Friday, December 10, 2021

A bronze-nibbed dip pen from 11th-century Ireland

There are not a lot of surviving medieval writing instruments, so this bronze-nibbed pen excavated last year at Caherconnell in County Clare is a big deal indeed. For the full story, I will refer you to the announcement from June 1, 2020 at the Caherconnell Stone Fort Facebook page, as well as a more recent article in the Independent of Ireland. There is also a video of a reproduction in use here, and a post about the reproduction project here.

The form of the nib is such that my colleague Andrew Midkiff has suggested that it might be a specialized ruling pen. Certainly the rolled metal sheet construction would have been much more demanding than that of a more conventional quill-pen shaped metal nib -- but unfortunately examples of medieval metal nibs are so rare that definitive conclusions cannot be deduced from available evidence.

Monday, December 6, 2021

An appreciation of stubby pens


Big pens may be the most highly valued, but there's much to be said for their slightly smaller stubby siblings. The full-length Senior may be the flagship of the Duofold line (whether in classic orange-red, or Mandarin Yellow as above), yet will it even fit in the average shirt pocket? For pocketability, give me a Duofold Junior: the perfect length, with a comfortable girth. No wonder that Pelikan adopted very similar proportions for their pens, from their original piston-filler through the 100, 100N, and 400 series and beyond. Waterman also offered shorter versions of their full-sized pens, with the most common being the 52V -- a stubby version of their standard 52 lever-filler. Bigger "V" models (the "V" standing for Vest Pocket) are harder to find, and correspondingly sought after.

Some time ago it struck me that while Duofold Juniors are pretty common, it's not easy to find examples in clean condition. These pens hit a popular price point, and were carried and used for years, indeed decades: real working pens, an exemplar of successful design.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

An unfinished Waterman nib

Unfinished nibs don't turn up that often. This one is a 1940s Waterman nib for a Taperite, which has been shaped, imprinted, and tipped, but hasn't had its slit cut or tip ground.

At first glance, it might seem that there is no tipping yet attached. The tip is visibly thicker, yet it seems to be all of the same 14K gold alloy as the rest of the nib, whether viewed from above or below. This, however, neatly illustrates how older gold nibs were often tipped -- and especially those with wider oblong tips.

Rather that welding a pellet onto the very tip of the gold nib blank, the tipping material was attached to the underside of the tip, enclosing the tipping material with molten gold. The tip was then ground, revealing and shaping the tipping material under the gold. Where the tipping would not have to be exposed to contact the writing surface, the gold was left intact, wrapping around the tipping for maximum support (a description of the process from 1912 can be found here). This is why the tipping on many older nibs is barely visible from the top of the nib -- which has sometimes led to the mistaken impression among those accustomed to modern fountain pens that the vintage tipping is worn down and not fully intact.

While the most dramatic examples of this are to found in early 20th-century stub and italic nibs from makers such as Waterman and Mabie Todd, the Sheaffer display from c. 1940 shown above also nicely illustrates another variation of the same basic procedure.

PS This is a good opportunity to point out that this method of nib manufacture can make it very challenging for a restorer to retip an older nib so that it looks 100% original -- or even to retip it at all. It's not widely appreciated that retipping that preserves an old nib's appearance requires the addition of gold to the tip before new tipping is attached (old retips were done without adding gold, leaving the retipped nib's proportions awkwardly shortened). It's also not widely appreciated that many highly flexible vintage nibs were thinned after tipping, sometimes leaving the gold of the tines so thin as to make attachment of new tipping almost impossible without burning holes in the gold.