Flexibility And Me

When I learned to write in the long, long ago (Methuselah was a mere child compared with me) it was first with wooden pencil, then with dip pen and finally with fountain pen. Some time later, ballpoints became allowed though I never really took to them myself.

Many fountain pens, even the cheap, steel-nibbed ones that I had, will give some flexibility. Whenever I could find it I was glad of it. Nowadays, when people have generally lost the ability to write in what used to be the normal cursive style, I’m regarded as a good writer. Those many years ago when I was a kid, it was not so. Many was the stern talking-to I got from the teacher and there was the occasional clip round the ear. Trouble was, I was an imprecise writer, leaving unintended loops wherever my pen changed direction. Inducing a thicker line at those points covered up a multitude of sins, and a good thing it was too, poor writing being regarded in those days as only slightly less heinous than high treason.

In truth, that’s what flexibility still does for me. I write as I have always written, but the variable line-width enhances my scrawl. It makes it look stylish, as if I was in control of this writing instrument which actually only obeys me when it wants. That encourages me and I make a greater effort, so that over the many years there has actually been some real improvement in my writing, on good days at least. We’re not talking an excessive amount of flexibility here; a lively semi-flex nib on the right shape of pen is all I need. Somewhere in my withered soul there is a longing to really write well with a fine-pointed, rigid nibbed pen but I suspect that will remain an unfulfilled ambition. Yes, I occasionally persevere with a Sheaffer or unforgiving Duofold for a while but it’s not a success. Soon I’m looking for my Swan Leverless or pre-war Conway Stewart.

As you may imagine, oblique stubs have a similar effect on my writing and I do enjoy them, but there is a machine-like regularity to their line variation that I dislike. A pleasant compromise is the flexible oblique, a not at all uncommon nib type in British pens. As I intimated above, the deluded regard me as a good writer and over the years I’ve often been asked to produce place-cards and the like. I’m no calligrapher but I can produce a moderately attractive exaggeration of my own writing style, replete with curlicues and flourishes which seems to satisfy those who know no better. I enjoy it; though it’s laborious and more like painting than writing, it gives my very flexible pens an outing and I really enjoy deploying that elastic, paint-brush-like line.

There seems to be a wish among those who practice or aspire to real calligraphy to use fountain pens. It doesn’t work well, or at least not in the cursive styles like copperplate or Spencerian. For italic styles fountain pens may work well enough, but when serious line variation is called for, dip pens work better. They’re cheap, so little loss if a nib is broken before it was quite worn out – unlike a fountain pen nib. Dip nibs are capable of – generally – greater line variation, and the necessary pause to re-ink the pen is no disadvantage in calligraphy. The calligrapher isn’t in a hurry to cover the paper. He just wants to do it right, and the time taken is not a major concern. No call for a reservoir pen here! As a footnote, Osmiroid with their copperplate nibs and Esterbrook with their various supposedly flexible nibs encouraged calligraphers to go the way of the fountain pen, but it was a blind alley. It’s about as easy to flex a crowbar as an Osmiroid copperplate nib.

So that’s my relationship with flexibility, and an uncomplicated one it is. In my heart of hearts I love its Dionysian departure from the dry and regimented course of precisely perfect writing. Though I’m not sure that the pen is mightier than the sword – indeed I sincerely doubt it – there is something of the romance of sword-play in the well-handled varying line and the sweep of an enjoyable flourish!

4 thoughts on “Flexibility And Me

  1. Nicely put deb, there is also an increasing attitude that a pen nib must have flexibility if its any good, which wipes out very Parker 51/61. I find good flexing nib (and some 30s french pens, even the cheapies are amongst the best) to be enjoyable and fun to use as part of letter writing but as someone who uses pens throughout their working day and a) who needs to write fast b) tends to rotate the pen through 30 degrees to the left then I need something else.

    A while ago Eric Wilson restored an old and beat up Sheaffer Vac Filler for me. The degree of dilapidation was that I bought three Sheaffers for £10, including this one. The pen had very few redeeming features to the pen other than a remarkable broad oblique nib with a touch of flex that worked very well for both of us.

    Its still a ‘go to’ nib when I want to remember what I want from a pen.

    1. Hi Graham,
      I think the flex fad has gone a bit far. It’ll doubtless run its course and then it will be back to those of us who write with flex but appreciate all pens. There are many (mostly) admirable non-flexing pens out there – Parker, Sheaffer, Summit, Mentmore to name but a few.

  2. What a lovely read! I am as yet not sufficiently knowledgeable to comment on these finer points, but what drove me to start collecting fountain pens was the almost illegible nature of my ballpoint writing. My writing training probably predates Methuselah, but at the time, with the faithful Osmiroid Italic Medium, that certain style was drummed into my psyche in such a way that I collected prizes and certificates for the results. I have yet to devote sufficient time to regaining any style, but I have become entranced with the wider topic and the enjoyment is growing. Lots of mistakes, lots of fun and the occasional leap of joy and the pleasure of reading the experiences of such as yourself. Thank You


    1. Hi Martin,
      Osmiroids gave a whole generation of kids the opportunity to learn to write well and you obviously benefited from that. Well done for overcoming your initial difficulties. Ball-point pens tend to be painful and slippery things which don’t make for good writing for anyone.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.