Filling Systems: Overview of How They Work and How to Fill Them

(This page revised May 13, 2016)

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Since its inception, the fountain pen has been fitted with many different filling systems, including some that are amazingly simple and others that are intriguingly complex. This article describes and illustrates many of the systems that have been used. The illustrations are schematic in nature and do not represent any specific actual pen.

The descriptions include filling instructions. Except for the Sheaffer Snorkel, all systems whose filling requires that you immerse part of the pen into the ink also require you to clean away the excess ink after filling. Each system’s filling instructions include a link to display a pop-up window containing cleaning instructions.


List of Filling Systems


Accordion Aero-metric Blow Bulb Button Capillary
Cartridge/Converter Chilton (suction) Coin Crescent Dunn Eyedropper
Hatchet Hump Ink-Vue Lever Leverless Matchstick
Piston Plunger Saddle Servo Sleeve (Thumb) Snorkel
Spoon Squeeze Bar Syringe Touchdown Twist Vacumatic

Filling System Description

Accordion Design: Mechanical ink-sac compression. The sac is corrugated somewhat like a bellows and is compressed along its length by a button at the end of the barrel.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove blind cap. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Press and release plunger four times, waiting three seconds at the top of each stroke. Remove pen from ink and clean. Replace blind cap.
Aero-metric Parker “51”, Hero 100. Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze, with breather tube; differs from squeeze bar filler in that an Aero-metric filler’s breather tube has a tiny lateral hole near the feed that permits air-pressure equalization in the sac. The sac is contained within a metal sac guard to which a spring-steel pressure bar is affixed. The barrel conceals the filler during use and must be removed to expose it for filling. Depressing the pressure bar with a thumb or finger squeezes the sac laterally. There is a hole at either the back end or the side of the barrel; this hole permits equalization of air pressure between the pen’s interior and the outside environment.
Filler schematic
There is a full-color 3-D cutaway of an Aero-metric pen in Anatomy of a Fountain Pen IV: The Parker “51” (Aero-metric Version).

To fill: Remove barrel. Immerse nib and part of shell into ink. Press and release pressure bar several times until no more bubbles appear, waiting three seconds after each squeeze. Some pens have instructions imprinted on the sac guard to indicate the number of squeezes required, but looking for bubbles is a more positive indication. Remove pen from ink. Squeeze three or four drops back into the bottle and release the pressure bar in order to suck excess ink from the nib area into the collector. Clean. Replace barrel.
Blow Design: Pneumatic ink-sac compression. Blowing air into the pen through a hole at the end of the barrel squeezes the sac.
Filler schematic
There is a full-color 3-D cutaway of a blow filler in Design Features: Pneumatic Pens.

To fill: Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Cover end of barrel with your mouth and blow gently but with sufficient pressure to deflate sac. Remove your mouth from the barrel. Wait five seconds. Deflate sac again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean.

Bulb Design: Mechanical squeeze of bulb at end of barrel.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove blind cap. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Squeeze and release bulb several times until no more bubbles appear, waiting three seconds after each squeeze. Remove pen from ink and clean. Replace blind cap. (On some pens, there is no blind cap as such. Instead, the barrel unscrews to reveal a clear reservoir with the bulb at its end.)
Button Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A button at the end of the barrel bends a spring-metal pressure bar to squeeze the sac laterally.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove blind cap. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Press button firmly until it stops, then release. Wait five seconds. Press and release button again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean. Replace blind cap.
Capillary Parker 61. Design: Capillary action. An internal reservoir (the capillary cell) contains a sheet of plastic that has been perforated, embossed with a 3-D pattern resembling safety tread, and rolled up. The holes allow ink to ooze between the rolled-up layers, and the embossed pattern maintains space between the layers. In the center, running the entire length of the capillary cell, is the feed. The cell’s housing is metal, with a Teflon coating to repel ink easily. When the pen is not being filled, a spring-loaded valve in the back end of the barrel seals the end of the cell.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove barrel. Immerse end of capillary cell into ink. (Do not attempt to remove capillary cell from pen.) Allow to stand for 60 seconds. Remove pen from ink and clean. Replace barrel.
Cartridge/Converter Design: Replaceable ink reservoir. A small nipple, usually of metal, is placed at the back of the section assembly to pierce a hole in the end of a pre-filled sealed removable cartridge. A converter that includes the reservoir and a filling system can be installed in place of a cartridge. The most common converter design uses the piston system. (Some makers also offer a modified version with a sliding tab instead of the usual twist knob; this is essentially a syringe filler.) Squeeze-type converters resemble a Squeeze Bar filler but lack the breather tube that is found in some versions of the latter.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove or slide barrel as required. Remove cartridge or converter. Install converter or new cartridge. If you have installed a converter, fill pen as indicated. Replace barrel. For the Namiki/Pilot Vanishing Point, you must remove the back half of the pen and then remove the sliding nib carrier assembly from the front half. When filling a Vanishing Point from a bottle, immerse the entire nib and a short portion of the carrier itself.
Chilton (suction) Chilton proprietary. Design: Pneumatic ink-sac compression. There are three variations of the Chilton system. In the first version, the barrel slides on an airtight seal over a metal tube that is fixed to the section. A small hole is at the back end of the barrel. When the barrel is extended, the hole covered, and the barrel returned to its rest position, air is allowed into the barrel through the hole and then compressed, squeezing the sac. When the hole is uncovered, the trapped air is released and the sac draws in ink by resuming its normal shape. In the second version, the barrel is fixed and the metal tube slides back and forth within the barrel. A blind cap is attached to the tube to give the user a suitable “knob” to operate. This design is functionally the same as that of Sheaffer’s Touchdown models. The third version resembles the second but has no hole in the blind cap. Instead, a valve opens and closes a concealed air passage. Operation is the same as for the second version except that there is no need for the user to create and then release a seal by covering and uncovering a hole; pressure is released automatically as the aluminum tube nears the end of its travel. The third version was not successful because the valve proved unreliable. The first version is illustrated here.
Filler schematic
There are full-color 3-D cutaways of first- and second-model Chiltons in Design Features: Pneumatic Pens.

To fill: First and second versions: Extend barrel or tube, leaving hole uncovered. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Cover hole and press down smoothly to return barrel to its rest position. Uncover hole. Wait 10 seconds. Remove pen from ink and clean. Third version: Same as second version except that there is no hole for you to cover and uncover.

Coin Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, located beneath a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally when depressed by insertion of a coin or similar object into the hole. Some makers of coin fillers included their own “coin” discs with their pens.
Filler schematic
To fill: Insert a coin to depress pressure bar. Immerse the nib and part of the section into ink. Remove coin. Wait five seconds. Depress pressure bar again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean.
Crescent Conklin proprietary, later used on Japanese pens imported by Spors et al. Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, attached to a metal crescent protruding through a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally. A lock ring rotates around the barrel. Rotated one way, the ring “locks” the crescent against being depressed; rotated the other way, the ring “unlocks” the crescent to be depressed. See also Hump.
Filler schematic
To fill: Rotate lock ring to position slot in lock ring under crescent, unlocking the crescent. Press crescent. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Release crescent. Wait five seconds. Press and release crescent again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean. Rotate lock ring to lock crescent.
Dunn Dunn-Pen proprietary, later used on Omas Lucens and Gate City New Dunn Pen. Design: Pump. A plunger draws in ink when raised and expels air through the breather tube when depressed. The downstroke expels air instead of ink because the air in the barrel can travel down the breather tube more easily than ink can flow down the feed channels. The “piston head” is only a guide and a retainer to keep the plunger from being pulled out of the barrel, and it does not seal against the barrel. In order to facilitate the flow of ink from one side of the head to the other, the head in some pens is relieved to give it a square shape, while in other pens there are holes in the plunger shaft near the head.
Filler schematic
To fill: Unscrew the “Little Red Pump-Handle” (the red knob) until it moves freely. Immerse nib and part of section in ink. Pull the knob out to extend the plunger, drawing ink into pen. Wait two seconds. Press knob down, smoothly and fairly rapidly, to expel air. Repeat extending and pressing the knob until no air bubbles appear during the downstroke. Remove pen from ink, screw the knob down, and clean.
Eyedropper Design: Direct filling into barrel. Most eyedropper fillers unscrew, usually at the joint between section and barrel, and ink is dripped into the pen with an eyedropper. In “safety” pens with retractable nibs, the ink is dripped into the opening that is left by the retracted nib.
Filler schematic
Filler schematic
To fill: Non-retracting pens: Hold pen nib uppermost. Unscrew section assembly from barrel (upper image) and set it aside on a piece of waste paper. Use an eyedropper to fill barrel with ink to about 14" (6 mm) from opening. Replace section assembly, being sure to screw it tightly so that it will not leak. Clean off any ink that has gotten on exterior surfaces. Retracting pens: Hold pen nib uppermost. Retract nib (lower image, illustrated by Moore’s Non-Leakable). Use an eyedropper to fill barrel with ink just until you can see ink beginning to fill the opening. Clean off any ink that has gotten on exterior surfaces.
Hatchet John Holland proprietary. Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, located beneath a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally. A lever shaped like the letter P (resembling a hatchet) is mounted in the slot, with its pivot located at the middle of the slot. At rest, the “tab” of the P is concealed in the barrel, toward the end. Lifting the lever and swinging it through a half circle toward the nib reveals the tab, which provides a “button” that the user pushes to press the lever through the slot and against the pressure bar.
Filler schematic
To fill: Open lever and swing it over to depress pressure bar. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Release lever. Wait five seconds. Press and release lever again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean. Restore lever to rest position.
Hump Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, attached to a metal hump protruding through a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally. In some versions (variations of the Crescent filler, sufficiently different to avoid patent infringement), a lock ring rotates around the barrel. Other versions have a knob at the back end of the barrel. Rotated one way, the ring or knob “locks” the hump against being depressed; rotated the other way, the ring or knob “unlocks” the hump to be depressed. (Shown here is the Welty “Wawco” lock-ring filler.) See also Crescent.
Filler schematic
To fill: Rotate lock ring or knob to release the hump. Press hump. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Release hump. Wait five seconds. Press and release hump again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean. Rotate lock ring or knob to lock hump.
Ink-Vue Waterman proprietary. Design: A Rube Goldberg bulb filler; mechanical squeeze of bulb at end of barrel. A metal pressure bar, located beneath a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the bulb laterally. A two-piece jointed pivoting lever is mounted in the slot. Lifting the lever’s longer end raises the first arm of the lever to 90°, at which point it engages the second arm. Lifting further depresses the other end of the second arm to push against the pressure bar.
Filler schematic
To fill: Raise first arm of lever to its open position. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Push lever further until it stops, and release. Wait three seconds. Repeat until no more bubbles appear. Remove pen from ink and clean. Return lever to closed position.
Lever Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, located beneath a slotted hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally. A pivoting lever is mounted in the slot, with its pivot about 13 of the distance from one end to the other. Lifting the lever’s longer end depresses the shorter end to push against the pressure bar.
Filler schematic
There is a full-color 3-D cutaway of a lever-filler pen in Anatomy of a Fountain Pen I: A Typical Lever Filler.

To fill:
Depress pressure bar by lifting lever to 90° angle (straight outward from the barrel). If the lever hits a stop before reaching 90°, do not force farther. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Release lever. Wait five seconds. Lift and release lever again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean. Pens with breather tubes, such as Eversharp models from the 1940s and 1950s, require multiple operations of the lever; keep lifting and releasing until no air bubbles appear when you lift.
Leverless Mabie Todd proprietary. Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal blade, positioned eccentrically in the barrel and attached to a rotating knob at the end of the barrel, squeezes the sac.
Filler schematic
To fill: Rotate barrel-end knob counterclockwise against the resistance of the twisting sac until it stops. Do not force farther! Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Rotate knob clockwise until it stops. Wait five seconds. Remove pen from ink and clean.
Matchstick Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A metal pressure bar, located beneath a small hole in the side of the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally when depressed by insertion of a matchstick or similar object into the hole. The hole is sometimes protected by a metal band that can be rotated or slid to expose the hole.
Filler schematic
To fill: Expose hole if it is protected. Insert matchstick to depress pressure bar. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Remove matchstick. Wait five seconds. Depress pressure bar again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean. Cover hole if indicated.
Piston Design: Screw-driven piston. A knob at the end of the barrel drives a long-pitch screw shaft on which rides a piston. In some piston fillers, the knob is also threaded so that it “unscrews” slightly as the piston goes toward the nib and returns to its rest position as the piston is drawn back (the “differential” system, shown here; patented in 1923 by Hungarian engineer Theodor Kovàcs and introduced in 1929 by Pelikan). In other versions, the knob is fixed so that it can turn but does not travel lengthwise as the piston moves.
Filler schematic
To fill: With pen over a sink, rag, or other ink catcher, turn piston knob counterclockwise until it stops. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Turn piston knob clockwise until it stops. Repeat this cycle once to displace air trapped by the first cycle. Remove pen from ink. Clean pen. (Many sources recommend that you turn the piston counterclockwise enough to bleed out two or three drops and then turn it clockwise again until it stops, but for many pens this technique does not clear excess ink from the feed satisfactorily. You still need to swaddle the nib and feed.) Caution: the piston on the Soennecken 111 and 222 is latched so that it must be pulled slightly before it will turn. Once freed from the latch, it can be released and turned normally. When returned to its rest position, it clicks as the latch reëngages.
Plunger Sheaffer Vacuum-Fil, Conklin Nozac Q.F., Wahl-Eversharp “One-Shot” vacuum filler, and De la Rue’s Onoto the Pen. Design: Mechanical release of partial vacuum in barrel. A piston plunger in the barrel creates a partial vacuum on the downstroke; near the end of the stroke the piston passes into an area of larger diameter, releasing the vacuum so that external air pressure forces ink into the pen. In order to ensure an unrestricted path for ink flow during use, the piston in Sheaffer and Wahl-Eversharp pens is forced sideways in the barrel by a protrusion on the end of the feed or by a pin piercing the section threads transversely. Conklin and Onoto pens (and some early Wasp and Vacuum-Fil sub-brand pens made by Sheaffer) do not have this device and instead rely on a sufficiently great difference in the inner diameters. The end of the piston rod in the Onoto is a conical ink shutoff as in many Japanese eyedropper fillers, and the Onoto’s blind cap must be unscrewed slightly to allow ink to flow to the nib.
Filler schematic
There is a full-color 3-D cutaway of a Vacuum-Fil pen in Anatomy of a Fountain Pen V: Sheaffer’s Vacuum-Fil. There is an article on the history of plunger fillers in Filling System Histories: Take the Plunge.

To fill: Unscrew blind cap. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Pull up on blind cap to withdraw plunger as far as it will go. Press blind cap down smoothly and firmly, but not too quickly, to drive plunger down in barrel. (If pen is dry, begin by pulling plunger up a short distance and pushing down again. Make two or three short strokes like this to draw in a small amount of ink that can lubricate the barrel wall, then make the full stroke.) Wait five seconds. Remove pen from ink and clean. Screw blind cap to secure plunger.

Saddle Holland proprietary. Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A saddle-shaped piece of metal wraps partially around the barrel. Attached to the saddle is a “cinch,” a loop that enters the barrel through a hole at each side of the saddle, passing around a pressure bar that lies at the bottom side of the barrel, beneath the sac. Pulling the saddle upward, away from the barrel, squeezes the sac laterally.
Filler schematic
To fill: Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Pull and release saddle bar two times, waiting three seconds between pulls. Remove pen from ink and clean.
Servo Servo (Welty) proprietary. Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A U-shaped operating lever pushes upward on a metal pressure bar to squeeze the sac. The pressure bar has a pair of tabs on its under surface that straddle the end of the operating lever to prevent the pressure bar from wandering sideways. There is also a hole in the pressure bar through which the operating lever passes; this hole keeps the lever from sliding back and forth relative to the pressure bar.
Filler schematic
To fill: Grasp the end of the operating lever that is closest to the nib and and raise it outward from the barrel. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Release lever. Wait five seconds. Lift and release lever again, wait five seconds longer. Remove pen from ink and clean.
Sleeve (Thumb) Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. The sac is partially exposed through an opening in the side of the barrel. A pressure bar spans the opening. A movable sleeve covers the opening; in some pens, the sleeve travels along the barrel of the pen to expose the opening, while in others it rotates through part of a turn. Depressing the pressure bar with a thumb or finger squeezes the sac laterally. See also Squeeze Bar.
Filler schematic
To fill: Move sleeve to expose opening. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Press and release pressure bar two times, waiting three seconds between squeezes. Remove pen from ink and clean. Move sleeve back into position.
Spoon Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. A pressure bar shaped much like an ordinary eating spoon is pivot-mounted at the end of the barrel so that the spoon’s “handle” extends alongside the sac and its “bowl” is a small toggle that is exposed by removal of a blind cap. Pressing the toggle laterally levers the pressure bar against the sac to squeeze it. The Red Band Parker “51” is a variant of this design in which a plunger/button activates the toggle.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove blind cap. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Press and release toggle two times, waiting three seconds between presses. Remove pen from ink and clean. Replace blind cap.
Squeeze Bar Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze, with or without breather tube; differs from Aero-metric in that a squeeze bar filler’s breather tube, if present, lacks the tiny lateral hole that permits air-pressure equalization in the sac. The sac is contained within a metal sac guard to which a spring-steel pressure bar is affixed. The barrel conceals the filler during use and must be removed to expose it for filling. Depressing the pressure bar with a thumb or finger squeezes the sac laterally. See also Sleeve. There are also hybrid sleeve/squeeze-bar pens in which either all of the barrel or its back half slides on a metal sac guard instead of being removable.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove barrel. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Press and release pressure bar two times, waiting three seconds between squeezes. Remove pen from ink and clean. Replace barrel.
Syringe Design: Mechanical piston. The filler shaft is connected directly to the piston head; extending the shaft draws ink into the pen, and depressing it expels ink.
Filler schematic
To fill: Remove blind cap. With pen over a sink, rag, or other ink catcher, push piston in until it stops. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Pull piston out until it stops. Remove pen from ink. Clean pen. Replace blind cap.
Touchdown and Snorkel Sheaffer proprietary. Design: Pneumatic ink-sac compression.The sac is protected by a close-fitting metal tube. A second metal tube, called the “Touchdown tube,” slides within the barrel on an airtight seal. A blind cap is attached to the Touchdown tube to secure it in the retracted position and to give the user a suitable “knob” to operate. There are a small hole partway along the length of the Touchdown tube and a small dimpled groove in the tube adjacent to the blind cap. When the Touchdown tube is extended, a partial vacuum builds until the small hole passes the barrel seal; air is then drawn into the barrel. The partial vacuum would normally distend the sac, but the sac protector prevents this distension. When theTouchdown tube is returned to its rest position, the air within is compressed, squeezing the sac. Pressure is released as the Touchdown tube nears the end of its travel and the dimpled groove passes the seal, and the sac draws ink in by resuming its normal shape. This design is functionally the same as that of Chilton’s second version. In Snorkel models, releasing the Touchdown tube to operate also extends a small “Snorkel” tube from within the feed, beneath the nib. There is also a TIPdip version of the Touchdown, which has a hole at the end of the feed under the nib, where the Snorkel tube appears in Snorkel models.
Filler schematic
There are full-color 3-D cutaways of a Snorkel and a Touchdown in Design Features: Pneumatic Pens. The Snorkel system is explained in detail in Anatomy of a Fountain Pen III: Sheaffer’s Snorkel.

To fill (Touchdown or TIPdip): Unscrew blind cap. With pen over a sink, rag, or other ink catcher, pull blind cap out to extend Touchdown tube. The pen may expel a small amount of ink as you do this. Do not immerse any portion of the pen in ink while extending the Touchdown tube! Immerse nib and part of section (Touchdown), or just tip half of nib and feed (TIPdip), into ink. Press down smoothly on blind cap, returning Touchdown tube to its rest position. Wait 10 seconds. Remove pen from ink and screw blind cap to secure Touchdown tube. Clean.

To fill (Snorkel): Unscrew blind cap, pushing gently toward barrel while unscrewing to ensure that Snorkel tube, which might be a little sticky, extends fully; and turn blind cap until you feel a soft but distinct “click.” With pen over a sink, rag, or other ink catcher, pull blind cap out to extend Touchdown tube. The pen may expel a small amount of ink as you do this. Do not immerse any portion of the pen in ink while extending the Touchdown tube! Immerse tip of Snorkel tube into ink. (If filling a completely dry pen, immerse nib and part of section.) Press down smoothly on blind cap, returning Touchdown tube to its rest position. Wait 10 seconds. Remove pen from ink and screw blind cap to secure Touchdown tube and retract Snorkel tube. Do not clean the ink from the Snorkel tube; any ink remaining on the exterior will assist in restarting capillary action to direct ink to the nib tip. (If you were filling a completely dry pen and immersed the nib, clean it after retracting the Snorkel tube.)
Twist Design: Mechanical ink-sac squeeze. The sac is secured at both ends; turning a knob at the end of the barrel “wrings the sac out” by twisting it at that end.
Filler schematic
To fill: The knob should indicate which way to turn it. With pen over a sink, rag, or other ink-catcher, turn knob in indicated direction until you feel it hit a stop. Do not force. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. Turn knob the other way until it stops. Wait five seconds. Remove pen from ink and clean.
Vacumatic Parker proprietary. Design: Mechanical diaphragm distension. A plunger at the end of the barrel distends a rubber diaphragm to expel air through the breather tube. Releasing the plunger draws ink into the pen by the same path.
Filler schematic
There is a full-color 3-D cutaway of a Vacumatic pen in Anatomy of a Fountain Pen II: The Parker Vacumatic.

To fill:
Remove blind cap. Immerse nib and part of section into ink. If the pen has a Lockdown filler, the spring-loaded plunger is latched in the depressed position; in this case, press on the end of the plunger, twisting the plunger very slightly counterclockwise, and release. The plunger should extend. Press quickly and release. Parker instructions said to press and release the plunger 10 times, waiting one second at the top of each stroke; but I find that some Vacs require more strokes, and a one-second wait is not always long enough to allow the pen to draw as much ink as it will. Continue pressing and releasing until no more bubbles appear on the downstroke, pausing two or three seconds at the top of each stroke. If the pen has a Lockdown filler, press one final time and twist the plunger slightly clockwise to latch it. Remove pen from ink and clean. Replace blind cap. (For a Vacumatic-filling “51”, remove the pen from the ink before releasing the plunger on the final stroke in order to suck excess ink from the nib area into the collector.)

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.

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