Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ratnamson Handmade Ebonite Pen: A piece of History

In an earlier post reviewing Guider Celluloid Handmade pen I had made a passing reference to the Ratnamson Handmade pens from Rajahmundhry, Andhra Pradesh. In fact Ratnam Ball Pen Works is older than Guider and probably one of the oldest in India. There is a very interesting history with a Nationalistic twist behind the pen.

K.V. Ratnam of Rajahmundhry belonged to a family of jewelers and was involved in making blocks for lithographic printing when he met Mahatma Gandhi in 1921. Inspired by the Mahatma’s call for use of Indian made or “Swadeshi” things, Ratnam turned to manufacture of pens out of hardened rubber, ebonite. One of the first pens he made was sold to Nyapthi Subba Rao Pantulu, a freedom fighter and one of the founders of the South Indian English Newspaper The Hindu. Though this particular pen was made of silver, manufacturing of pen in ebonite commenced in 1932.

Mr. Ratnam presented an early sample of his ebonite pen to Mahatma Gandhi at Wardha in 1935 and Gandhiji used it extensively and even wrote to Mr. K.V. Ratnam appreciating the quality of the pen. When the All India Congress Committee met in Kakinada in 1937, Mr. Jawahar Lal Nehru accompanied Mr. Puntulu came to Rajahmundhry and visited the Ratnam pen works. Impressed by the quality of Ratnam pens Nehru also purchased a pen for himself.

Having learned about such illustrious history of Ratnam Ebonite Pens, I could not resist the temptation to order one for myself. I had also read a number of rave reviews about Ratnamson  pens including some in the Fountain Pen Network and was eager to possess one. I had settled down on a Ratnamson  Ebonite Model 302 eyedropper filler fountain pen with steel nib. I wanted a gold nib as these are handmade in-house and reportedly much superior to the steel ones which are outsources factory mass produced. However, the high price of gold has made the cost prohibitive and I had to, at least for the time being settle for a gold plated fine point nib.

The only way you can order a pen from Ratnam is to send a Money Order or a Demand Draft to their Rajamundhry address and patiently wait for the snail mail to deliver the pen at your address. The package finally arrived 10 days after the receipt of the MO at their works.

The packing itself is of a bygone era carefully hand wrapped in recycled paper cover.

The first impression that you get when you see the pen is, it is huge, at least compared to Indian pens. The overall length is 14.6 CM when closed and 12.4 CM when open. But when the cap is posted the pen is a massive 17.1 CM long. At the thickest point the pen is just under 15 mm thick. 

The cap takes full three turns to open. The ebonite has a design of black swirl on brown in a very pleasing manner. The clip and the ring on the cap are gold plated. Clip is rather flat but strong with the right tension.

The gold plated nib with inscription iridium point is large, much larger than MB nib.

When you hold the pen posted in your hand, it feels just a bit heavy on the top. I would not go to the extent of calling it imbalanced, but at least I do not feel comfortable with the feel. Though there is no marking on the nib to indicate if it is a fine or medium tip, the writing clearly indicates a fine tip. It takes almost 4 ml of ink to fill the pen.

 Now the actual writing.  The pen writes pretty smooth. Not too gliding to spoil your handwriting, but smooth as a nib should feel. Like every fine nib, this one also demands a delicate amount of pressure. At that amount of pressure, it offers the right amount of resistance to make you write carefully. I was not too happy with the amount of flow of ink, though I would not say it writes dry. Personally, I would have liked a bit more flow. To be fair, I must admit that I did not go through the usual routine of breaking in a new pen in this case. Normally when I get a new pen, before filling in with ink, I usually give it a thorough wash, first with plan water, then with a very very weak mixture of water and dish cleaning fluid or ammonia (one drop of cleaner in one 200 ml glass of water). Then the pen is washed under pressure under a tap and immersed in a glass of clean water for 20 minutes before taking out and drying. Then only do I usually fill ink. The first filling I love to do with Waterman or Quink. This time I just filled some blue Quink and tried it.

Overall, I feel history in my hands when I hold this pen. Fortunate to hold a pen that Gandhi, Nehru and such noble souls held! I am certainly ordering a gold nib or better still order another Ratnamson with gold nib.

Will I buy this pen again? You bet. I will not only buy a gold nib, but I will bequeath it to my son who too is fond of writing with fountain pens. That is how much I like this pen.


  1. I would like to buy one for myself. Please provide me the address at tapan(at) remove (at) and replace with @


  2. A friend of mine from Rajahmundry gifted a fountain pen of Ratnam & Sons . After reading the history of it in internet I just landed in your blog " Pen Envy " . It is so nice to see your other postings also and love to read all. I am also fond of pens and wrote a blog on pens.

    Thanks for your postings. Now I am a proud owner of Ratnam pen's fountain pen. - Chander

  3. Where can one get a catalogue of their pens?

  4. conatct me
    will provide all details

  5. RATNAM PEN WORKS 10-7-33,
    Rangreeju peta,
    Fort Gate,
    PIN- 533101.
    cell: 9848918904, 9948176830

    1. Do they reply promptly or should we call them? Which one is better?

  6. Wonderful review for a lovely pen, sir. Indeed, the ebonite pens from Rajamundhry are precious works of art. It's a pity they have to rely on resellers to market their pens in the international market, which cuts into their profit margins.

  7. I too bought a ratnam pen for the same reason of associating myself with the history. However, i consistently face the poor ink flow problem :( .. i hope to change the nib sometime soon

  8. Dear Sir,
    I need one pen. Please send to me my phone number is 7708570997 I will tell you my address and all those things

    1. The phone number is 0883-2498782
      Address is Ratnam Pens, Fort Gate, Rajamundhry 533101