One of the many fountain pen books I have contains the comment that the one great improvement in fountain pens in modern times is that the nibs are so much better. I was surprised when I read that and I still think it’s completely wrong. Ask any of the host of calligraphers if they like modern flex and you’ll get a two-letter answer. I’m not part of that group but I am unaware of any firm nib as good as a Swan, Parker or Onoto.

The flex issue is easily dealt with. For a variety of reasons few modern pen makers even attempt to make flexible nibs. Warranty has a lot to do with it. Some suggest that the technical knowledge is lost. Anyway, all the modern pens that are supposed to be flexible are only marginally so. They are not in the least comparable with vintage flexible pens.

As an example of the modern notion of what flexible is, I saw an advert for a Jinhao pen that they said was flexible. As it cost very little I ordered one. To say I was disappointed is a gross understatement. What I got was a horrible Jinhao 450, made out of brass and so uncomfortably heavy. Pressing the nib hard produced a little line variation – not much, but enough that I could not say that they are liars. Without pressing, the nib is a thick and characterless medium. The pen is quite colourful in a blue and white pattern with gold coloured trim and black ends. If anyone wants it, send me your address. You’ll be doing me a favour if you take it away. (UK only because of postage costs.)

What about firm nibs, which I use and prefer? I’m unaware of any decent modern European firm nibs. Most seem to have a globular lump of tipping material that makes for a vague and imprecise line. If there is a European maker turning out pens with good firm nibs tell me – but if the pen costs more than £150 don’t bother.

The Japanese and Chinese do make rather better nibs, I must say, especially in the fine size. I can actually enjoy using some of them though even they are not as good as my preferred vintage pens. It’s about shaping the tip. Many buyers now send their pens to technicians who work on nibs. Again, that’s not something I would do. Paying for the pen is expensive enough. If it’s not right out of the box it goes back.

I like an oblique and I’ve never had a good modern one. Some manufacturers seem to think that grinding one side of the usual bulbous tip makes an oblique. They need to think again!

I have a box of pens that are my own, ones I will never sell. 90% of them are vintage. That’s not because of appearance or the filling system. It’s about nibs.


3 thoughts on “Nibs

  1. I am thoroughly enjoying this blog! I’ve only just bought my first (long coveted Mabie Todd) from your store and was pleasantly surprised to discover this blog as well. I’m relatively new to fountain pens – just a few intense months. I fell into vintage pens by chance. I wanted to know what the fuss was all about with gold nibs and it was simply more economical to go with a vintage pen. But once you open that particular door, it’s difficult to close it again. There really is something about writing with a vintage nib that is so deeply satisfying. I could wax poetic about it, but will spare you. I’m guessing you have some idea what I mean. Best regards, Reese

    1. Indeed. I know what you mean very well. Every article I write, here and elsewhere, is drafted using a fountain pen, just for the pleasure of the the thing and because that’s the pace at which my mind runs. I think you will enjoy the 1930s Swan.

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