Getting the Right Nib

Back in the long, long ago, when there was an Edward on the throne and you filled your brand-new, high tech fountain pen with an eyedropper, buyers were often quite fussy about the nib that they wanted in their new pen. Mabie Todd, like other manufacturers, wanted to be sure they were satisfying their customers’ needs, so they requested that they send in the dip nib that best suited their hand. This enabled Mabie Todd to choose the correct gold nib from their wide selection. Perhaps they adjusted the nib to further suit their customer but I don’t know that.

That this worked as well as it did was due to the almost unlimited range of dip nibs that had been made over the years. There was such a refinement of choice that every writer had the dip nib that suited him or her perfectly. Of course many writers just used the nib that their company ordered and weren’t too particular about it, but those who wanted Mabie Todd or other companies to supply them with the exact nib of their choice were those who knew exactly which dip nib suited them.

Oh happy days! Now most pen manufacturers offer three choices of nib. For some it is fine, medium and broad but others offer EF, F and medium. In any case the choices are very limited today. That’s a pity because the full range of dip nibs is still around today and a person can find what exactly suits them there but the fountain pen nib equivalent almost certainly does not exist. When I found that I could write with a dip pen – much to my surprise – I tried many different nibs. I had a good selection that I had almost accidentally built up over years and I was given a varied lot of nibs (thank you, Rob Parsons!) and though I could write adequately with many, the one that really flattered my hand is the Esterbrook Relief. It should be straightforward to transfer that to the fountain pen as Esterbrook made such a Relief nib. Problem solved!

Except it isn’t. Esterbrook’s fountain pen Relief nib isn’t at all like the dip nib. I also tried the oblique nib for the Osmiroid and it isn’t bad but it’s not quite right. The annoying thing is that I have had oblique Swan nibs in the past and I believe that they were perfect, but in the belief that there would always be another one coming along I sold them. Of course I haven’t seen one in ages!

It would be nice if I could send an Esterbrook Relief dip nib to Pilot as an example of the nib I want but that was a different time, a time when manufacturers were prepared to offer true service to their customers. Now it’s take it or leave it.

I could, of course, send an appropriate Swan nib to a nibmeister and he/she would grind it into the nib that I want. But that’s a very expensive way of going about it. With very great care I could probably make the grind myself but I am against altering vintage nibs. They’re not making them anymore. Best to leave them alone.

I suppose I’ll just have to wait until I get lucky and a sharp oblique Swan nib happens along.


14 thoughts on “Getting the Right Nib

  1. Interesting article, thank you, Deb. I agree with you completely.
    Another manufacturer which did what Swan did was Summit.

      1. Lang, which produced Summit branded pens, tested their gold nibs 34 times through the production process and claimed that you could not find smoother nibs around. On first purchase of a pen, they changed the nib with the one of your choice, even produced following the customer’s specifications, free of charge.

  2. Brilliant article Deb. The good old times, when everything was done to your specifications instead of mass produced. It’s a pity that pen makers nowadays, focus on fancy bodies, instead of nibs, which is the most important part in a pen. You can’t do anything with a fancy body, if the nib is not pleasant…..

  3. I have three Esterbrook Relief pens, including one from you, and they are each different. I like all of them but one is better than the others, so perhaps you need to hang on to any you particularly like.

      1. No they are all left hand oblique nibs. My other two are Relief 2-L’s (one with a red cap band next to the clip ring, one without). I think it’s probably differential wear.

  4. A 3314 Renew-Point unit is not a million miles off the 314 Relief nib. It’s broader that the 314 (line width more like a 9314-M) and a little less flexible, but otherwise feels similar when writing and might be an acceptable compromise to let you use a fountain pen.

    Then again, the 314 holds enough ink – even without adding a reservoir – that one can easily write a long paragraph between dips, so perhaps it’s time to resurrect the travel inkwell?

  5. I love the Esterbrook Relief 314 and have a fair few. Made in both Britain and USA. Without an ink reservoir attachment they seem to write for a long time with one dip. The Smoothline? Also fantastic and no reservoir. I own two. One of them gold. The Brandauer Clan Glengarry nib is the third go to. That is definitely a better performer for longevity with reservoir attached. I simply enjoy the calmness, relaxation and unique properties of having dozens of nibs to choose from. The process of a simple nib change, half an hour of seeing if they are better for writing or for drawing is fun. Change nib, choose another and, in the blink of an eye, back in to action is fantastic. Fascinating read as always. All the best.

  6. Hello Deb,
    I know what you mean. I’ve a couple of nice old MT& Bards with overlays which I’ve used for years, but to be honest they don’t have the best of nibs (but they are OK, just getting very worn and showing their 110+ years). Like you I’ve had quite a few Swans pass through my hands and a number with lovely nibs which I could have swapped with mine but never did…. I have no idea why not, maybe I’m waitng for a couple of wrecks with beautiful nibs to come my way!
    All the best

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