An old saying around haunts such as this is “chase the nib, not the pen.” I wish I could say I embodied that old adage, but I admit to being a bit superficial when it comes to my pens. I like them to look good and feel good in the hand ON TOP OF a good nib. In other words, a good nib is a necessary but not sufficient condition.
I should also admit up front that I like big nibs. #8, #9, #12, #50 nibs and the like are all part of my collection. (I have more MB #9 nibs than any other nib, except maybe the Bock 380 that appears in a lot of manufacturers’ pens.) I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but they fit my aesthetic, whatever that may imply about my other shortcomings. :^) I also like nibs with some give or spring. I don’t need a wet noodle, but I like to feel a little suspension when I write and call up variation on demand. I also like a nib that I can drag across the paper under just its own weight and it will still write. So, all this is to say I am picky.
I am also a sucker for custom pens. The handmade nature of the pen allows me to connect more with it as a functional piece of art and see it less as a writing tool. This is what sucked me in to buying a Romillo pen. The pen is hand turned like many others, but the nib is also hand made by one person. It conjures up images of a sooty blacksmith pounding away at a tiny anvil with a little mallet. Yes, I know this is not how they are made, but this is what I choose to see when I close my eyes. Romillo pens are limited in shape options and material, but where else was I going to get a fancy nib made by hand?
Enter our friend Shawn Newton. Since he has moved to pen making full time, he has really kicked it up a notch. By that I mean he has developed new shapes, gotten into different filling systems and even partnered with a jeweler to craft overlays and nibs.
Wait! What was that last part? Nibs? Yes, Newton Pens is now offering handmade nibs. Once I heard this I knew I was destined to try one and experience it for myself. I happened into a deal with a fellow member here and he traded me a custom Newton pen with a large handmade nib for a small sack of magic potato chips. (Ok, it was another pen, but that sounds a lot less interesting.) Not long after I got the pen it was inked up with some Waterman Blue-Black and I was off to the races. The rest of this review will share my thoughts on the nib. I will not focus on the pen overall as I did not order it originally. I will say the fit and finish are excellent. I own 4 of Shawn’s pens now and recommend him without reservation.
This nib does not look like most modern, large #8 sized nibs. The shoulders are much further down the nib, and the breather hole is quite a bit larger than average. There is also some sort of waveor soft curve in the metal just past the breather hole and then what appears to be a bit of a bend before the tip. The Newton Pen logo is lightly engraved on the nib face. There are no markings for gold content, but I understand it is 14K.
I have a hard time placing the nib shape. It comes across to me as vintage, but in a way that it has lived a life of labor. Maybe someone can say what vintage nib it is reminiscent of, but I cannot place it. It just looks kind of familiar, but not immediately recognizable.
One thing I would improve is the depth of the nib engraving. It is too superficial in my opinion. I would like to see either hand carving, or less detail and more depth. This would probably be my biggest suggestion for improvement. I like to look at beautiful nibs while I am thinking of what to write. When I look at this nib I just want a little more pizzazz.
I also want to point out that the feed is hand made by Shawn. I understand he had a bit of trouble crafting a feed that could keep up with this nib. For the most part he was successful, but the feed could be more pleasing to the eye. It looks a bit roughhewn for my tastes, like it was whittled out of a larger piece of ebonite with a large folding knife. Effective, but not pretty. I don’t look at the feed much so this is less of a gripe for me than the nib decoration, but another opportunity for further enhancement. It is still better than a standard injection molded plastic feed though. It has personality, but I wouldn’t mind if it had supermodel good looks too.
Writing is where this nib really shines. It is a fantastic writer. It has about as much flex as one could expect and yet it is easy to use and modulate. This is a nib that can handle more than I can safely throw at it. It is like me driving a Porsche 911 GT3 – it has more capability than I have skill to utilize.
I can get line variation galore or write with no pressure at all. Here are some writing samples to show you the range of capabilities. the nib also has good snap back capabilities.
You will notice that the feed does have some trouble keeping up with the nib under full flex. I am not sure how you might remedy that without making the pen into a fire hose. Normally it writes a decent western medium with no pressure. The pen does have a very distinct sweet spot. In that spot, the flow is glorious and the pen glides. Outside that sweet spot there is a bit of feedback, but nothing worse than many pens I own. I would say the tip could use a little more smoothing and some additional line variation with no pressure (stubbing it). Again, this pen was not prepared for my hand so I do not want to judge the sweet spot too much. I have worked with Shawn on a few small items in the past, and I have always found his communication to be clear and reasonable. If I had ordered the nib from him directly I am sure it could have been tuned to my specifications without issue. As it sits I am happy with it. The smaller sweet spot compared to a modern nib with a blob of tipping reminds me of some of my vintage pens where I need to be a little more mindful of how I hold them to get them to peak performance.
I also want to point out that this nib feels a little soft, like it would be easy to spring it with too much pressure. I found a similar characteristic with the Romillo nibs I have owned. I don’t point this out as a weakness, but as a warning to anyone who presses hard on a nib when writing.
Cost and Availability
The Newton Pens website notes that the larger sized handmade nibs start at $450. I have seen a few others and you can get them longer or wider than what I have. I am sure there are limits, but it is a real treat to be able to have some input on what your nib will look like. I don’t know the lead time for these nibs, but I have not heard of any long waits. Since each one is made to order there must be some extra time vs a stock nib (plus the fact it needs a custom feed and Shawn needs to test the nib for flow and adjust the tipping material). In my opinion, if you have the money, now seems like a good time to splurge on one of these nibs before the queue gets too long.
I acquired this nib to gain some firsthand knowledge about Shawn’s nibs and compare one to other favorite pens. Based on my experience, I can safely recommend a custom nib. You get so much more character and control over how the nib performs than you ever would from a JOWO nib with a plastic feed. I am writing this review with a sample size of one, so for that reason I do encourage you to do research on your own or engage Shawn in a conversation about his nibs. I can’t comment on consistency or replicability of certain characteristics you might desire. All I can tell you is that great things are possible and I have experienced them first hand. I found the custom nib a very rewarding experience.