Nibs Blog

The True Mettle of Japanese Pens

In January of 2008, while in Tokyo, John was interviewed by MONO Magazine, a glossy and upscale monthly magazine. The article, a special feature appearing on page 125, was translated for us by Leon Lim, and appears below.

MONO Magazine
 "The True Mettle of Japanese Pens"

Why Use Gold Nibs?

We are frequently asked why a person should spend the extra $50 or more on a gold nib rather than a perfectly serviceable stainless steel nib. The answer comes in part in the corrosion resistance to ink. Inks can range in pH from extremely acid to very alkaline. The images below are of a steel nib that has been attacked by ink. (Please note that our lighting makes this nib look much more copper in color than it really is.)

Smoothing Scratchy Nibs

If a person enjoys writing with a fountain pen, it is probably for several reasons. High on the list is the feel of pen on paper, as it glides effortlessly across the surface. Writing with a scratchy nib, on the other hand, is a less than pleasing activity. Anyone who uses fountain pens regularly has had this other experience.

The Anatomy of a Nib

The nib is an elegant answer to a question of aesthetics and function. It has a characteristic shape that, with a few notable exceptions, has remained very much unchanged for one hundred years.

Nibs In Germany

As the big BMW pulled away from our hotel in Frankfurt, the driver thoughtfully asked if traveling on the autobahn at speeds over 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph) would be uncomfortable for us. We looked at one another, grinned like two kids in a candy store, and replied in unison, "No problem!"

The Quest

I am heading south on Highway 61 through ten foot stands of corn, the Mississippi on my left, the meadow larks calling from rolling hills and treed fence rows. The middle of America is lush at this time of year, and as I roll towards Fort Madison past prosperous Victorian farm houses, I am inspired to hope the question which has nagged me for so long will shortly be answered.

Nibs in New Haven

The driver from Parker Pen Co. is pressing the doorbell of the 16th century farm house where I have just finished the breakfast part of "bed and breakfast".

Such miserable rainy weather is not uncommon in October on the South Downs, being fully exposed to the open Atlantic, so my driver, a courteous man sitting on the right hand side of the new minivan, has no trouble, to my amazement, navigating the rush hour lanes and motorways to New Haven, the center of Parker Pen Co.

Where's the Iridium?

"There is no iridium in the iridium", Kurt Montgomery said to me as we looked over the print out from the EDAX. We were looking at the material analysis of a Waterman's Green #7 nib tip from the 1930's.

Most pens today (and in the past) use an alloy of materials for the hard surface tipping on the end of the nib. This alloy is composed of a number of elements. If iridium is present at all, it is rarely the predominate element.

How can we talk about iridium?

My technical accomplice, Kurt Montgomery and I have laid to rest the idea that fountain pens are tipped with iridium. No nib manufacturer that we have found is using iridium for the tipping of fountain pens anymore. And in fact, they have not been doing so for decades. But as I disabuse myself of the idea that these things are made of iridium, a new problem arises. What will we call this stuff? It is always easy to have a simple name for a part of something; and iridium, named for the rainbow, has enough of a mystique around it to be an attractive choice.

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