There were many hundreds of millions of steel pen nibs manufactured between 1840 and the late 1940s. They were all people had to write with and were a huge improvement over the swan, goose and crow feathers which had been used since the Early Middle Ages. They only started to truly be superceded by fountain pens and ball point pens after WWII, although both had been invented before that. Steel nibs are still made today by a few companies, mostly for calligraphy and fine penmanship enthusiasts. But there are still LOTS of vintage steel nibs out there, some fairly common, others extremely rare.
I’ve accumulated a fairly large collection of nibs over the last year or so, focusing on nibs suitable for drawing. There aren’t very many and were made by very few companies. However, I’ve found that many of the “writing nibs” are very nice to draw with, some easier to find and quite inexpensive, and I’ll be sharing those in the future. But today I thought I’d show you the nibs I have which were given names, not just a model number.
Perry & Co. seems to have been the English pen maker most enthusiastic about nib names. Hinks Wells Co. also made quite a few that they named. French penmakers like Blanzy Poure, Gilbert-Blanzy Pour and Baignol & Farjon appear to have named all their pen nibs, but I only have a few of each so far. Baignol & Farjon made the “Nostradamus” stub (the term for a nib that has a squared-off end) in the photo at the top of the post. Nice writing nib, interesting choice of name.
You can see that the nibs above are a similar design and color, with a fairly long, sharp point and, on the right hand side, a “shoulder”. Pen makers were always trying new designs to make a nib more flexible, more stiff, hold more ink, etc. But some basic designs, like this one, became quite popular. Patents were filed but often honored in the breech. Lawsuits were filed and fought. All over these small pieces of steel.
A. Sommerville & Co. was an English firm that was taken over by Perry & Co. in 1876. I don’t have a date for the ‘Lincoln’ nib but it could very well have been made to honor Abraham Lincoln not long after his assassination. I bought a dozen of them last August from an ebay seller who lives in Argentina which, for some reason, is where a lot of Sommerville nibs ended up. So those nibs probably have a story to tell.
The Perry & Co. ‘Beaconsfield’ is clearly named after the first Earl of Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli, one of England’s most famous Prime Ministers. There don’t seem to be all that many nibs named after people, real or literary. This is the only one I’ve found so far with a portrait embossed on it.
Below is ‘The Queen Mary Pen’ a nice little stub to write with. I haven’t tried it for drawing yet. Perry & Co. asked for, and were given, permission to name the nib after her. She apparently did use it herself. I love the almost medieval black letter type they used, even though the Queen Mary in question was the mother of the current queen, Queen Elizabeth.
So you can see that these little dip pens nibs can be packed with history. Owning and using them makes us part of that history. Of the ones in the top photo the ‘Rob Roy’ is my favorite for drawing at the moment, but the ‘Celtic’ nib is also quite nice. Both are hard to find. I recently managed to buy 26 of the ‘Rob Roy’ and was VERY glad to find them.
In future posts I’ll be writing about the nibs I’ve found that were designed for artists. I’ll also let you in on the nibs that famous artists and cartoonists used. There’ll be a post just on stubs and also “Falcons”. Every company had to have at least one falcon-style nib, a particular design that turned out to be the most popular one ever with the pubic. Plus nibs from other countries besides England, including the USA, France, Italy, Russia and Germany.