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Predation Drives Evolution?

Posted by Dirck on 3 October, 2013

I was reading a thread on the Fountain Pen Network and a side-note in it has festered in my imagination, and I’m going to lance it now.  The side-note, which was not entirely off topic, was to the effect that pens don’t develop in a vacuum.  This is not something I’m completely unaware of, as in various places in on my site I mention how one pen seems to be influenced by another, but I hadn’t really concentrated on the notion.

What caused the idea to become impacted was today’s pen, a Parker 180, as I was using it the day of reading.  This pen is, in many ways, a very silly object.  In my page on the pen, I do treat it as something of a hothouse flower; the forces which shaped it, while deriving from The Market (that nebulous, invisible-handed creature), are presented as having no particular reference to other makers’ pens, but simply to complaints of pen users in general.  The splinter, if you will, that the combination of reading that thread while using that pen drove home, is engraved with the words, “OK, but what of the Slim Targa?”

You see how fast I work, then, since it’s taken this long for me to get out the tweezers.  What indeed of the Slim Targa?  If pens don’t develop in a vacuum, then one may assume that there is looking over the neighbour’s fences and seeing what they’re about.  Simple laziness and compounded distraction, along with the failing of a literate memory, left the question of which came first up in the air until today– I don’t, generally, have dates of production in my on-board memory because I know where to look them up, and looking them up takes effort.  Having finally overcome inertia and opposition, I find (or rather remind myself) that the Slim Targa is really a late comer, introduced in 1982 while the Parker appeared in 1977.

This surprises me slightly, as Sheaffer is usually more of an innovator, and one would be stretching a little to view the 180 as a response to the appearance of the Targa in its original full width.  Widening focus a little, though, and one sees that the mid-1970s was a time in which pen makers appeared to be climbing over one another in the effort to create the most perfectly cylindrical and narrow fountain pens possible– apart from the two makers I’ve been fixed upon, Waterman began its two decades of pens that are very hard to tell apart, and Pelikan brought forth the Signum (easily mistaken for a contemporary Waterman in dim lighting).  Perhaps it’s less a factor of competition than it is of the zeitgeist of the time– pens would be slim in 1975-1980 in much the same way as steam power would begin to crop up around the turn of the 19th century and motion picture cameras about the turn of the 20th (and don’t let the Edison propaganda fool you, there were plenty of people tinkering in that area).

If that’s the case, the 180 is only a partially successful expression of the concept.  It’s got the “slender” thing all tied up, but it falls down in the area of “cylindrical”, since both cap and barrel taper from where they meet.

I hope that it is zeitgeist rather than, or at least more than, direct competition between pen makers which drove the shape of these various pens.  I’m not a huge fan of the whole “red in tooth and claw” philosophy which seems to be driving so much of modern society, and would be happy to be able to point out that sometimes it’s just a matter of grokking the times, man.  Even if it means I have to accept that really, really big and frequently heavy pens are a manifestation of die Gestalt, and I’m out of tune.


Today’s Pen: Parker 180
Today’s ink: Pelikan violet


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