Dip Pens


A while back I wrote about my crow quill dip pen but that is not the only type of dip pen I have. (Dip pen is a bit of a misnomer. While you can dip this sort of pen into ink, I found I have less trouble with blobbing if I use a cheap paintbrush to brush the ink onto the nib.) I have some other pen holders to use with a variety of interchangeable nibs. Different sized and shaped nibs give different lines.

Of the holders, I think my favourite is the Koh-I-Noor No. 127 N Cork Tip Penholder. It’s made in Germany of black plastic with a cork finger grip. This finger grip and its larger size, in comparison to the crow quill pen, make it more comfortable to hold. At the wide end of the penholder is a metal collar with metal grippers for inserting a nib.

I also have an inexpensive oblique pen holder, made in China. Oblique pen holders have a flange that allows you to keep the nib parallel to the writing slant so you are able to exert even pressure on both tines of the nib when doing pointed pen calligraphy. Plastic ones like mine can’t be adjusted but you can get ones with attached brass flanges to allow you to customize it to your grip and the style of calligraphy you are attempting. I’m still trying to master this and am wondering if a better quality oblique pen holder might be worth it.


I have a variety of nibs, some I got at a garage sale in a box of miscellaneous calligraphy supplies and others I acquired through the Edmonton Calligraphic Society. Not all nibs have reservoirs but those that do allow for more ink to be held from each dip so you don’t have to keep dipping quite so often. I tested all of the nibs with a Japanese type of calligraphy ink called “gakusyo” on Greys paper. For some of the nibs, in particular the very pointed ones, I think I would have got better results on smoother paper.

My M. Myers and Son vintage nibs have an interchangeable, removable reservoir that slips on and off the end of the nib. In addition to their number, each nib is inscribed with:


The M. Myers and Son company was founded in 1837 in England but as Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History reports in “1985 the company was sold to an American label company, Avery International, who wanted to expand their European office stationery business. The old Myers directors quickly retired and the business transformed virtually overnight from a typically English family firm to part of an international conglomerate, which sold the factory and its land in Langley Green, and like many other long established British companies, it is now a housing estate.” While it could be argued that housing has more social utility than manufacturing archaic pen nibs, it always seems a bit sad when multi-nationals take over small businesses only to close them.


My Speedball nibs all have reservoirs. If you read my blog about my Speedball crow quill pen, you will remember the Speedball brand began with the Howard Hunt Pen Company. There are still Speedball nibs being made today with the Hunt name on them and these are some of them. The A-5 and B-5 both are inscribed with:


The C-2 seems a bit newer and is inscribed with:


Ross F. George started off as a sign painter and began designing pens for the Hunt Pen Company in 1913. He shared his knowledge about lettering and sign painting through a periodical called the Speedball Text Book. I’m glad his name is still on these nibs.


My Hunt nibs without reservoirs are also made in the U.S.A. by Speedball. This is how the company describes them:

Hunt Pen Nib, School No. 56:  Fine, bronze finish drawing pen for art and writing – stiff action.

Hunt Pen Nib, Extra Fine No. 22:  Bronze finish pen for ornamental writing and fine ruling – medium stiff.

Hunt Pen Nib, Ex-Fine Bowl Pointed No. 512:  fine pen for ruling and lettering.


I have two Joseph Gillott nibs. This is another old British firm, even older than M. Myers and Son, having been established in 1827. However, these nibs are still made in Britain although as of 1967 they joined with another early Birmingham pen company, William Mitchell Ltd. As James Ward in The Perfection of the Paperclip relates, although an American patented a “metallic writing pen”, it was Birmingham, England that became the worldwide capital of steel pen manufacturing. My Gillott nibs are not in great shape so it is difficult to read the inscriptions on them.


I have one Japanese-made nib, the Tachikawa G nib. This is sometimes referred to as a “Comic Pen Nib” because its flexibility makes it good for drawing with, not just writing. Although it doesn’t have a reservoir, the pointed end is somewhat ridged which I assume is designed to hold ink better.


The last nib I have to share is stamped “Chicago Public School“. I wished I knew the history about this nib but it appears to be a topic on which the internet is silent. I can only assume there was a time when Chicago Public Schools ordered specific nibs for use in the classroom.


I am still figuring out how to get the most out of these pens but it has been fun learning more about them.

If dip pens were people, they would be stiff and a bit uptight but with a certain old-fashioned charm and grace about them.


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