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Experiment vs. Anecdote

Posted by Dirck on 7 December, 2009

What I offer today is a little of both, actually. It is commonly said of fountain pens that they are much easier to write with than other sorts of pens. It is commonly said, though, by people who are defending their use of fountain pens. We feel this is true. We wish it to be true. We believe it, but when dealing with tangible items of technology faith counts for very little. Where’s the proof?

I have a serving of proof hot from the oven, just below. While it cools to an appropriate temperature, I’ll explain what I did. The exemplar pens are the Sheaffer 800 I used last entry, a Parker Jotter with a gel rollerball insert, and the common-or-garden Bic Crystal, each of which got a line of scribbles to make sure it was ready to perform at its best. Each line of writing below was written with the same amount of pressure I generally apply to my writing– which is really none at all. I go on a bit about how to write on my site, and I’ll not repeat it here, but I’ve got a picture of my own hand in action:
Writing with a Sheaffer Admiral
When starting, my hand hits the ground first, then the pen is gently lowered until it just makes contact with the surface– that finger along the top is just there to keep the pen from dropping out of my hand entirely.

There is then a line under each bit of text, although you may have to work hard to see it in all three examples. This was inspired by an old ad, I think by Parker (any reader who thinks they know it, a link would be warmly welcomed [Future me, here– it was in a 1932 catalogue, and now I can provide the image]), in which the easy-flowing qualities of the pen are proven by resting the pen on the angle of outstretched thumb and fore-finger, with the point resting on the paper– it’s writing under only its own weight. In fairness to the non-fountain pens, I amended the angle to nearly perpendicular and made a ring rather than an angle with my hand to convince them to follow it.

So, let’s see how they did (note– the blog software chops off the side of the image, but the image is a link to show the whole test):
With or without glasses-- which is easier to read?
Oh, dear. You’ll note some extra writing in the second two. “Somewhat more” means actual perceptible weight on the pen– rather than resting on the desk, the hand rests on the pen a little (similar, for those who have tried it, to the amount of pressure to get maximum variation from a flex-point pen). “Lots more” means making a conscious effort to press firmly on the pen, the sort of thing that leaves impressions in the next piece of paper in a pad and destroys all but the strongest fountain pen.

A single experiment proves little, except in the case of Victor Frankenstein, where it proved he was an irresponsible cad. However, like any good science, it is replicable– you can try it yourself, and see where the easiest writing lies. I should mention that the paper used was from a bagasse pad got from Staples– very nice paper with extra planet-friendly points.

Today’s effortless pen: Parker “51” (a slightly harried morning, and this was in battery and near the door)
Today’s ink of leisure: Lamy blue

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3 Responses to “Experiment vs. Anecdote”

  1. wordsworthwhile said

    I try this experiment now and then with dip pen, fountain pen and store-brand ball point. The smooth poise of writing with a dip pen is such a lovely standard. It’s a delight to see how those who write well with dip pens use their fountain pens. My parents, having learned with dip pens, have a gracefulness in using any pen that I most enjoy.

    Thank you for posting the results of your test. It is a lovely testament to the ergonomic nature of writing with proper tools.

  2. […] by ravensmarch on 2 June, 2010 I’ve mentioned in an other forum and at some length elsewhere that writing with a fountain pen is a good thing, for diverse reasons. I know, although I […]

  3. […] get the image up where it can be seen, and you may consider it a companion to the results shown in my first public experiment.  Both samples were written with my common lack of effort when writing, within seconds of each […]

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