Pneumatic Fountain Pens

Pneumatic Fountain pens
Pneumatic Fountain pens

Every collector is quite familiar with the popular fountain pen filling systems of the past. Amongst these popular ones were the Eydropper, the safety pen and the Leverfiller or Pushbutton fountain pen. There of course were also other filling systems that never managed to stand their ground on the international markets. When taking a close look at the Levelfiller or Pushbutton fountain pens, one notices a big disadvantage in these systems: A large portion of the shafts volume is filled by the pens inner mechanics making the ink capacity seem quite poor considering the size of the instrument.

In the early 20's many attempts were made to solve this problem without having to disregard the rubber bag in the shafts innards. The basic thought was to create a system in which the rubber tube could be squeezed during the filling process without requiring the necessary inner mechanics. This vision became a reality with the creation of Pneumatic fountain pens. This type of fountain pen had a double layered shaft. A removable capsule, in which a hole could be recognised, was fitted in the shaft. To fill the pen one would start by pulling the capsule out as far as it would go, dip the nib into ink and finally push the capsule back to its starting position. During this procedure it was very important to push a finger over the capsules hole. This created so much pressure whilst pressing the shaft that rubber bag would be reduced to a small size. After doing so, the hole was uncovered resulting in the rubber bag sucking up ink whilst inflating.

Pneumatic Fountain pens one

Because the capsules were usually made of thin metals, the volume loss was at a minimum compared to the mechanics of other systems.
Strangely though, this technique never managed to dominate in popularity. Only the American company Chilton and the German company Montblanc ever produced pens of this kind. The Montblanc version was known as the "Montblanc-Compressor". This description could be viewed on the shafts imprint. Up till today the reason why this system never was in great demand remains unknown. Nowadays these pens are very popular amongst collectors as they are very difficult to come by.

Pneumatic Fountain pens two

The company Chilton introduced these technically interesting and very fine fountain pens to the market. During the 20's these pens agreed with the fashion and taste of the time enabling Chilton great success on the American market. Unfortunately the company failed to recognise the changing direction in taste in the late 30's and ended in financial difficulties. This eventually led to the companies insolvency in 1941.

A few years later the basic idea of a Pneumatic Fountain pen was rediscovered and finally made successful by the company Sheaffer. The Sheaffer model known as Touchdown was introduced into the market. Unlike the description of the Montblanc model where technology (Compressor / Pneumatic Fountain pen) was the main aspect, the Sheaffer version made simplicity and easy use its main selling proposals. The Fountain pen was easily refilled by pushing the pen together (touch down). 1952 saw the release of "Snorkel", a further step in the evolution of the Touchdown-system that enabled quick and easy refilling even with an almost empty ink glass. By twisting the shaft of the instrument anti-clockwise, a tube below the nib was released (the Snorkel) that could suck even the last ink residue out of an ink glass without having to bump the nib against the glass, which could have caused damage. The actual filling procedure was the same as with the previous Touchdown-System.
With this technology Sheaffer managed to compete with the ever growing threat of the Ballpoint pen.
(We would like to express our thanks and gratitude to the members (also known as "Zossers") of the ZOSS-Mailing list (check out without whose qualified opinions this updated version would not have been possible)

M. Lehmann