Tim's Thoughts

Clips — Who Thinks About the Clips? 

I noted in my previous Thought that having retired from professional work, my pen shop was becoming my full-time/daytime activity. With the passage of a full summer, and my work now actually happening during the day, I’ve found that pen restoration has become far more deliberate, with my thoughts now focusing on the pen in front of me instead of the office. Why am I telling you this? Well, you’ve been asking… and it bears directly on this new Thought, which arose while I was working on the pens in this new group. 

The restoration of the Imperiale, the 1930s Italian pen, required significant close work on its special spring-loaded clip to get it working smoothly again. While picking grunge from the mechanism, my thoughts turned to clips and why they were important, then to their role in the history of fountain pens and in society. Of course, the mechanics of this clip are distinctly different from those of any other clip one is likely to see, and there have been many clip designs over the years. But what about when they were new? Why were they important at all?

The clip first appeared in 1905, Waterman’s Cap Clip. It slid over a cap, supported by a U-shaped flange that held it to the cap. These first clips were often highly decorated with engravings and imprints, and secured the pen with arrow tips, balls, and smooth points. Of far greater importance than their appearance, however, was the fact that they enabled one (well, usually men at that early point), to safely carry a fountain pen vertically in a suit or vest pocket. In those early days, fountain pens were eyedroppers, absolutely dependable to leak with the slightest provocation, so having their resting position during the work day become nib-up made it possible to carry them in relative safety, which significantly accelerated their acceptance into the working world. For the first time, people in business were able to create and complete business documents away from the office. Business travel evolved with many contributing factors, but I would assert that clips on fountain pens were unsung heroes. 

I’m often asked why I’m so fascinated by the mechanics and componentry of fountain pens: well, this Thought is why. Bit by bit, I’ve found that every part of a pen, not just the nib, is a critical contributor to the whole and to fountain pens’ role in history. An earlier Thought addressed the feed, perhaps a different under-appreciated part will find a future Thought. But I’d like to hear from you if you can find a part of the pen that contributed more to its successful evolution than the clip!