Are Eyedropper-Filling Pens Practical?

Many collectors think that eyedropper-filling pens are impractical for regular use. Yet most eyedroppers worked perfectly well when new, and will still give good service today. The key component governing ink flow is the feed, so it is a measure of the prejudice against eyedroppers that collectors who happily recommend Parker button-fillers and Waterman lever-fillers of the 'teens and '20s as users, dismiss the practicality of their eyedropper-filling precursors that use the exact same nibs and feeds!

In fact, when it comes to very large pens, eyedroppers enjoy a significant advantage, for large sacs loaded with ink lack the rigidity necessary to prevent drips and blots Ė one reason why truly giant pens were almost always made as either eyedroppers or pump-fillers.

It is true that filling an eyedropper entails juggling several components, but it really isnít any worse in this respect than filling a pump-filler with a detachable blind cap. Furthermore, one need not wipe the nib after filling, since the ink is placed directly into the barrel. Not that many years ago, many of us would fill our technical drawing pens manually, blissfully unaware that our drafting pens were "impractical"!

What about leakage at the section joint? If the threads are kept clean (a cotton swab serves the purpose), this is seldom a problem. If in doubt, a bit of silicone grease will help keep the joint ink-free. A more serious concern might be the lack of an inner cap on slip-cap eyedroppers: if the pen is shaken, ink may spatter inside the cap, and run down onto the grip area. This, of course, is not an issue with screw-cap eyedroppers, which have inner caps just like self-filling pens. Screw-cap eyedroppers are also much more resistant to cap splitting, which happens all too easily if a slip-cap penís barrel is forced into its cap (not really a problem with overlays, however, or with pens with metal cap bands).

So why the prejudice against eyedroppers? It would seem to go back a long, long way -- to when the pen companies were promoting their new self-fillers, and trying to convince potential buyers that their trusty eyedroppers were hopelessly messy and technologically obsolete. Pen advertising of the early 20th century almost seamlessly shifted from denigrating the old-fashioned dip pen to denigrating the newly-old-fashioned eyedropper-filler. Nonetheless, many customers continued to prefer eyedroppers, and in many parts of the world they remained popular well into the postwar era.

For some notes on the practical advantages of eyedropper-filling retracting-nib safety pens, click here.