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.

Mabie Todd Swan L245/60

The L245/60 is not a pen you see often. I don’t know why as it’s such an attractive pen. If the pen isn’t unusual enough, this one, unusually, is clipless. The accommodation clip that has been fitted isn’t my favourite – I’d rather a Swan clip – but like the rest of the pen it’s absolutely immaculate.

This 1930s celluloid pen takes a backward glance to its black hard rubber predecessors with the engine chasing.

It’s completely unworn and sharp enough to cut you. Another element that makes this pen stand out is the milling on the central of three cap bands. The nib is fine and flexible. 80-odd years have made no impression on this pen. It’s like it arrived from the shop today.

Mabie Todd & Bard Eyedropper and Gunmetal Travelling Case

The gunmetal travelling case is one I haven’t had before. It certainly provides protection for a pen. It’s quite decorative too, with its brass ends. This one shows that it has had a knock or two and has been well used.

The pen is in better condition, a Mabie Todd & Bard eyedropper with repoussé gold plated bands and some nice chasing.

These old pens are collectors’ items rather than daily users but this one is still as useful as ever with a splendidly flexible nib, as was usual in those early days of the 20th century.

Sales Site Problems

Many thanks to all of you who have contacted me to say that they either can or cannot see the sales site.

The main problem is that the web host has blocked IP numbers because of hacking.  He is working to ease that, though it seems unlikely that it will ever go away.  This is a problem that affects all web hosts because of the actions of *!/*”!*s.

A second problem has appeared.  Nobody was able to contact using the link I included in my last post!  It was accurate but did not work.  That’s a bit headscrambling.  Continue to use whatever means has got you to the sales site successfully before, or type the web address into your browser address bar.

Sorry about all the hassle and thanks for bearing with me.