As we all know, fountain pens, unlike other types of pens, use liquid ink that is sucked up into the reservoir through the nib. We might use all of it up in a single writing session, or there may still be ink remaining. Enthusiasts may have multiple pens, all with some ink left inside. So how should they be stored – horizontally or with the nib facing up or down?
Fountain pens should be stored vertically with the nib up, especially if filled with ink. When storing them for more than two weeks, expel the ink and flush them out. They can then be stored horizontally or vertically. If you use them daily, horizontal storage keeps the nib wet and ready to write.
In early times, fountain pens had a marked tendency to leak, but these days, not so much. However, there is still that liquid ink with its unique staining properties and tendency to dry out to consider. There’s also the material the pen is made of – silicone seals, acrylics, cellulose, wood, or other materials that could be damaged by extremes in temperature, humidity, light, or moisture.
The Best Environmental Conditions In Which To Store A Fountain Pen
Depending on the materials from which it is made, a fountain pen can be sensitive to humidity, extremes of temperature, and sunlight. If the pen gets too hot, the air in the reservoir may expand, causing the ink to be forced out through the nib. Hot conditions will also dry out any ink inside the pen and the nib faster, especially if the climate is dry.
Sweltering conditions could even cause the body of the pen to melt or become disfigured. Never leave it lying in the sun or a hot car. Also, never clean the pen with warm or boiling water as this can damage the inner parts of the nib. Vintage pens are especially vulnerable as many of them are made with celluloid or coated with shellac, which softens in the heat.
The ultraviolet light in sunlight can degrade the surfaces of pens made of celluloid or hard rubber. You shouldn’t store pens in an airtight container because the celluloid or cellulose they are made from gives off certain acids that can accumulate in an airtight container and hasten the degradation of the pen. This applies mainly to vintage pens.
Excess humidity will hasten the oxidation of rubber parts and the corrosion of metal parts. It can also change the appearance of various cellulose resins. Storing a pen in a sealed plastic bag is not recommended because most of these plastics exhale gases that can damage the finish. They can also lock in acidic gases emitted by the cellulose acetate of the pen body that will then eat at the pen’s surface.
Fountain pen ink can freeze, but when it thaws out, it is perfectly safe to use. If you leave your pen in a parked car in sub-zero temperatures, you may return to find a crack in the barrel or an inky icicle protruding from a cartridge. When water freezes and fountain pen ink is mostly water, it expands.
Noodler’s has created a range of freeze-resistant inks that can survive many cold conditions without turning into ice, so if you live in freezing climates, it’s worth a try. If a fountain pen freezes, this could cause the body or the reservoir to crack. This is something to consider while ordering a pen in icy winter that will be delivered to your doorstep.
Do You Store Fountain Pens Up Or Down?
Storing your pen in a cool, dry, dust-free environment away from temperature extremes and sunlight is the best way to preserve its lifespan. Never store a fountain pen vertically with its nib facing down. Horizontal is fine, but vertical with the nib pointing up is best. You should never store your pen with a flush solution or ordinary tap water inside it.
If you are planning on using the pen every day, you can safely store it horizontally but for more extended periods, and when traveling, it should be stored vertically with the nib up.
Storing A Fountain Pen For Long Periods
If you are not going to use a fountain pen for an extended period, empty it of ink and clean it thoroughly to avoid residues clogging it up as the ink dries. If the pen uses a piston filler, it is a matter of moments to depress or twist the piston and eject the ink. You may need to do this a few times to ensure that it is empty. This is essential if you are not planning to use the pen within the next two weeks.
Don’t empty it back into the ink bottle because you don’t want to contaminate the fresh ink with any residues or particulates from the pen. Rather empty it into the sink or a cup of water that can then be thrown out.
If the pen uses cartridges, then remove and discard the cartridge. Once you have drained the ink out of the pen, you need to flush it out with clean water several times. You can also use a flush made of two parts water and one part household ammonia, but plain tap water is the safest if it is a valuable pen. Ammonia can corrode an antique pen or aluminum parts in modern pens.
The barrels of pens made from nitrocellulose will discolor if they are in contact with ammonia for too long. You also can buy a flush made specifically for fountain pens, but always read the instructions before using it. The main point is that you don’t want the ink to cake onto the pen’s innards while in storage.
Piston filler pens, in particular, won’t work properly if the ink dries out inside the reservoir. It becomes harder to twist the mechanism, resulting in a torn or compromised seal or a broken piston. If the pen uses a converter, use it to expel the ink and then remove it and rinse it well with water.
You can also fill a syringe with water and gently squirt the water through the pen. Remove the nib and the feed if possible and soak them in some water for a few minutes. Then hold them under clean running tap water. If you can’t remove the nib and feed, just hold the entire unit under the tap until the water runs clear. You can also soak it in room temperature water.
Dry all pen components thoroughly with paper toweling or other material that wicks up all the moisture. If your pen came in a presentation box or other container, you could put it in there for storage purposes. You can store it horizontally on a shelf or flat surface with the nib sideways, but vertical storage with the nib pointing up is better.
If there are any remnants of ink or flushing solution in the reservoir, storing the pen with the nib upwards prevents these from flowing into the nib and feed sections and leaving unwanted deposits in the delicate parts. Always keep the pen with the cap on the nib end. A pen that is empty of ink can safely be stored horizontally or vertically for up to a year.
Short Term Storage Of A Fountain Pen
If you need to store the pen for a few days, or less than two weeks, you can safely keep it horizontally at home or the office. However, you should always clean the nib after use to stop ink drying on it and gunking up the tines. If you intend to use the pen within the next few days, there is no need to empty the reservoir.
Always cap your fountain pen after cleaning the nib. This can prevent the ink from drying out too fast and protects the nib against accidents. Make sure the cap is secure and firm on the pen. If you have a pen holder on your desk that stores pens vertically, always ensure that the nib is pointing upwards.
If you store it with the nib downwards, gravity will pool the ink in the feed and pull it through into the nib. This can cause them to clog up, and if the ink dries while the pen is in this position, it will be a big job to clean it out. The ink may even leak into the cap, making a nasty mess when you uncap the pen to use it again.
Storing the pen in a horizontal position has its advantages because this keeps the nib wet but doesn’t allow ink to pool in the feed, nib, or cap. The pen will write more readily when you pick it up to use it. However, if the pen is lying around for more than a couple of weeks, you risk the ink drying on the nib and in the feed.
If the pen is stored with the nib pointing upwards, gravity pulls the ink away from the nib and the feed, so it may not write the first time. It may take a few seconds for the ink to flow back into the feed and wet the nib. If the reservoir contains ink, it is not recommended that you store the pen for more than a month, even vertically.
To make sure your pen is properly dry after cleaning it, you can use a small clean glass or paper cup with a piece of paper towel folded into the bottom and put the pen into it with the nib facing downwards. Leave it there for a while to allow the paper to wick all of the fluids from the pen.
If you are a pen collector, you should have a designated place to store them where you know that the environmental conditions are optimal. Some people keep their pens in display cases to show off their collection. Do not place a glass-paneled display case where the sunlight can hit it directly because the glass can focus it onto the pens and cause them to overheat.
Storing A Fountain Pen While Travelling
If you are traveling with your fountain pen and it has ink in it, store it in a travel case and carry it with the nib pointing up. Most modern fountain pens can be carried onto a flight without fear of leaking, but it’s best to empty the reservoir and clean the pen beforehand if you want to be sure.
The air in the reservoir can expand under cabin pressure, forcing ink through the nib and into the cap. To prevent this, make sure that the ink is filled to the brim if you want to carry an inked pen on a flight. A partially filled reservoir is more likely to leak than a full one because it contains more air.
If you want to use the pen during the flight, it is advisable not to do so during periods of steep ascent or descent because this is when dramatic changes in cabin pressure are most likely to occur. Also, if you use the pen while on the plane, you will partially empty the reservoir, allowing air to enter, which can then expand and cause a leak.
To be extra sure, you can carry the pen in a ziplock bag to contain any leaks. However, you risk damaging the pen’s body if you store it in a plastic bag. You shouldn’t keep a pen for long periods in a plastic bag because the chemicals in the bag could interact with the materials of the pen. A fountain pen travel case is preferable.
If you want to store the pen in your luggage where there is no guarantee that it will remain upright, it is better to empty the reservoir and place it in a travel case. This way, it doesn’t matter if the pen is vertical with the nib up or horizontal with the nib sideways. When flying with a pen, the highest risk of leakage is during takeoff because most planes don’t pressurize the cabin until they reach six thousand feet.
Always store the pen in the upright position if you can. If it has a pocket clip, you can carry it vertically in your breast pocket. The clip is designed so that the nib will always be putting upward.
Fountain Pen Storage Cases
There are many different storage cases for fountain pens, depending on what you use them for. More expensive pens come in containers resembling jewelry boxes where the lid flips open to display the mounted pen inside. Storage cases can be made from wood, plastic, or leather. You can store a fountain pen in the case it came with for extended periods.
Leather is a popular choice for travel cases, but they can also be made from other materials. They are all designed to store the fountain pen while traveling, so they are generally small and fit snugly. Some of them have straps, pockets, or other fixtures that lock the pen in place so that it doesn’t move around too much. They may have a felt, soft cotton, or suede lining to prevent scratches to the barrel.
If you will be storing a pen at home or in the office, there is no need to use a travel case. You can keep it in the box it came in or in a display case. They are usually lined with a soft material to protect the pen. Otherwise, you can store the pen in a plastic or wooden box. Just be careful of plastic dividers and velvet linings because they can damage the pen barrel.
You can also buy fabric or leather pen cases that can take several pens and roll up in a cylinder, and are conveniently portable.
Good-quality fountain pens are meant to last a lifetime. If you want to ensure that your pen survives for this long, storing it properly under the right conditions is crucial. Keep it in a dry, cool area in either a horizontal or vertical position, depending on when you intend to use it again. Never store it vertically with the nib pointing down.