IT’S easy to see why some people become avid collectors of vintage calligraphy nibs.
I’m the kind of person who geeks out over that sort of thing.
For example, my favourite place at Beamish in County Durham is the stationers in the 1900s town, with its ink bottles and dip pens and old-fashioned advertising.
When I met Melanie Dayus, from English Pen Crafts, last summer, she was kind enough to share with me her collection of vintage pen nibs.
The boxes alone had me swooning, still so colourful after all these years.
Melanie scours the Internet for them and often sells spares alongside her handcrafted pens on her Etsy store.
She sent me away with a few samples when I purchased an oblique holder from her and I’ve finally found the time to give them the attention they deserve.
I started by sticking the nibs in a potato. Yes, a potato.
It’s a quick method recommended by many calligraphers to remove manufacturers’ oils from new nibs, so the ink flows in the way it should.
Other methods include gently scrubbing the nib with a toothbrush dipped in washing-up liquid and water, toothpaste or acetone, such as nail polish remover.
Some calligraphers prep their nibs by passing them through a naked flame.
I tried the potato trick for the first time with my vintage nibs, leaving them in for around 15 minutes before wiping clean, and it worked perfectly for the majority of them.
You can read more about nib care here.
The nibs in Melanie’s collection date from around the turn of the century to the 1950s and come from British, French and American manufacturers.
Among the brands she plucked out for me were Baignol & Farjon, Perry and Co, Gilbert & Blanzy-Poure, Joseph Gillott and Esterbrook and Co.
I could only find information online about the history of the British brands.
Perry and Co was founded in Manchester in 1824 by James Perry, but later moved to London. By 1874, it was one of the largest manufacturers of pen nibs in the world.
It was taken over by British Pens, which is now William Mitchell Ltd, in the early 1960s.
Joseph Gillott started manufacturing steel pens in Birmingham in 1827 and devised several new processes to give them the flexibility needed to compete with the quill pen.
Gillott’s was taken over by British Pens around the same time as Perry and Co and is now part of William Mitchell Ltd.
Of the Perry and Co nibs I tried, I preferred the no. 120 EF and I loved the rather macho-sounding Magnum Quill Pen 601 EF from Gillott’s.
It was actually Joseph Gillott who came up with the idea of impressing then maker’s name on the pens.
I remember Melanie telling me the Gilbert and Blanzy-Poure Plume Princesse no. 730 was the best for beginners and I agree it was a lovely nib to write with.
She also said the Perry and Co no. 104 was very popular for Spencerian script, so I’ll bear that in mind when I get round to trying that one out.
Some of the nibs, such as the Perry and Co 81 Extra Fine were much softer and more flexible than the nibs I am used to – a Nikko G and a Brause 66EF.
I’m looking forward to testing them further and using them on some commissions.