Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dip Pens

I had briefly written about how great dip pens are. I am just now beginning to discover how amazingly superior the dip pens are.

I was introduced to dip pens through a Gillott 303 when I was a kid and learning art as part of a mail based art study program. The dense black India ink and the simple yet super fine nib was very intriguing. Time went by, I forgot all about it.

Following my recent exploration of pens, I got hold of a few fabulous sets of nibs thanks to Ebay and dedicated forums such as the Fountain Pen Network and Stutler's Sketching Forum.

We have come a long way from the quills of birds, to bamboos, to dip pens, to fountain pens, and on to ball point, Gel, Felt tips and so on. While there is an apparent progression in terms of more ease of use, portability etc, the flexibility and amazing line quality of the dip pen eludes all modern day pens.

Due to the simplicity of the mechanism, and the absence of any restriction whatsoever on the shape and form of the nib, they came in a wide variety of shapes.

Dip pens were primarily made in Birmingham, beginning the early 1800, which was also known as the first manufacturing town. In its hay days, each pen factory in Birmingham seems to have produced around 30,000 pens(these nibs were called as pens in those days), and it employed women and simple hand press tools. This resulted in a amazing drop in price leading to the access to writing tools for the masses which some attribute to the increased literacy and literature.

Though the days of dip pens are long gone, there does seem to be available a limited supply of the nibs.

Though these nibs were primarily made for writing, pretty soon the drawing community began making use of it. Engineering drafting as well as pen and ink artists began to make use of it increasingly.

The dip pens also came in great flex, which aided in ornamental writing, which had great variation in line width. there were business pens that were pretty stiff with uniform lines. There was also a variety called the Manifold nib which was hard enough and used to produce as many as five carbon copies.

Then there were the so called School pens. Which were generally medium point, and for the beginner.

Joseph Gillott and Esterbrook were two companies that produced some great pens for drawing. Gillot's # EF, 303 , 170 and #1 Principality offered a complete solution for the artist. they together offered very fine, very flex to medium fine and medium flex. Esterbrook had equivalents 356, 357, 358 and so on.

Gillot was the pioneer in mass production of steel nibs, and Esterbrook brought that to the United States. Carl Barks the famous Donald Duck cartoonist used an Esterbrook 356 for his inking.

In the hay days, the dip pen nibs were made in several countries, beginning in England, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Russia, United States and all the way to India, Japan, China and more. Today one can still obtain nibs made from a variety of countries. Outside of the famous name brands there are plenty of interesting nibs.

Nibs generally came in a gross. 12 dozen per box. The reason being these were more commonly used in public places such as the Bank, Post office etc., and an average consumption would be about a gross a year. Some say, due to the fact that these nibs corrode easily if not maintained, even an individual needed more than a handful over a period of time.

While the Gillot and Esterbrook nibs for art work were of a certain size, there was a much larger Falcon variety. This had the shape of the beak of a falcon, came in large size and could hold tons of ink. Esterbrook, Perry & Co and almost every manufacturer made them, and they are such a delight.Today dip pens are still manufactured primarily in the Manga world. Companies such as the Tachikawa, Nikko and Zebra makes clones of the most popular art nibs of the yesteryear. These are made of stainless steel and most likely last longer. The most popular being the G-pen.

Best source for these nibs is Ebay, while there are also several specialized stores such as Pendemonium. If you are lucky you might pickup a gross for under 5 dollars!

My favorites so far are Perry & Co Falcon, MacNiven & Cameron Waverly, Zebra G, Gillott 403/303 and Brause 230EF -- And this list keeps changing :)

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As more NOS nibs from around the world arrive, I shall report my findings more.

For learning more in depth about dip pens one should take visit to IAMPETH.


Elva Paulson said...

Great post! Thank you for the history of an implement I love.

Anonymous said...

There are tons of European and American brands that still make steel nibs. It's uninformed to say that Japanese brands are the only ones producing new stock. NOS nibs are great, but people can easily buy cheaper brand new stock from a variety of companies still.

Ganapathy Subramaniam said...

Anonymous, Thank you! I certainly would love to hear about these companies. Would be very useful to know.
Speedball is one that I know of.