When I first became interested in old pens my everyday writer was a Sheaffer  Targa, a sturdy and reliable pen that laid down an unvarying line.

One of the first old pens I found was a battered old Eversharp.  No amount of restorative effort was ever going to make it look good but that wasn’t important.  What made it so valuable to me, such a source of wonder, was the beautiful line made, varying from fine to broad with the least pressure.  That wonderful line made my writing look so much better!  From then the hunt was on for pens with flexible nibs and for years I never wrote with anything else.  When I developed a passion for British pens it was the glorious super-flexible Swans and Onotos that I kept for myself.

Pens with inflexible nibs were dismissed as ‘nails’, said with a hint of contempt.  All modern pens in those days had inflexible nibs so they didn’t interest me.  I loved the Onotos, Swans, Watermans and Wahl-Eversharps.

A few years ago I was in correspondence with another fountain pen fancier.  His interests were almost opposite to mine.  His collection was of Parkers, both American and British, Conway Stewarts and modern pens like Pelikans and Pilots.  He enthused about their wonderful writing qualities.  I couldn’t see it.  Those pens were dull and uninteresting to me.

It occurred to me that a large proportion of vintage pens and all new pens were inflexible and yet they all sold well.  People evidently liked them.  I began to consider that I was limiting myself by dismissing all those ‘nails’.  I made a conscious decision to lay aside my beloved flexible pens and try the ‘nails’ for a while.

At first, and for quite a while, I didn’t enjoy those inflexible pens.  I tried quite a few and it seemed to me that they were little different from ballpoints except that they didn’t need pressure and you could hold them at a better angle.  I persevered though, and I found that I did get a modicum of pleasure from fine points.  They demanded accuracy of letter formation and rhythm in the line.  When I could produce writing that looked good – to me at least – with a fine point, I felt I had gained something.

It opened other doors for me in a sense.  Now I could enjoy other pens I hadn’t understood before.  For instance, among my favourites are a Parker 45 and a Parker 17, pens I had completely dismissed before.  I enjoyed the convenience of the Vanishing Point.  I experimented with other Japanese pens and tried Chinese and Indian ones.  I still have semi-flexible and full flex pens and I still enjoy using them but I am thankful that my pleasure in fountain pens is no longer limited to them.  On the odd occasional I’m asked to produce invitations or place cards and that’s where those flexible pens can add charm and, yes, beauty even in my hand of write, but when I’m busy at my desk, corresponding with customers or taking notes for an article, it’s usually either my Parker 17, my Platinum 3776 or my Pilot 1911 that comes to hand.

6 thoughts on “Nails

    1. Yes. Flexibility is wonderful and I enjoy it but the modern obsession with it tends to make people forget that that isn’t all that fountain pens are about. 10 years ago I was such an advocate of flexibility. Much less so now.

  1. not for me I have to say Deb.:) People collect for a variety of reasons – I wonder how many owners of post WW II Parkers write regularly with theirs – perhaps not as many as those who simply collect, polish and admire – they’re some of the best engineered pens of the last 60 years – they look good and are reliable. They’re also one of the most collected makes – because of rarity and beauty – I don’t think collectors are concerned that most have nails for nibs, since they’re not going to write with them. I now have a lot of Parkers, and many Sheaffers, and collecting them (especially the Parkers) becomes very addictive.
    I wouldn’t choose to use one – preferring some flex in the nib – and there are pre war Parkers that have flexible nibs, but if you’re a prolific letter writer then I can see that nails would have a practical appeal, but not if you love the look of a good hand.
    Much the same applies to Sheaffer I think, and could be wrong but get the impression that firm nibs are more popular on the other side of the pond.
    Does all this make me old fashioned? 🙂

    1. I don’t think it makes you old-fashioned. You seem to be fully abreast with the modern obsession with flexibility. I enjoy the sight of a good hand whether it be made with a flexible pen or with a nail. People seem to forget that each is equally achievable.

      I didn’t think that you wrote with fountain pens at all, Paul!

  2. (blushes to the roots with embarrassment – but tries to sound unaffected by Deb’s home truth) – oh gosh, you’re right I don’t – but try to dip test many of my pens:):)

    am sure I’m very old fashioned – and I love it.

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