Pen basics for airport security personnel

With increasing restrictions on what objects may be carried aboard airplanes, collectors must be prepared for much closer examination of their fountain pens when they fly. This is of particular concern given that few airport security officers will be familiar with the inner workings of fountain pens. The following primer is intended to assist security personnel to examine pens efficiently and with minimum risk of breakage.

Most pens that use cartridges can be opened up with ease by unscrewing the barrel. Pens that fill from a bottle, however, usually cannot be disassembled without special tools and/or the careful application of heat. Eyedropper-filling pens, whose barrels are hollow and must be filled by pouring ink inside, can usually be opened for inspection without difficulty; unrestored examples, however, may be jammed shut with ancient dried ink, and must not be forced. To be on the safe side, do not attempt to disassemble any pen without first asking the owner for permission and for instructions.

The caps on most fountain pens unscrew, so do not attempt to pull them straight off. Once again, it is easiest and safest to ask the pen owner to remove the cap, or to give instructions on how to remove it.
Similarly, do not replace the cap yourself, or place it on the end of the barrel. Proper procedure is to hand over cap and barrel separately, leaving the task of reassembly to the pen owner. Many vintage pens have very delicate caps; some are valuable precisely because of this fragility, which has made intact specimens rare.

If you are looking for hidden blades, checking pens that cannot be disassembled is best done by X-ray. Normal metal internal components that you are likely to see in most fountain pens would include a screw shaft in piston-fillers (mostly European-made), a central plunger rod in plunger-fillers, a flat pressure bar or long J-shaped mainspring in lever-fillers, and a flat two-part pressure bar with a kink at its end in button-fillers. Other filler types may have tubular metal plungers and/or ink sac covers.

If you are concerned that the pen might contain a prohibited liquid, you can ask the pen owner to either open the pen, if it is an eyedropper or cartridge-filler, or to demonstrate the filling mechanism using a glass of water (note that this last alternative will not be possible if the pen has not been restored).
For more on filling mechanisms, see our Filling Instructions page.