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Fountain Pen Nib & Point Considerations

In recent weeks there has been a lot of conversation about the subject of less-expensive nibs, which would generally mean non-precious metal nibs, warranted nibs, precious metal-plated nibs, calligraphy nibs, steel nibs, and kit pen nibs.

The normal expectation within the fountain pen “aficionado community” is that pens costing in excess of $100 should come equipped with a nib that has come to be called a “quality nib” as opposed to one of the types of products listed above. The term “quality” refers to a nib that is made of precious metal; the nib should be tipped with a metal that is harder than the body of the nib. It should write smoothly against the writing surface.

The relationship between nib and ink delivery system should result in a reliable flow of ink to paper that is neither too wet nor too dry.

There are other considerations associated with the term “quality”. However, these other attributes are more individualistically held as important, as opposed to the basic qualities listed above. These would include nib size (many say that larger is better); precious metal karat weight; degree of flexibility; nib point size; brand name; and esthetic beauty. Many, however, would also say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Now that the two camps are identified I want to deal with the purpose of this article. I would submit that the real test of nib desirability is function as opposed to esthetics or precious metal content. I have found that there are those who gather pens for many reasons rather than to write with them. Then there are others who do not own a pen that has not been inked. Happily, there is room in our community for both groups.

Recently the discussion turned to the subject of nibs made in China, Germany, and India. The conclusion of the fact-finding debate seemed to arrive at the idea that these lesser nibs were in general undesirable. Over the past 20 years I have had thousands of pens in my hand. Most had nibs that would fall in the more desirable pen group and were major pen company name nibs. Most have been made of precious metals and are iridium-tipped. However, many lesser nibs have come to my attention recently. So, when the debate began on the Zoss reader list I read with interest and decided that I would set out to do a layman’s test in my own shop. The test would be for my benefit. It hopefully would help me once and for all time deal with the guilt I have when I am tempted to write with a pen which is fitted with a nib that does not place it on the more desirable nib list.

As I set up to do my testing: I decided that I would test for function regardless of the nib’s origin or pedigree. I used the following test criteria:

  1. Did it appeal to me (the “eye of the beholder” idea)?
  2. Given the suitable combination of nib, feed, section and filling systems, does it write?
  3. How does it write (with attention to point size, wetness, degree of flexibility)?
  4. If it doesn’t meet my writing preferences, can it be altered so as to be more desirable to me as the user?
  5. Do I like it enough to use it on one of the pens which requires approximately 8 hours of my time to build?
  6. Am I willing for this nib to represent my craftsmanship to others? (When I was only ` making pens and using vintage parts I did not need to worry about the nib issue, except that I needed to match my pen to a functional vintage nib and feed. The issues of design   and materials rested upon the original design.)

Here is the procedure undertaken:

  1. I pulled several nibs from vintage and modern pens. All of them would be considered quality nibs.
  1. I selected several nibs from vintage and modern samples what would be considered of lesser quality.
  1. I purchased several nibs from kit pen suppliers. The nibs have been the focus of debate in recent weeks on internet pen talk groups. 
  1. I photographed each nib under 30x CCD stereo microscope magnification. The purpose was to look closely at tipping materials and the shape of the tip. Also, photo evaluation was made of the quality of the engraving.
  1. I made writing samples with each nib as it was when found. I made notes of my reactions (to each his/her own, was the rule of thumb).
  1. If I liked everything about the nib except the way it wrote, I reground the nib until I was pleased with the results. If I didn’t like the flow of ink to the paper, I adjusted the flow where possible to my desires.
  1. If I did not like the nib for any reason, I considered whether it could be changed. If not, I made the choice to change the nib in that pen, or not use the pen at all.

Conclusions:

When all is said and done, I have come to the conclusion that I own pens for the following reasons:

  1. The total pen appeals to my senses. It looks great to me, and it writes the way I want it to write. The fact that I have little, or a lot invested in it is not the major consideration here.
  1. If the pen looks good to me but does not function in a manner that pleases me, then I decide whether it can be altered. There are limitations that a pen user should consider before making the decision to alter a nib. If one cannot make the alteration himself, then cost becomes a consideration. Nib alterations take time and are expensive. Normally there is a long line ahead of you at the shop.
  1. My major consideration for choosing a pen that will go into my collection is, do I like to write with this pen? If the answer is yes, then the fact that it has a lesser or greater nib in it is not all that important. The reverse is also true. If the pen is beautiful but does not write well, then it must be a real bargain before I will invest in it.