious rule, but there are many people who either don’t realize they should, or simply disregard this rule. The pen could be an antique, handed down to them by their great-grandmother. It could be a multi-thousand dollar fountain pen they bought from another country and waited six months for it to arrive at their doorstep. You have no idea. So ask. Besides, you should really ask before you touch anyone else’s things—regardless of whether it’s a fountain pen or not.

How to open a fountain pen:

What, you say? What are you talking about? You just take off the cap and write, right? No, not exactly. Depending on the model of the pen, the cap may attach to the pen differently than you realize. The last thing you want to do is damage someone else’s pen because you don’t understand how it’s put together. If you’re not familiar with the make and model of a fountain pen, always ask whether the cap is a twist-off, pull-off, or has a retractable nib. Or maybe it's a twist-and-lock closure mechanism. There are many possibilities and as you can imagine, if you try to pull off the cap, but it is really a twist-off, you could easily damage the threads. If it’s a pull-off and you try to twist it, you may scratch the barrel. And if it’s a retractable, and you try to pull or twist it, you may open the pen barrel instead.

How to open a pull-off cap fountain pen:

Again, you’re probably thinking, duh? You pull the cap off. In theory, you’re right. However, when pulling off the cap, you shouldn’t simply yank on it. You might damage the nib by hitting it with the cap as you pull it off. Or maybe the nib will spray ink if you pull it off too hard and jerk the body of the pen back. Or perhaps you might lose your grip on the cap or the pen body and send one or both of them flying across the room. Instead, open it like you might open a nice bottle of champagne. Wrap your dominant hand around the barrel and brace your thumb on the bottom of the cap. Gently press the cap up while holding it steady in your other hand. This way, you prevent the cap from popping off too quickly and you don’t lose control over the body or the cap. This is especially important if the cap has a magnetic closure.

Ask if a pen is inked:

Before you try and write with a pen that someone has graciously allowed you to handle, ask if it’s inked. I’ve seen people shake a pen or pound its nib on the paper trying to get it to write. Neither of these are good ideas anyway, of course. But the pen might not even be inked. You’ll never know if you don’t ask first.

Never adjust or try to fix anything on someone else’s pen:

You’re writing with someone else’s pen and it stops writing or the nib is scratchy. What do you do? Never make adjustments or changes to someone else’s pen. You could damage it or change it in a way that the owner is not happy with. And, besides, it’s rude. It’s their pen, not yours. Give it back and tell them it’s not writing well.

Never take pictures without permission:

You look at the collection of pens on the table and see that make and model that you’ve been wanting to see in person for months. You really want to take a picture so you can remember what it looked like. Or, maybe you want to post a pic of it on your social media page? But hey, it’s not your pen is it? Maybe that person doesn’t want their precious pen displayed on the web? Maybe they’re concerned it could be traced and eventually stolen? Or maybe they have another reason. You don’t know and it doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t agree with their reasoning, it’s not your pen. Be polite and ask first.

Now that I’ve thoroughly scared you into never wanting to use anyone else’s pen, I want to close by saying that one of the joys of getting together with other fountain pen lovers is allowing someone to write with a pen that they’ve never experienced before. Don’t let my warnings prevent you from asking someone if you can look at, hold and write with their pens. People are usually happy to let you do so. Just remember your fountain pen etiquette and you’ll do fine.

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