A History of Pens-Before the Ballpoint Pen

I love pens! I love them so much that I have my own personal Pen Story! For me, a pen is a perfect item to collect. They don't take up much space and they are functional, not all collectibles can say that! I won't talk about how much I spend on pens, my husband reads this blog!!! LOL

I used to do Calligraphy, and I loved using fountain pens. I love how they felt in my hand and how they would glide across the paper, seemingly effortlessly. When I used fountain pens, there was not a great variety of ink cartridges. Now you can choose cartridges in any color, and even in various types of ink. 

Over the years the pen has evolved. Today we have fancy pens, and pens that are mass-produced for practical use. But what was there before the Ballpoint?

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Before the Ink Pen

Before the invention of ink pens, people wrote with a stylus on clay or wax tablets. There were many issues with using a clay or wax tablet that made writing difficult. Baking the clay tablets were the only way to save the writing. Breakage was also an issue. Wax tablets melted easily and didn't always retain the writing. Reed pens were the next writing instrument to be used. The need for a functional writing instrument brought quills to the forefront.

Types of Ink Pens

The Quill Pen

Quill pens were made from large bird feathers. The feathers were plucked from the left side of the bird because the feathers fanned outward and thus fanned away from a right-handed writer's hand. Sorry lefties! Feathers were plucked in the Spring season, usually from Geese, Swans, or Turkeys.

There is no concrete date that quill pens moved to the forefront, but it is believed to have been around 700 A.D. It could have been earlier, but without recorded history, we just don't know. Some believe the Dead Sea Scrolls were written with Quill pens, but that dates the Quill pen anywhere from 250 B.C. to 68 A.D. Again, without history we can only speculate.

The major advantage of Quill pens over a stylus or reed pen was the ink flowed from the feather in a capillary action, and this allowed a smoother flow of ink, resulting in better quality writing. 

The invention of the Dip pen made Quills obsolete.

Ink Pens-Image shows a bottle of ink and a quill pen beside it.
Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

The Dip Ink Pen

The dip ink pen has been used since the early 19th century, replacing the quill pen. Using metal nibs a dip pen requires an ink source since the pen does not have an ink reservoir. The pen can also be recharged using a brush, an eyedropper, or a syringe, which gives the writer more control of the amount of ink on the nib. Dip pens are also known as nib pens because dipping of the pen is not required to recharge it.

The dip pen has advantages over the fountain pen because the writer has greater control of the ink. Various inks, such as waterproof, India inks, and acrylic inks are used with dip pens. The flexibility of a dip pen is greater than a fountain pen because the nibs can be changed. The nibs come in various sizes that control the lines and the flow of ink. Nibs are generally cheaper than fountain pens and offer more variety.

Ink Pens-Image shows an open journal with an inkwell and fountain pen sitting on the table.
Photo by Kira Auf der Heide on Unsplash

The Fountain Ink Pen

The fountain pen is a descendant of the dip pen. The fountain pen became popular because the writer didn't have to have ink wells to recharge the pen. The fountain pen design includes an ink cartridge which served as the ink well. Early designs of the fountain pen may have been created by Leonardo da Vinci. There are no surviving instruments, but writing in da Vinci's journals gives evidence of a reservoir pen, also known as a fountain pen, based on the writing, and the pressure points in the journals. Today there are fountain pens dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci. They are not inexpensive, but they would be a crown jewel in anyone's fountain pen collection. 

Ink Pens-Image shows purple ink spilled on paper with an overturned ink bottle and a fountain pen in the ink.
Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

Using a Fountain Pen

The dip pen and the fountain pen are the most used pens today. Many people love the fountain pen because it doesn't require carrying ink with them. I'm in the group Pen Squad on Facebook. I asked what people loved about fountain pens, and these are some of the responses I received:


  • The wide variety of inks is thoroughly enjoyable, and how easily you can mix mediums
  • .I enjoy the feel and overall writing experience, to me, it’s quite magical. 
  • I love that I can swap ink colors and collect only ink colors I like to use, rather than buying a set of pens and not using several of the colors, and the writing experience is 1000x better than using a ballpoint pen. 
  • Because I don't have to use pressure to write, I can write for longer, too.
  •  From a waste perspective, I also prefer them because I'm not chucking plastic (I use converters and refill cartridges) every time the pen runs out. I know you can refill ballpoint pens, but you're still chucking the empty cartridge.
  • I love how creative you can be with a fountain pen as well as a dip pen. 

One lady wanted me to know the cons too!


  • Cons for some people would be having to clean your pen, which I don't mind. 
  • You also sometimes have bad ink/pen combos (e.g., my medium-fine Sailor didn't take Robert Oster Cherry Blossom well, but my medium Sailor writes great with it), so it requires some trial and error. 
  • And, perhaps, most importantly, it's an expensive hobby when you get too deep and you're buying pens, ink, ink samples, accessories, etc.

Where to Buy Your New Pen

There are many good fountain pens on the market today. Fountain pens can be purchased at office supply stores, or at specialty stores. 

The Pen Chalet if you're looking for a good pen and ink set you will be able to find it here!

The Goulet Pen Company is another online retailer. They have a great variety of fountain pens and inks, and anything else you would need for your fountain pen! 

Another online retailer is The Pen Company. Like the other companies, The Pen Company has a wide selection of pens and accessories

I haven't found many brick-and-mortar pen stores in my area, and that's probably best for my wallet! There are plenty of online retailers that will have exactly what you need for your Fountain pen habit! 

Have you used a fountain pen or are you firmly a ballpoint pen person? Do you have any local pen shops? I'd love to hear about them! We don't seem to have many in Phoenix, which I think is odd since we have everything here!