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.

1 comment:

Jan said...

This is very interesting, thank you for sharing this with us! Too little of the history of fountain pen manufacturing is readily available. It would really help in improving restoration. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access the article in the Machinery journal you refer to. One thing is a bit unclear to me: you say that “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” Can you say how the tipping material was attached to the underside of the tip?