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  1. Two Semi-Flex 3-42 G Nibs Montblanc Fountain Pens and Nib Flexibility ~ When I joined Fountain Pen Network several years ago, it was with the specific intent of learning from others in the Montblanc Forum. Their years of experience, detailed understanding, and keenly honed appreciation of fine distinctions regarding subtleties was impressive. Knowing essentially nothing about the lore, development and mechanics of fountain pens, I was attracted to the active knowledge base present in the many threads in the Montblanc Forum. Since then I’ve greatly benefited from hundreds of insightful posts by those who know best. Accordingly, there’s an aspect of fountain pens in general, and Montblanc pens in particular, which remains inchoate in my thinking, not because of the deficiencies of those who’ve discussed it, but my own lack of experience. It concerns nib flexibility, especially in Montblanc pens old and new. I’ve read a number of relevant threads in the Montblanc Forum, as well as detailed explanatory essays by respected fountain pen and nib specialists. All of them enlarged my understanding, clearing up misconceptions, laying out the salient factors in considering nib flexibility. While from time to time there may be small differences in nomenclature from author to author, what I’ve read has been helpful, comprehensive and germane. Had I not joined FPN and read threads in the Montblanc Forum, my utter ignorance of nib flexibility realities would’ve remained substantial. **************************************************************** There remain a number of points which are muddled in my thinking. I may very likely have misunderstood or altogether overlooked various considerations, resulting in needless confusion. In order to better grasp nib flexibility and Montblanc pens through the decades, I’ll restate below what I’ve gleaned from others, any glaring errors being solely my fault and responsibility, not theirs. Whatever is far from accurate, misleading or incomplete will certainly be corrected by the resident experts who regularly post in the Montblanc Forum. My hope is that this post will not seem fatuous, but might instead inspire more posts describing and/or showing Montblanc nibs which have any degree of flexibility. Why Flexibility? When I was in junior high school teachers emphasized that fountain pen tines shouldn’t be pressed downward. The ostensible reason was that doing so might exceed the tensile strength of the metal and thus spring the nib beyond usability. A number of posts scattered here and there in the Montblanc Forum question the need for meddling with nibs which have already been crafted to write strokes of clarity and distinction. There doesn’t appear to be consensus on the value of flexible nibs, whether softer nibs, springy nibs or ultra-wet noodles. Many are understandably satisfied with the writing performance of the Montblanc nibs they have. The advantages of flexible nibs emphasized in many posts are several, with increased individuality of handwriting being foremost. The expressive quality of decorative penmanship in past centuries shares certain visual qualities with the strokes, curves and lines from many flexible nibs. There’s charm and elegance in flowing lines of ink which ripple in and out of fullness despite originating from a single nib. The aesthetic value is considerable, which may nonetheless belie the months and years of disciplined practice needed to attain mastery of such handwriting. I’ve read several blunt warnings that mere possession of a flexible nib is no shortcut to quasi-Spencerian elegance. Which Pens Might Have Flexible Nibs? As far as non-Montblanc fountain pens, a number of posts recommend that those seeking dramatic line variation obtain and devote the time to mastering dip pens. For those less venturesome, a number of posts recommend such pens as Waterman 52, Namiki Falcon, Mabie Todd Swan and Simplo pens. In several posts respected authors strongly emphasized that used pens, especially more than half a century old, were the surest way for anyone to obtain and develop skills in using a flexible nib. Special praise was given to the Pelikan 400NN OF nib for versatility due to its exceptional flexibility. Concerning Montblanc fountain pens, what I’ve read from more than two dozen authors has comprised a variety of older models, each with advocates noting the strengths of the pen models they’ve owned and used. The most frequently mentioned Montblanc pen having nib flexibility were the 1950s celluloid 146 models, extolled for their line variation and smooth ink flow. Other Montblanc models specifically mentioned for sometimes having nib flexibility were the following, which makes no claim to be definitive: 206, 214, 221, 234, 234½, 342, 14C 585, 742, and 1960s to early 1980s 146 and 149. Having never used any of these, they’re listed due to the positive comments of those who know them well. I was surprised to see considerable caution expressed about seeking nib flexibility in fountain pens which weren’t explicitly designed for such functionality. Apparently in decades past there were factory-designed nibs which featured varying degrees of flexibility to accommodate variable writing styles. Several posts asserted that Montblanc was not one of the fountain pen manufacturers which did so. Therefore pushing a more recent Montblanc nib past its flexibility limit was a considerable risk for less experienced fountain pen writers. What are the Relative Levels of Nib Flexibility? In reading posts and essays about nib flexibility at times I felt uncertain about the nomenclature as different authors as well as different vendors sometimes used different descriptions. Just as fountain pen user nib preferences vary from individual to individual, there are similar but distinct approaches to expressing the relative levels of nib flexibility. Most descriptions are largely based on objective considerations with a few favoring sound but subjective impressions. Mindful that there are well-established conventions, yet certain unsettled terminology, these appear to be the relative levels, without daring to suggest that they’re definitive: • Very Flexible, or Wet Noodle • Flexible • Semi-Flex • Limited or No Flexibility, or Nail Yet if those are reasonably standard — and they may not be — where do these fit in? • Springy or Bouncy • Soft A few authors proposed a distinction between manufacturer intended, designed-in genuine flexibility, and the more incidental springy or bouncy nibs which weren’t designed to be marketed as flexible but were, due to both design and metallurgical considerations. Fully flexible nibs have been described as yielding line variation with minimal pressure. Semi-flex nibs, by contrast, yield less line variation despite greater pressure. Wet noodles have been characterized as being tough to handle as the slightest pressure from an inexperienced hand might result in a splattered mess. The nails generally yield reliable strokes with only limited line variation, if any. How do Physical and Mechanical Factors Influence Nib Flexibility? Nib flexibility is largely concerned with the degree of line variation and the amount of pressure placed by a hand on a nib. Among others, these were cited as being possible factors in nib flexibility, with varying degrees of significance: • 14K vs 18K Gold • Mono-tone vs Bi-tone Nibs • Alloy Metal Composition • Nib Thickness • Longer, Slender Tines • Precious Metal Tempering • Ink Feed Design Unlike an italic nib which produces line variation with set directionality, a flexible nib is typically a round tip yielding narrow or broad strokes in any direction, up or down, back or forth. There are two considerations with any given flexible nib — the tines bending up and down, and the tines spreading outward. Bending and spreading are separate actions which don’t require heavy hand pressure to occur in a flexible nib. The design physics is such that capillary action causes ink to flow without necessarily producing a wetter line. When tines are forcibly separated under pressure it may yield a wetter line, but it isn’t genuine nib flexibility. The ‘give’ when excessive pressure is applied risks exceeding the tensile strength flexibility limit of a nib, which damages the tines, resulting in a sprung nib. Several authors explained that contemporary fountain pen makers feel that most customers learned to write with ballpoint pens, hence apply excessive pressure to fountain pens, as well as often not realizing the optimal position for holding a fountain pen. If that’s the case, then such fountain pen users might mistakenly suppose that greatly increased pressure on a nib might result in enhanced line variation. As a university undergraduate with Sheaffer entry-level fountain pens, I did just that. There’s considerable risk in overstressing precious metal. For certain nibs, their design and composition tolerates a wide degree of flex. Other nibs are unable to retain their molecular tensile strength if subjected to medium to strong pressure. I read warnings to avoid purchasing a contemporary premium nib and then spring it to unusability with ill-considered excessive writing pressure. A vintage or older flexible nib often has longer tines with sloping shoulders. It’s designed to maintain a satisfactory ink flow while a degree of flex is present. The tines of a flexible nib may touch at rest, unlike regular nibs which have a slight gap separating tines at rest. The nearly unanimous conclusion of the authors I read was that contemporary Montblanc factory nibs were occasionally soft or bouncy, but not semi-flex or fully flexible. For that, they suggested consulting any of the internationally respected nibmeisters, or seriously considering pre-1955 Montblanc pens. As I was born in late 1953, it seems as though Montblanc pens from my birth era or before have the greatest possibility of having any flexibility. **************************************************************** Who Has Fine Examples of Montblanc Fountain Pens with Any Flexibility? Among my own Montblanc fountain pens, only the two 3-42 Gs, shown in the image at the top, have any degree of flexibility. Interestingly, they aren’t alone in producing attractive line variation as all three 149 OBBBs yield line variation with nearly any ink on any grade of paper. Do you write with any Montblanc semi-flex or flex pens? Please correct, amend or add to what I’ve written, as it’s no more than a summary of what I’ve read, rather than observations from experience. If it’s comfortable and convenient, a photograph of a pen, or nib, or a handwriting sample might be useful in adding to the overall understanding of Montblanc nib flexibility. Tom K.

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