(This page published February 8, 2023)
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This is one of a series of short articles that I posted on an Internet forum in 2012. The Internet being a graveyard, I’ve exhumed them for preservation on this site.
In 1901, Seth Sears Crocker received U.S. Patent No 678,547 for one of the simplest self-filling pen designs ever conceived, his blow filler. What could be simpler? You put a sac into a pen and drill a hole in the back of the barrel. This was before pen makers figured out that you needed to seal the nib area airtight when the cap was on the pen, and so there was already a vent hole in the end of the cap. To fill the pen, the user posts the pen, puts his mouth on the end of the cap, and blows. This forces air into the barrel and collapses the sac. Then immersing the nib and part of the section in ink, the user removes his mouth from the pen. The sac inflates, drawing in ink.
Never mind what might be aesthetic objections to the risk of splattering ink on one’s face, this really is an ingenious system.
When somebody does something cool, others often try to copy it. In the case of the blow filler, others (plural) did copy the concept — but with improvements. In 1902, William W. Sanford took out U.S. Patent No 703,479 for his blow filler, which differed from Crocker’s in an important way: it featured a threaded blind cap at the back of the barrel. and this blind cap was a valve. When the blind cap was screwed down all the way, the barrel was sealed against leakage should the sac fail.
In 1903, August Eberstein patented a self filler (U.S. Patent No 721,549). His design was also remarkably simple. To fill the pen, the user removed the barrel and twisted the sac up with his fingers. Then, after immersing nib and part of the section in ink, release of the sac allowed it to resume its normal untwisted shape and draw in ink. Eberstein might possibly have understood the problems associated with heat transfer from the writer’s hand into the pen barrel, where it could cause the trapped air to expand and possibly expel some ink at an unfortunate time. So he added a vent hole at the back end of the barrel.
As you can see, Eberstein did include an inner barrel that extended far enough into the barrel space that it provided the user something to hold onto when the barrel was removed and the level of ink in the bottle was low, but that extension might not be enough to keep people from seeing this pen as a blow filler. Do you suppose…?
Darius G. Gallagher’s 1905 receipt of U.S. Patent No 789,532 shows the extreme opposite in lines of thinking. In Gallagher’s design, the sac is attached to a nipple on a blind cap screwed into the back of the barrel. The sac is molded so that it normally lies flat instead of being round. When the user blows into the sac, it expands and fills the space in the barrel. Put the nib and section into ink and release the pressure, and the sac flattens itself out, drawing ink into the barrel of the pen. Cute, huh?
Here are links to the other six articles in this series.
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