Flexible Nibs

There is considerable demand for vintage flexible nibs these days and I think that mostly applies to Swan, Onoto and Waterman. Indeed, demand for flex seems much greater now than it was in the heyday of the fountain pen. I do get flexible and semi-flex nibs, probably at the ratio of one to every three firm nibs. Not every flexible nib is fine, of course, the size most required, and not every one has the snapback needed to make flex really usable.

A common request is for a fine or extra-fine “wet noodle”. “Wet noodle” is a problem as a description. Everyone knows what they mean by “wet noodle” but no one knows what anyone else means! I take it to mean a nib with line variation at the outer edge of what is possible, easily achieved with very little pressure and with instant, elastic snapback. It needs to have consistent flow that will keep up with the line variation. I can pass whole years together without seeing such a pen. Those pens do appear in Swans but are more common, I think, in Watermans. The only way to tell if a pen has those characteristics is to write with it. Nib shape is no guide.

Historically, writing that made use of strong line variation predated the fountain pen and indeed, had gone out of fashion in the latter days of the dip pen, replaced by an easier, more rapid business style that paid only slight attention to light upstrokes and heavy downstrokes. It has been revived by calligraphers and those ambitious to be calligraphers in recent times. The demand for modern flexible nibs has never really been met though it seems closer now than ever before. It is constantly said in the fountain pen discussion boards that for true flex you must go vintage. That’s correct, of course, but it is sad that vintage pens are sometimes only appreciated for their nibs and vintage nibs are sometimes transferred into modern pens. In truth, no fountain pen will ever equal the line variation of a dip pen or even a quill, both much cheaper methods of achieving impressive flexibility.

I’m not trying to discourage those in the quest for their ideal flex fountain pen but I do wish to impart a realistic view of the difficulty. Some eBay sellers of unrestored vintage pens make much of how flexible the nibs are. Those pens tend to fetch a high price, often a price beyond what my customers would be happy to pay. I have to take pot luck among the rest and sometimes I get lucky. That is part of the service I provide. I don’t charge extra for flex. I apply the same margin to all my pens. Thankfully many of my customers either prefer firm nibs or have other interests in fountain pens beyond flex. There is a home for every old pen.

9 thoughts on “Flexible Nibs

    1. Those Summit nibs are very good. There are also springy nibs which don’t provide line variation but have some “give” which makes them pleasant to write with. The Platinum 3776 soft fine is a modern example.

  1. I may add that my favourite nib is the semiflexible one, which is not stiff and makes writing a comfortable experience, thanks to its elasticity. Summit produced very nice semiflexible nibs in the early Thirties, but switched to firm nibs from 1935, probably due to popular demand, although they remained opened to different requests.

  2. I did tumble into the rabbit hole of “flexible nibs”, after buying a Swan 0160 with a nib of which I enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) the “bouncy” writing experience. I delved rather deep into that hole, and my experience confirms the points that Deb makes in her post. “Flex”, when the term is used by sellers of fountain pens, certainly has a fully flexible meaning. Almost any gold or steel nib will “flex” if you press hard enough. And many of the purported full flex nibs of sale only achieve that “full” flex under pressure that I believe is both unwarranted (for the continued life of the poor thing) and unsuitable for normal handwriting (I am assuming that a fountain pen is bought to write texts with a length of more than three words). Even nibs that under moderate pressure do flex considerably will not necessarily at the same time spread their tines, and produce that mouth-watering line variation. And as Deb has explained in several of her earlier posts, even flexible nibs that open their tines do not necessarily “snap back” quickly; failure to do so makes the nib unsuited for the “swells” that characterise Copperplate, Spencerian etc. Some dip nibs will do all of the above, but such pens do require quite a bit of experience and practice (and agility to avoid knocking over the inkwell). This being said, I do enjoy the numerous pens that I found in the rabbit hole, because I like using nibs with “spring” or “bounce” to them. Finally, just to confirm another point that Deb makes in her post, my most prized flexible fountain pen (a Swan 1060 of course) was purchased from Goodwriters at a very modest price. Thanks again, Deb.

    1. Wise words, Hans. Most of my life I played with flexible pens but some years ago – perhaps five – I abandoned flex for all daily use. All the work that appears in the blog is drafted with firm fines or extra fines. I do have a flex pen or two and still like to play with them – not very artistically, I confess. And I’m once again practicing with a dip pen.

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