Every major city in the United States has a pen show. Organizers in Los Angeles plan to host theirs from February 17th to 20th. Let’s hope it won’t be canceled.

Fountain pens are heavily showcased at these events. Millennia of enhancements transfigure crude, antediluvian reservoir pens into an elegant modern-day writing instrument whose mechanism, or anatomy, could be succinctly elucidated via two presentation slides. Although its usage is no longer ubiquitous and quotidian, fountain pens have helped mankind transcript thoughts and pen masterpieces in every scholarly field.

The French company J. Herbin manufactured its first ink in the 1670s! Scented inks and funky colors such as violette pensée (pensive violet), bouquet d’antan (bouquet of yesterday pink), and larmes de cassis (tears of blackcurrant) likely were not introduced until the latter part of the 20th century. Lie de thé (officially “brown tea” in English) commemorates teas from the Orient.  Its ingredient list—a trade secret—does not contain tea, does it?

Taiwanese Companies

Surprisingly, many fountain pen and ink manufacturers hail from the island nation of Taiwan.  Studio Nine Design names six inks in the Kala Island N°38 Series after Taiwanese snacks:  Tapioca, milk tea, turtle-shaped rice cake, cudweed rice cake, taro balls, and sweet potato balls.  (In Greek, Kala (καλά) means good.)  N°38 or No.38 gives the impression that the ink itself is numbered “38.” Actually, per territory size, Taiwan is Planet Earth’s 38th largest island.

Lennon Tool Bar, another Taiwanese ink producer, has yet to attain international presence. In 2019 the company launched the Taiwan Tea Color Series consisting of Sun Moon Lake Black Tea (deep crimson), WenShan PouChong Tea (black), and Mucha Iron Goddess (olive green) – stunning colors!

Bottle of Island No.38 ink next to the box showing the Taiwanese snack-inspired inks

Ink and Pen Tea

Common sense deters one from feeding a fountain pen any liquid other than fountain pen ink.  YouTube video How To Make Ink From Tea does not warn viewers of this until the epilogue – way too late! (There is of course already a YouTube Channel named Pens and Tea.)

Bottle of ‘Lie de The’ ink next to bottle of Island No.38 ink and their boxes

“No comment” is my review of ChuFunYu’s pen-shaped tea instrument SWIRL. The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page answers the question “Where do you manufacture?” with this statement: 

We design the SWIRL and Caddy in Taiwan and assemble in our own factory in China out of custom parts made for us in China. We regularly visit each of our factories in person to ensure an exceptional level of quality in every aspect of the operation.

 China prides itself on being the world’s factory, yet much of its manufacturing endeavor infringes human rights, and product quality is often questionable or even subpar. The disclaimer above will be obsolete when production is moved elsewhere.

My Fountain Pens

The pandemic has summoned memories that were thought long lost. For example, my very first shopping trip in quest of a fountain pen: At a stationery store my parents purchased a pen for an older cousin’s graduation celebration.  They also requested name engraving.  I was in the fifth grade. Fountain pens remain a most ideal all-occasion gift.

My collection, mostly purple and all affordable, still needs an eyedropper and a pen made entirely (the nib, the feed, the section, all components) in France. Peyton Street Pens in Santa Cruz, California carries “new old stock” pens manufactured decades ago, including the ultra-chic Lady Sheaffer 642 Satin Tulle Fountain Pen (1975) with 14k Stylpoint nib – my favorite non-purple materialistic possession.

Three of the author’s treasured fountain pens next to a bottle of ‘Lie de The’ ink and its box

Images provided and copyright held by author