Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nib Swarm

Nib Mandala

A couple of weeks back I spotted a plastic box of pen nibs sitting in the "hands off" case at the thrift store. I wasn't able to get a close look, but the price was right, so I snatched 'em up, thinking there would be something I could do with them. Turns out they're all nibs for dip pens, essentially a step up from a quill pen, and can be used with ink that would hopelessly clog (read: ruin) the fine ink feed mechanism of a fountain pen.

Some of the nibs are the familiar Speedball sort that you can find in most craft places in a "drawing pen set", but others are Esterbrook or Gillott's, or some other brands that are hard to read without a magnifier. Interestingly, many of them are magnetic, though by design or accident I can't say. Few appear to have ever been used. There are numerous duplicates: nearly two sets of the Speedball, for example, and two or three of the same type of nib.

I've tried a couple out, even venturing to stick them into Murray the Frankenpen since the Sheaffer nib transplant didn't work out: it wiggles around like a loose tooth. To do this properly, I would need a holder -- actually several, as the sizes vary -- and then use them... for something. So far, all I've managed to do is get ink all over my hands and jab myself a few times with some of the sharper examples (note to self: make sure tetanus booster is up-to-date.)

I don't really have a use for them, and yet... I can't quite give them up. I'd like to find a purpose for these: maybe try my hand at making a basic holder out of dowel rods, or play with ink recipes with the kids, or something like that. What would you do?

Update: as usual, impatience got the best of me. The craft store was a bust for just plain old holders, unless I wanted more nibs and a tiny bottle of ink to go with it (I didn't.) I scrounged around for a while, looking for a substitute, and considered buying a couple of paintbrushes to behead, but settled on a small package of craft corks. I used the "leather awl" tool on my pocketknife to dig out a little hole in the middle of the narrow end and slipped a nib inside.

Stick a cork in it

It's a little awkward to write with, but the wide flare of the cork gives me enough to hold onto for testing. I'm surprised at how much ink even the plainest nib holds: I was expecting to need to re-dip every word or two, but I can go for a sentence or more between dips. Now it's a matter of me getting used to the extra-light hand required to write with one of these. I'll keep my eyes open for old pen sets, or otherwise unencumbered nib holders, and I'll have to hit up the art supply store and see what they offer.


Elizabeth H. said...

Even the rather sad selection of craft stores in my area (sad from a paper and writing instrument point of view, anyhow) has some dip pen holders and such like, and a small assortment of inks. I'd go scrounge up those and go to town with those nibs.

JBB on the Fountain Pen Network typically has some pretty inexpensive dip pens for sale, too. I keep wanting to pick one up, just to tinker with.

And experimental ink (and the fully photographed report of the process and progress of using/making said experimental ink) seems right up your alley! Go for it!

Mike Speegle said...

I myself picked up a pen holder from Mr. Art after the generous Spec sent me an assortment of nibs, and I found that with some patience and some extremely fine needle nose pliers, I can utilize almost any nib that I find.

To be fair, dip pens are at first kind of intimidating and labor-intensive, but once I got around to using them a few times I began to enjoy the experience. It actually seems to improve my abysmal handwriting.

Oh, and I second LFP. If anyone can pioneer a new method of using such an old tool, it's M. Clemens.

mpclemens said...

I'm blushing!

Don't stop.

MTCoalhopper said...

What should you do? I don't know, because I have two [small, partial] boxes of Esterbrook nibs, and two other boxes of less-known nibs, and I have no idea what to do with 'em, myself. I mean, using them is obvious. But upon what glorious project to use them?

Maybe we need to expand this typosphere thing to include dip pen users. I've been working on custom nib holders, perchance anyone would want to buy a dip pen set.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's nice. I'm so jealous. I have a dip pen I bought at the PA Ren Faire a few years ago, stuck to a lovely (horrid) ostrich feather. I've actually replaced it with a raven feather and some tape to hold it in place, but holy cow I can't write with it. Not to mention India Ink doesn't work, it bleeds. I have no idea what to do with said ink, since I don't really paint. And I don't know what's in it.

Either way, I know what you mean with not being able to write. It's a horrid ordeal until you figure it out!

speculator said...

Nice to see this. I've been writing with copperplate pen points (Gillott's, Esterbrook, and Baignol) for years. Thanks to all the pen-and-ink artists, these tools are always easy to find- including pen holders.
If you're looking for ink recommendations, try Winsor&Newton Calligraphy Ink. (Much better saturation than Herbin.)
You could teach your kids a little of the Palmer Method of penmanship!

Strikethru said...

The nib swarm looks dangerous. That is all.

Unknown said...

Mike ... just run down to your closest art supply shop. You know, the one that sells serious artists stuff like oil paints, watercolor pigments, papers, brushes ... and ... drum roll, please ... dip pen holders of various kinds and sizes. They also sell the nibs of all different kinds, plus a nice selection of drawing inks.

mpclemens said...

My closest art supply shop has the same poor selection of nibs and holders as the local craft store. In fact, they carry the exact same selection, which makes me think the art place is actually under the same corporate umbrella at the craft place.

I used to be a quick walk from an Atrecht's store. This is another one of those times when it kills me that I'm not right in an urban center.

J.A. said...

Mike, check out EBay item #370425779405 - an Esterbrook 407"Dip-less" inkwell with pen. The "dipless" refers to the type of inkpen the nib of which holds more ink than a traditional dip pen. For info on the inkwell, see James Gurney's blog entry: (The pen in the pic is not an Esterbrook.) A good inks for these things are Parker's "Quink" (about $10 a bottle) and Higgins "Eternal Ink". The latter can be got at Dick Blick's ( Don't use india ink as it will dry out and clog the nib and junk up the inkwell.

mpclemens said...

@Ledeaux: I saw a "dip-less" style inkwell at a local consignment place, though it had a Sheaffer pen in it. I lingered over it numerous times, but finally passed, since it lacked the glass liner and thus looked like a potential Ink Disaster in the making. But it was tantalizingly cool.

I love Quink, and use it as my primary black ink for my fountain pens. It's well-behaved, and happens to be the only non-drawing ink I can find locally. I do mean to try out Noodler's inks someday, though, and I'd like to get one of the inkwell-style bottles like Mont Blanc's. I have yet to get a "proper" pen with a snorkel mechanism, so refilling right now is a tricky business involving precarious fiddling with converters and inky fingertips.

While I was at the art store, I did buy a bottle of Higgins Fountain Pen India ink, which is supposedly safe for FPs. More reading, though, indicates that it may clod feeds, so I've been using the dip nibs with this ink, just dipping right from the bottle.