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What Are Demonstrator Fountain Pens?

Opus 88 Demonstrator Eye Dropper Fountain Pen Clear by Opus 88 at Cult PensThe answer depends how purist you are on the matter. There’s some history to the term, which it’s mostly strayed away from, and it’s commonly used now to refer to any transparent fountain pen, where you can see the ink inside. And they’re popular with a lot of people, because it’s fun to see the ink sloshing around inside your pen. OK, there may be people who don’t find that fun, but they just need to find more joy in their lives.

But is that what a demonstrator is demonstrating? Does it demonstrate the ink? No, not originally, anyway.

Back before the introduction of the ballpoint pen, and these pesky computer things, a pen was a pretty big deal to most people. A really good, reliable pen could make the difference between signing that big deal, and returning to the office sadly with a big splodge of ink on the unsigned contract. And a pen was the equivalent of your laptop. So they were big business.

The main pen companies were competing hard with each other, making ever better ways to get the ink into the pen, and from there to the paper, but all the customer saw was a little plastic tube. They wanted to show off how great the insides of these pens were. So when transparent plastics became a thing, they made transparent versions of their pens.

TWSBI Diamond 580 Fountain Pen Iris by TWSBI at Cult PensThe sales people could take these transparent versions on the road with them, and shops could have one ready, to show not just that the pen worked, but how it worked. Let people appreciate the intricate mechanisms that would handle that ink, and keep it on the inside until it was time to make their mark.

So a demonstrator was a special transparent version of these pens, made to show off to customers - but never intended to go home with them.

And to some people, the term now applies to any transparent pen; but to some, it should be reserved for the true demonstrator pens, those vintage showcases of the technology of the time. If you don’t want to get drawn into the argument, you can always refer to that Lamy Vista as a ‘demonstrator’ pen, and hope the quote marks save you from the purists.