When I began using fountain pens again as an adult, it was with a Sheaffer, a medium nib and hard as a rock. Then I discovered flex and delighted in it for a few years. My writing is about legibility rather than beauty but line variation covers a host of sins.
However, I was trying to improve my writing and that was never going to happen so long as I hid behind line variation. In any case I know my own limitations and I have no ambition towards calligraphy. I missed the challenge of writing well with a firm fine – or as well as I can! I bought my first firm fine as an experiment but it just felt right. I’ve kept one or two flex pens and I have a few broad stubs. They’re good for signatures and for addressing envelopes. Everything else is done with a fine or an extra fine. I’ve moved from the flex to the firm camp – which is great as it opens the door to wonderful pens: Duofolds, Summits, Mentmores and the whole range of Japanese pens, vintage and modern.
It’s strange how the value of nibs has changed. Many flex nibs from the twenties and thirties flexed because the manufacturers wanted to save money and did so by using very thin grades of gold. The firm pens like the Conway Stewart Duro or the Swan Eternal were the expensive, prestigious ones. Also they were in demand for carbon paper and to reduce the number of warranty claims for cracked nibs by the heavy-handed. Those splendid nibs are the ones I see described as ‘nails’!
The demand for the ultra flex nib is very high these days. So many people want a vintage ‘wet noodle’. It really is a pity that the pensmiths of the early twentieth century did not anticipate this change that fashion would take a century later! Such pens are very rare indeed. The pens I sell are mostly firm or semi-flexible with the occasional full flex but only very occasionally something could meet any description of a ‘wet noodle’. The really very, very bendy flexes don’t really occur much in British pens. The Whytwarth safeties can sometimes be an exception. I’ve had Onotos that were very flexible.
What concerns me is what will happen to the semi-flexible and fully flexible nibs I sell. I know that in many cases they will be over-stressed and in others such pressure will be applied in the search for extreme flexibility that nibs will be cracked.
In truth, very few – vanishingly few – fountain pens can achieve the line variation that many dip pen nibs show with ease. That may be the best, and by far the cheapest, way to achieve the flexibility that is fashionable today.
If all you want is a fountain pen with a nib that will show the occasional broad-line flourish while mostly writing as the nib was intended to do, that can be done provided a little mechanical sympathy is applied so as to avoid stressing the nib to the point where a century old nib has its life shortened abruptly.