When I came back to fountain pens it wasn’t long before I found flex and I loved it. It made my handwriting look good and it gave an extra dimension to writing. For years I wouldn’t use anything else and I was one of those who sneered at inflexible nibs and called them nails. Of course I didn’t know what I was talking about, a situation I have often found myself in. The reality was that I didn’t write much in those days. Some correspondence, over which I could take my time and make the most of the line variation and the shading. The word got out that I could write moderately well and I did invitations and place settings. Then I took a couple of university courses. I found that my usual flexible pen just wouldn’t allow me to write at the pace I needed for note-taking. I refused to invest in a ‘nail’, of course, but I had a Conway Stewart 388 that was semi-flexible and I persevered with that. It worked but it was far from perfect for the purpose. Someone gave me a Rotring pen, a heavy ugly thing with a rigid nib. We had an end-of-year exam and I stuck a few pens in my pocket as an insurance policy. I had a lot of writing to do and very limited time to do it in. For some reason I tried the Rotring and it flew. With the right pen – which in this case was the Rotring – I’m a fast writer. I got all my ideas down in the examination booklet. I came away very pleased with this pen that I had hardly considered before.
I write a lot now. All the posts that appear here are first hand-written. I write an equal amount in another blog that I do. I have better tools than the Rotring pen now and I enjoy the challenge of writing well, or at least legibly, at speed with a fine nib. I still have flexible pens and I still enjoy writing with them but they are not my everyday writers. Prove me wrong if you will but I don’t think that it’s possible to write at high speed with a very flexible nib.
Of course that doesn’t mean that I like all firm nibs. Many are utterly characterless. Those ball-shaped lumps of tipping material make for an unpleasant writing experience. They appear on many modern pens but strangely enough some Mentmores as far back as the forties had that lump of iridium, too. Very rigid nibs with tips polished so smooth that it feels like writing on glass don’t suit me either. I like a little feedback. I have one or two modern pens that work well for me and some older ones, too. There’s a Swan with a fine Eternal nib that I love and use a lot. I have a 1950s English Duofold with a fine, springy nib that I enjoy.
For the simple practicality of getting my work done, those fine firm pens are always in my pen pouch. There’s another incidental benefit: They’re cheaper than similar pens with flexible nibs. The fountain pen world has gone slightly mad over flexibility. If a pen has a nib that shows line variation, it’s suddenly worth much more. I see sales sites online with flexible pens at very high prices. At times it seems that that is the only thing people want from vintage pens and they ignore all the other aspects that make them so attractive to me.
Though they have a long way to go before they will equal the flexibility of the old Swans, Watermans or Wahl Eversharps, some manufacturers are making a real effort to produce flexible nibs. More power to their elbow! I look forward to a time – and I’m sure it will come – when those who want flexibility can buy a new pen at a reasonable price that will fulfill that requirement. Then, perhaps, will end the ridiculously inflated prices that flexible vintage pens are fetching today, and we may return to a situation where people buy vintage pens for their beauty, age, historical significance and technical wizardry, not just because the nibs bend.