Origins of the Fountain Pen
Qadi Abu-Hanifa Al-Nu'man bin Muhammad an outstanding publicist of the early decades of the Fatimid movement was confidant and companion of Al-Mu'izz, son of Al-Mansur, who came to the throne of Egypt in 953 C.E. (341 A.H). Al-Nu'man died in Fustat (old name for Cairo) in 974 C.E. (363 A.H).
In one of his many works entitled Kitab Al-Majalis Wal-Musayarat, which is now available in a beautiful edition by Al-Habib Al-Faqi, Ibrahim Shabbuh and Muhammad Al-Ya'lawi (Tunis 1978), he describes Al-Mu'izz as a figure of wide intellectual powers and curiosity, a great constructor of palaces , gardens, irrigation works, canals, reservoirs and aqueducts. He also recounts Al-Mu'izz commissioning the construction of a fountain pen:
"We wish to construct a pen which can be used for writing without having recourse to an ink-holder and whose ink will be contained inside it. A person can fill it with ink and write whatever he likes. The writer can put it in his sleeve or anywhere he wishes and it will not stain nor will any drop of ink leak out of it. The ink will flow only when there is an intention to write. We are unaware of anyone previously ever constructing (a pen such as this) and an indication of ‘penetrating wisdom' to whoever contemplates it and realises its exact significance and purpose'. I exclaimed, ‘Is this possible?' He replied, ‘It is possible if God so wills."
The story continues that a few days later the craftsman brought a pen which when filled with ink did indeed write. The pen could be turned upside down in the hand and tipped from side to side without any ink being lost. The pen did not release its content except when specifically asked to do so and for some useful purpose. It only bestows the benefit on a person really desiring it and the ink only flows when summoned. The pen did not do any harm to anyone; it did not stain the hand of the person holding it or his garment or anything else it may be in contact with. It does not have to keep seeking the ink pot because of its hidden reservoir. It is independent. There is "penetrating wisdom" for whoever contemplates it and is guided towards it. God guides whom He wills of His servants into His straight path
"Nun. By the Pen and the (Record) which (men) write" (Qur'an 68:1)
A long-writing pen with an ink reservoir goes back in Western Europe to only the seventeenth century. E. Schwerder talked of one in 1636 and all through the rest of that century and through the eighteenth century there were only brief mentions here and there. The pen as we know it was developed significantly only in the nineteenth century. In 1809, in England, Folsch took out a patent for a pen with an ink reservoir and another was taken out by Scheffer in 1891. Also in 1891 J. H. Lewis produced a quill pen with a reservoir and was actually called a "fountain pen". The introduction of durable, non-corroding rubber in 1844 enabled a significant step to be made towards a practical pen which was consequently produced in the same year by L. E. Waterman of New York City. Three years later the Parker Pen company was established. By the end of the nineteenth century the fountain pen had come into general use but this was almost 900 years after Al-Mu'izz had commissioned one of his craftsmen to construct a "writing pen with a reservoir".
Such examples of interest in scientific and technical matters and such spirit of enquiry and invention were part of the nature of the early Muslims. It was this thirst for knowledge that set them apart from other men and it was this thirst for understanding that enabled them to create a civilization, the Golden Age of Islam, the like of which has never been seen since.
"Medieval Arabic Culture and Administration" C. E. Bosworth.
by: FSTC Limited, Thu 22 May, 2003