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Which Came First, Italic Or Flex Nibs?


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#1 duende

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 03:53

My instincts tell me that the italic nib is an older design, but I don't really know. Does anyone know the answer?



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#2 OCArt

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 05:06

Manuscript scribes used quill pens trimmed in an oblique manner.  I don't know how flexible a goose quill was. Anyone?



#3 EMQG

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 15:36

Manuscript scribes used quill pens trimmed in an oblique manner.  I don't know how flexible a goose quill was. Anyone?

I believe they were fairly flexible.

 

I also believe that people were using reeds cut into pens long before they used quills - and I believe those were usually italic. Don't quote me on that though.



#4 Tweel

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 21:50

It seems sort of chicken and egg-ish.  Fountain pen nibs evolved from dip pens, dip pens from quills, etc., and both ways of writing (broad and flexible) go way, way back.  The Romans wrote with reeds ("italic"), but they also wrote with pointed brushes ("flex").  I think the question needs to be constrained in some way.  Fountain pen nibs specifically?  And what was most popular earliest?  There I'd bet the flexible nib, coming out of the 19th century and dip pens.  I think the Victorians regarded broad pen writing as archaic and medieval (except for traditional uses like engrossing), and flexible pen hands as the height of grace.  That's where people would have been coming from as they adopted fountain pens.


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#5 duende

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 23:00

I also imagine that the nib design was influenced by the type of paper available at the time. Coarser and thicker material may handle the broader italic format better than the fine lines produced by a flex nib. Perhaps as writing became more widespread and paper technology improved so did the design of the nibs. Just a wild guess.



#6 Tweel

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 04:04

I also imagine that the nib design was influenced by the type of paper available at the time. Coarser and thicker material may handle the broader italic format better than the fine lines produced by a flex nib. Perhaps as writing became more widespread and paper technology improved so did the design of the nibs. Just a wild guess.

 

But that all happened before nibs existed.  Modern, mass-produced wood pulp paper, widespread personal writing and fountain pens date to the mid-19th century, whereas the original italic pens were used on parchment, not paper. 


Edited by Tweel, 08 November 2017 - 04:11.

fpn_1375035941__postcard_swap.png * * * "Don't neglect to write me several times from different places when you may."
-- John Purdue (1863)

 


#7 duende

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 04:39

 

But that all happened before nibs existed.  Modern, mass-produced wood pulp paper, widespread personal writing and fountain pens date to the mid-19th century, whereas the original italic pens were used on parchment, not paper. 

 

Good points. I guess there are several phases in the evolution of writing tools and fountain pens are a relatively recent one. It would be interesting to test italic and flex pens on parchment or other pre-19th century writing material to see how the nibs perform. My guess is that italic nibs, being stiffer and broader, would perform better.

 

I found this website discussing how books were made before the printing press. They don't really discuss the writing instruments, but the information is interesting nevertheless: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/educator/modules/gutenberg/books/  



#8 Plexipens

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 15:38

Quills can be made quite flexible and shaped to whatever need the user has. Same applies to reeds.


Edited by Plexipens, 08 November 2017 - 15:39.


#9 AAAndrew

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 18:40

Without going back to cuneiform or even Roman stylii on wax boards, you'll find broad-pointed reeds shaped more like a stub than a point as the main writing instrument in the European, Middle-eastern and some South-Asian traditions. Styles of writing which use pointed pens didn't come about until fairly recently. (15th, 16th century?) 

 

So, absolute would be broad pointed pens. Then you get into quills. Again, as these were replacing reeds in areas without a ready supply, they were cut at an oblique or even straight angle, but still with a broad-ish point. Quills can be flexible and they can be stiff (especially swan quills). It depended on what your need was. 

 

Flexible, pointed pen writing didn't really become common until the 16th-century. I'm sure others who know their paleography better can correct me, but that's my recollection. 

 

By the 18th-century, many quills were still cut straight, but the tip tended to be fairly fine, unless engrossing (fancy writing) or writing in italic (popular with the ladies!). A standard clerical hand would have used a fairly finely pointed quill with a slit cut in it for some flex. Think Copperplate like script. 

 

When steel pens came along, they copied the pointed pens first as those types of quills tended to require repair much more often, and so were the right market to target. The main complaint about the early steel pens was their relative lack of flexibility. (plus they rusted, which is not really known to happen to quills)  It was only later in the life of the steel pen, when the pointed, flexible nib was common and quills where quickly disappearing did some people say, "Hey, those old quills were pretty quick to write with, and being a lawyer, I don't care if my writing is pretty, I just need to write quickly and easily."  Thus stubs were born, to mimic the old broad-cut quills. That's why the stub nibs are almost all named after a profession that writes a lot, like chancellor, lawyer, judge's quill, etc...  

 

When fountain pens first were made in the form we think of them today, (as opposed to the "fountain pens" of the 18th and even earlier which were just a way to hold more ink when dipping), they were duplicating the pointed pens of the day. But I'm sure it didn't take long for someone to think of putting a stub nib on a fountain pen, as they were creating an alternative to dip pens, and stub nibs were quite popular with certain users of the steel pen. 

 

There. That muddies the water quite nicely. If you actually read all of that, and found it even mildly interesting, you may be one of the select few who might appreciate my steel pen history blog.  I'm still in the very early years (just getting to the 1820's in my next post), but will be moving fairly quickly into the mid-19th-century. 

 

Andrew


Check out my Steel Pen Blog. https://thesteelpen.com/ . 

 

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#10 duende

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 20:59

Without going back to cuneiform or even Roman stylii on wax boards, you'll find broad-pointed reeds shaped more like a stub than a point as the main writing instrument in the European, Middle-eastern and some South-Asian traditions. Styles of writing which use pointed pens didn't come about until fairly recently. (15th, 16th century?) 

 

...

 

Flexible, pointed pen writing didn't really become common until the 16th-century. I'm sure others who know their paleography better can correct me, but that's my recollection. 

 

...

 

It was only later in the life of the steel pen, when the pointed, flexible nib was common and quills were quickly disappearing did some people say, "Hey, those old quills were pretty quick to write with, and being a lawyer, I don't care if my writing is pretty, I just need to write quickly and easily."  Thus stubs were born, to mimic the old broad-cut quills. That's why the stub nibs are almost all named after a profession that writes a lot, like chancellor, lawyer, judge's quill, etc...  

 

...

 

There. That muddies the water quite nicely. If you actually read all of that, and found it even mildly interesting, you may be one of the select few who might appreciate my steel pen history blog.  I'm still in the very early years (just getting to the 1820's in my next post), but will be moving fairly quickly into the mid-19th-century. 

 

Andrew

 

Wonderful write up, Andrew. It looks like nib evolution was not as linear as I imagined but more like an iterative process, with nib forms and functions appearing and disappearing and appearing again...

 

I have a trip coming up to India in December and hopefully I'll find original samples of old writing styles in that region of the world.

 

Sorry, I can't find a link to your blog, which sounds immensely interesting.


Edited by duende, 08 November 2017 - 21:01.


#11 OCArt

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 21:11

Content clipped.....

Sorry, I can't find a link to your blog, which sounds immensely interesting.

 

it was at the bottom of his post https://thesteelpen.com  I think you'll love his site!



#12 AAAndrew

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Posted 08 November 2017 - 22:52

Thanks, OCArt. I tried to include the url in my message and it was stripped out. I know you’re not allowed to put a url in your sig unless you have a premium account, but I’d never had a problem with a message body before.

Duende if you’re headed to India, you have a plethora of languages to choose from. Also check out some of the handmade paper there. Have fun!
Check out my Steel Pen Blog. https://thesteelpen.com/ . 

 

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#13 Bobje

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 02:17

Andrew, outstanding post with an authoritatively punchy summary. I’m going to check out your blog now.

Bobje reviews and articles on Fountain Pen Network:

 

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#14 dms525

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Posted 11 November 2017 - 18:01

In as few words as possible (always a challenge for me): If you are asking about scripts, those written with chisel-cut instruments (reeds and, later, quills) came first. If you are asking about metal nibs, I believe pointed nibs came first, reflecting the scripts in fashion at the time and place these nibs were first manufactured. Now, that is true, I believe, for the English-speaking world. But I wonder about Germany and other countries where Gothic scripts remained in use until well into the 20th Century.

 

Does any one know?

 

David



#15 Plexipens

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 12:03

In "The Story of the Invention of Steel Pens", by H. Bore published in 1890 he speaks of numerous references to bronze, steel, silver, and gold pens made like reed pens as far back as 1540.

 

The Queen of Hungary, in the year 1540, had a silver pen bestowed upon her, which had this inscription upon it : 'Publii Ovidii Calamus,' found under the ruins of some monument in that country, as Mr. Sands, in the Life of Ovid (prefixed to his Metamorphosis) relates." Humane Industry ; or, a History of Mechanical Arts, by Thos. Powell, D.D,: London, 1661, page 61.

Edited by Plexipens, 12 November 2017 - 12:03.


#16 AAAndrew

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 12:43

In "The Story of the Invention of Steel Pens", by H. Bore published in 1890 he speaks of numerous references to bronze, steel, silver, and gold pens made like reed pens as far back as 1540.


In my historical eras, I call this time Pre-History because we don’t really know the names of these makers. These were made, mostly, as luxury novelties, like the example you site for the Queen of Hungary. This tradition of one-off, hand-made metallic nibs continues in the next period, what I call The Craftsman era where we begin to know the names of the makers, and we find the first evidence of people making pens as a craft, and making a living from it. https://thesteelpen....-the-craft-era/

It wasn’t until about 1820 that you see the foundations for a true industry being formed. And by the 1830’s a true race for industrial and commercial dominance begins. (That’s next)
Check out my Steel Pen Blog. https://thesteelpen.com/ . 

 

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#17 Tweel

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Posted 12 November 2017 - 18:32

But I wonder about Germany and other countries where Gothic scripts remained in use until well into the 20th Century.

 

Does any one know?

 

From what I've read, I believe that Fraktur (the blackletter font(s)) continued mainly as a printed font once the press was invented, and up until the Nazis banned it (not entirely successfully).  Sütterlin, the German handwritten cursive, and its predecessor Kurrent, seem to benefit aesthetically from shading via either flexible pen or stub -- like English cursive -- but are essentially monolinear.

 

(I'm not a scholar on the subject, though -- I had to run to Google to refresh my memory -- so if anyone has better info...)


Edited by Tweel, 12 November 2017 - 18:47.

fpn_1375035941__postcard_swap.png * * * "Don't neglect to write me several times from different places when you may."
-- John Purdue (1863)

 


#18 AAAndrew

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Posted 13 November 2017 - 21:48

For anyone who's interested, my latest, the British invasion of the 1830's is up. 


Check out my Steel Pen Blog. https://thesteelpen.com/ . 

 

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#19 Drawing61

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Posted 15 November 2017 - 00:51

Thank you Andrew for your meticulous scholarship. I always learn something from your blogs.


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#20 duende

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Posted 18 November 2017 - 21:48

For anyone who's interested, my latest, the British invasion of the 1830's is up. 

 

This is very well written, fascinating, and a joy to read with a glass of whiskey in hand. I would enjoy seeing more writing samples from the era, but this might be more trouble than it's worth. It just makes the history pop out a bit more. There might be non-copyrighted samples of writing from those eras. The Cambridge Digital library is excellent, but I don't know what their copyright rules are like: https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/ 








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