Dip Pen Days

Some among us fountain pen users take the matter very seriously and regard the use of a ballpoint as a form of treachery. What, then, do we think about using the earlier technology, the dip pen? Am I now a miserable traitor to the fountain pen cause because I have dipped into dip pen use?

In truth I’ve tried to use a dip pen before. Unlike those a little older than me I didn’t use one in school but I bought a few nibs and a handle a few years ago and proceeded to make a terrible mess. Very disappointed, I laid them aside.

Recently a friend (thanks Paul) gave me a variety of nibs and a different style of handle. The handles I had used before were very thin. less than a wooden pencil. This one has the girth of a fountain pen – much better. However the nibs didn’t work for me, not even the famous Macniven & Cameron Waverley. They took enough ink to maybe write a three-syllable word and perhaps a conjunction or an article and then it was time to dip again. Also, after dipping, even after removing the excess ink against the top of the bottle, the nib at first laid down too much ink, then too little. I’m sure the expert dip nib writers among you are holding their sides laughing by now.

Then I saw a nib with a curved piece of metal over the nib itself. I tried that one and the difference was immediate: the sun came out from behind the dark clouds and I faintly heard Beethoven’s Fifth! Each dip of the ink provided enough ink for a line and a half. The ink was laid evenly. No great streams of ink on the page.

I wrote a letter; two sides of an A4 sheet. Not a blot! I have mastered the dip pen! Of course the ethics and morality of what I have done is another matter. I do hope that hundreds of you are not leaving my blog in disgust at my infidelity, never to return…


45 thoughts on “Dip Pen Days

  1. Excellent stuff Deb.
    I have seen those reservoirs only on broad/italic nibs such as William Mitchell’s “Round Hand Pens”. I would probably dip a little more had I a reservoir that fits conventional nibs

  2. Thank you, Deb, for another insight into an often ignored topic. Your experience is much the same as my own. I cannot get one to work without some sort of reservoir, and use either a Brause No. 189 or a Perry & Co. ‘Invincible’ No. 1404 nib with black sumi ink.

  3. Not A Traitor. I bought a feather dip pen before I got my first fountain pen! Dip pen are the ancestors of the fountain pen, so without them, our more convenient writing tools wouldn’t exist!

      1. It clearly doesn’t work when I try to include a link! I’ve tried sending this comment three times:

        Mine isn’t a true quill, it has a metal nib, metal grip, and is topped by a feather. Search for feather dip pen on Pen Heaven, you’ll see what I mean, since the link doesn’t work!

  4. Deb. One of the most frustrating things I’ve found with using dip pens is , like you say ink either falling straight off as a giant blob, or, there being only enough left on the nib to write two words….. however, I have quite a collection of those really old MOP handled gold nibbed dippers from waaaaay back, and the solution I’ve found is simply using the correct ink.
    Thicker ink , which must have been the norm ! , and is available nowadays, actually sticks to the nib much better and allows for in some cases at least one or two whole lines of writing
    Also, from what I’ve heard , ( and was even taught at school ) cleaning the nib of manufacturing ‘oil’ , either by sucking it !! or as some have said, burning it slightly, makes the nib ‘hold’ ink rather than letting it slide off.
    These reservoirs, spoken of, do hold ink, and for say larger nibs that need to do big letters obviously work, but using the right ink changes the dynamics quite a bit, and was a revelation at least for me.

    1. We seem to have found similar problems. I’ve been sucking the nib which works well but I found that some of the materials used to coat the nib aren’t very nice. I think I’ll try burning…

  5. Your blog took me back to my school days, ink wells, dip pens and blotters.
    At the March London Pen Show I’ll look for a dip pen and custom nibs to revisit my schooldays!
    I use my modern Onoto pens every day and love writing with them, pens with italic custom nibs are my favourites.

  6. Fountain pens, dip-nib with reservoirs, some without reservoirs that can hold a few sentences and more because of their designs and the Rotring art pen and Rotring/Pelikan graphos pens with their plethora of interchangeable variety of nibs. All need the blessed ink pots. Love experimenting with all. I’ll still follow your wisdom. 😉 All the best and thanks. BTW. Your recent Swan Mabie Todd upload was great. I bought a fountain pen bundle of 14 different ‘cross your fingers they work’ pens off eBay. A few years back now. About £15. I won the auction. In this bundle. A 1930s Swan Mabie Todd with 14K nib. Small twist length ink reservoir…so no great amount of ink loaded. Made because of ink prices at the time maybe? It is…….a Beautiful writing experience.

      1. Yes. It is leverless. I just went to get it and test how many turns. Two full turns bottom to top (emptied the ink housed) and then definitely came to a stop. Very locked once there and won’t go further. Nice smooth twist action though. I don’t mind. I never used it writing in patients’ notes on the ward. Too frightened it would get damaged. That would involve a lot of writing. I always carry Schaffer ink in a Stephens glass bottle, housed in a lovely Stephen’s metal screw thread secured travelling case. It’s shaped to carry the ink bottle. That’s in a tied up leather pouch and in my bag. So I’m ready to rock and roll if I run out. 👍 The nib says Swan 2 14 Ct with the ? Usual short/full name stamps all over the different parts of the pen. I’m thinking of including the pen and Stephen’s set up and write a blog in the ‘Iconic Ownership’ series I’m doing. They’re about vintage items that are beautiful and stand the test of time. The Swan certainly ticks those boxes. Thanks for getting back. And thanks for your site. Great reads and very insightful. 👍

      2. Hello again
        I must have a look at your site. There are a couple of possibilities for a Leverless filling poorly. One is that too small a sac has been fitted – they take a 20 or 22 – and the paddle is unable to compress it against the barrel interior. That one’s easily fixed. The other one takes a lot more work. Sometimes a person will pick up a Leverless that has a hard sac and they will attempt to force the turn-button. This can bend the paddle out of shape and it requires a full strip-down to fix. Thank you for your kind words.

      3. The words that suggest ‘what could go wrong’ kind of make me shudder. 😊 It’s ok and until it drops ink all over my favourite journal and I swear uncontrollably I can live with it. There is no strain on the twist. And it does write beautifully with no excess ink flow to paper. My other Mabie Todd (the owner’s name beautifully engraved on the side) is very wet. And the nib is broader. Tried a few inks but they all deliver copiously. Doesn’t blot or have spillage. I just love a drier experience in writing. I do have blogs on writing with fountain pens. Aesthetically therapeutic, etc. Thank you for your interest. 👍

      4. Thank you. Priceless info. Thought it was from the 1930s from gut feeling looking around at similar on Google images. Along with my recently bought Kaweko Brass Sport and a couple of Faber and Castell’s it is one of the four go to’s. Mind you. Love my old medium italic Osmiroid Lever filler too. There was also a Sheaffer Tarantis fave. But landed on it’s nib on the floor at work. Gutted. Cheers. All the best and thank you. Much appreciated.

      5. @ Graysummers: yes as Deb says most likely wartime. The 0160 is the successor to the identical L212/60 model which was introduced around 1937

      6. I left to go for Cardiac Rehab Nurse. One of my Doctor friends, lovely bloke, bought me it as a leaving present. So very sad. I did a poor job trying to straighten it. It will kind of write. But. Scratch and inconsistency now is not a great experience. He was a massive fountain pen enthusiast. A lot of notes had pen and ink inclusions. Ballpoints kept getting nicked! 😉

      7. I did look at the time and there was one total ‘end’ replacement somewhere on the net. It disappeared when I returned to look. It wasn’t just the nib, but the whole screw in unit. I do look from time to time now and realise that seems to be the possible answer….if any were actually around to be found! They did all sorts of colours too. I’ll think about Deb’s possibilities. Thank you for suggesting. New on here so all is a bit confusing at present. 😊

      8. I have been lucky enough to now have it at a level which seems to be very useable. I wrote a little blog on the experience of getting it back to, at least, writing pretty well and not scratching the paper. So very pleased now. Thank you.

  7. Deb to add. There’s a terrific sit called OrnaSonova which carries all manner of dip nibs etc, including some quite rare ones , and reissues.
    They (he ?) also does a dip pen ink which I found was a game changer !
    I think Acrylic inks are sometimes thicker too .
    It definitely changes the game when the ink stays on the nib 🤣

  8. @G.raysummers Sorry about the typo – I meant “Alone” of course. I think that Mabie Todds are very cheap if one compares most of the prices with those of modern pens – you would have to pay a great deal for equivalent quality.

    1. Very true. I am using two that are now working extremely well with Diamine Sherwood Green and Oxblood. Love their smoothness when writing. Thank you.

  9. Hi Deb,
    More on dip pens
    several people seem to be having trouble with ink and dip pens
    the easiest solution is too mix fountain pen ink with water 1:1 ratio works really well on all the inks i’ve tried it on, yes i know it doesn’t seem to make sense but it does work.
    A cheap and easy solution is to make your own walnut ink ( writes in a really great sepia/ brown colour )
    On the subject of nib cleaning German clerks used to swear by pushing nibs in to potatoes before use,
    The best way i’ve found is to but toothpaste on an OLD toothbrush give the nib a good scrub, rinse and dry it works every time for me at least.
    Sorry for the length of this post

  10. You are right to make fun of snobbism… even when displayed by those whom are supposed to be the good guys. For me, dip nibs and fountain pens (and ballpoints, I hesitantly admit) are tools that serve the same purpose, handwriting. Dip nibs may seem messy to use but if your goal is nice-looking handwriting, you will have to slow down anyway and having to re-dip every two words quickly becomes routine. What I like about steel nibs is their ability to combine very fine lines with lots of ink being released. And of course changing inks takes no time (and does not require extensive flushing of a pen). > >

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