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Bulbs

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Just lying on a desk-top, bulb fillers are hard to tell from the stick type of piston filler.  Like the latter sort, most bulb fillers have a large blind cap and a transparent barrel showing the ink supply.  The give-away, at least in a pen which is partially empty, is a breather tube running the full length of the barrel.

Clear body, big blind cap, breather tube… that’s a bulb-filler, all right.

The breather tube is the one point of cleverness in an otherwise extremely simple filler.  Under the blind cap is a rubber bulb (in effect, a partial sac) fitted to the back of the barrel.  If the bulb is squeezed, the total volume of the ink chamber is reduced, returning upon release.  The breather tube is clever because it allows air to be driven out of the top of the chamber rather than ink out of the bottom, so multiple squeezes will eventually fill a space much larger than the volume of the bulb itself.

Like the stick-piston, the bulb-filler was once a sign of a very inexpensive pen, removing as it does any sort of fiddly mechanism.  However, it is a current filler in pens made by both Gate City Pens and Edison Pens, the former of which may be thought of as a boutique marque and the latter as essentially a bespoke maker– the mechanism is simple, but it’s also extremely reliable, and allows for a  volume of ink that few other systems can rival.

It’s a bulb-filler, with the bulb on the inside!

Ironically, the simplicity of the bulb filler was adapted by a couple of makers in the past into a couple of strangely complicated mechanisms.  Parker’s entry, introduced in 1932, was the Vacumatic, and in it the bulb was inverted and renamed “diaphragm”.  It is worked by a spring-loaded stem mounted in a threaded collar at the back of the barrel.  The same principle as the basic bulb filler remains, though, as the pen fills by several brief reductions of the interior volume forcing air out through a breather tube.  As a final complication, the early versions of the Vacumatic had a twist-lock feature on the stem, which actually served to slightly reduce the amount of ink carried.

Waterman proposes an answer to the question, “How badly can we complicate a bulb filling pen?”

The other variation was Waterman’s “Ink-Vue” system, brought out in 1935.  This was possibly more ridiculous than the Vacumatic, as it took a fairly standard bulb filler set-up and lashed a lever filler onto it.  Apart from the transparent barrels, Ink-Vue pens can be told from lever fillers by the placement of the lever well towards the back of the barrel.  The mounting of the bulb more complex than it needs to be, making replacement difficult, and early examples of the system have levers with an extra hinge in the middle for reasons we may only speculate upon.

Loading a Basic Bulb Filler Step by Step (Vacumatic and Ink Vue
follow):

  1. Get a paper towel or other pen-wiper.
  2. Remove caps from ink bottle and pen, and blind cap from pen.
  3. Immerse point in ink.
  4. Squeeze the bulb firmly, release, and pause for about two seconds.
  5. Repeat step four as many times as you find are required for the pen to stop blowing bubbles when you squeeze. This may be as few as five or as many as fifteen times; since most pens of this sort are transparent, the distance from full may be obvious.
  6. Remove pen from ink and wipe point and section (aren’t you glad you did step 1?).
  7. Replace various caps.

Vacumatic Filling Steps (in which you may see some slight similarities to the previous):

  1. Get a paper towel or other pen-wiper.
  2. Remove caps from ink bottle and pen, and blind cap from pen.
    1. If you have a early version, you should also twist the filler stem counterclockwise to release it.
  3. Immerse point in ink.
  4. Press the plunger firmly (not too firmly with the late plastic versions), release, and pause for about two seconds.
  5. Repeat step four as many times as you find are required for the pen to stop blowing bubbles when you press. This may be as few as five or as many as twenty times; since most pens of this sort are transparent, the distance from full may be obvious, but the Parker “51″ is opaque and slow to fill.
    1. If you are using a pen with a lockdown filler, now is the time to re-lock the stem at the bottom of its travel.
    2. If you are filling a Parker “51″, hold the stem down after the last sight of bubbles
  6. Remove pen from ink and wipe point and section (aren’t you glad you did step 1?).
    1. If using a Parker “51″, release the stem between removal from ink and wiping; this clears ink from the collector and prevents dribbles.
  7. Replace various caps.

Ink-Vue Filling Steps (in which you may see some slight similarities to the previous, also):

  1. Get a paper towel or other pen-wiper.
  2. Remove caps from ink bottle and pen.
  3. Immerse point in ink.
  4. Pull lever, release, and pause for about two seconds.
  5. Repeat step four as many times as you find are required for the pen to stop blowing bubbles when you squeeze.
  6. Remove pen from ink, set lever in rest position, and wipe point and section (aren’t you glad you did step 1?).
  7. Replace various caps.

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