Nibs: Does Size Matter?

In one sense it does. A big Swan No 6 nib is a glorious sight, but that’s purely aesthetic appreciation. It doesn’t really do anything more or better than a smaller nib.

In the case of a rigid nib, that expanse of gold between the tipping material and the section doesn’t really do very much. It provides an anchor point for the tipping, it covers the feed and aids capillary action. You might as well make a short, slender tube to enclose the business end of the feed and apply hardened tipping material to that. Wait a minute! Did I just reinvent the Parker 51 nib?

With a flexible nib, the metal does a bit more. It’s the springiness of the tines that enables the line variation. Again, though, large size isn’t really an advantage. One of the flexiest nibs I ever had was a Wyvern, one of the tiny ones the company was infamous for in the early fifties. The little thing would safely flex to a fishtail shape – four or five times its original width which was fine – and snap back instantly. I’ve had other, larger nibs that were as good, but none that was better.

I’d say nib size doesn’t matter except as eye-candy.

But eye-candy’s important too.

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About goodwriterspens
I restore fountain pens, and used to trade as redripple52 in eBay. I also have my own fountain pen sales website, www.goodwriterssales.com

2 Responses to Nibs: Does Size Matter?

  1. Jonathan says:

    It’s interesting to read this, and nice for my several small nibbed pens, as it is something I have thought about when looking at online reviews or sale listings of Swan and Waterman pens. I’ve looked at, say, 1940s Swans with some of the fancier trimmings and multiple cap bands etc with a No. 2 or 3 nib, usually ones with some flexibility, and wondered if they might have put more work into those nibs than perhaps the No.1 nibs you sometimes find on Swans with less fancy trimmings. Or perhaps relatedly, did the quality of the feeds correlate at all with cost of pens within a brand?

    This blog is great, by the way. Full of helpful information I haven’t found elsewhere.

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    Thank you for my first comment! Glad you like the blog.

    I think it varies a bit from company to company. Late Wyvern nibs, for instance, are often very small but surprisingly thick. A No 6 (non-Eternal) Swan nib is likely to be a little thicker than its smaller brethren, but only in proportion to its size, so that the correspondingly longer tines aren’t weakened.

    I hadn’t really thought about the feeds. I suspect that Mabie Todd used the same feeds for Swans and Blackbirds. Visually they appear the same and they are rarely damaged.

    The issue of how manufacturers reduced cost on lower-priced pens while maintaining at least adequate quality is an interesting one that I intend to touch on in future.

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