The Joy of Flex

The Joy of Flex

Q1. What is Flex, Why do some nibs have it and others don’t?

A1. Actually, that’s two questions, but if it wasn’t for the second part, the first couldn’t be asked.

With increased hand pressure on the pen, some nibs respond by having the tine tips move apart and leave a wider ink line. The tines do not bend, they move apart like scissors. With the release of pressure, the tines snap back together quickly and make their ‘normal’ line width. Nibs have flex because they are designed that way.

Q2. Why Would Anyone Want A Flexible Nib?

A2. Flex nibs can give a wide variation in line widths and make shaded fashion letters, where one part of a letter may be 3 to 5 times wider than another part of the same letter.

Q3. Don’t Italic and Stub Nibs Also Give Line Variations?

A3. Stubs and Italics usually give line variation because they make a wide down stroke and a much narrower cross stroke. There usually isn’t a variance in the widths of the strokes as with a flexible nib. (Yes,
there are Flexible Stub and Flexible Italic nibs, just to confuse things.)

Q4. Do All Flex Nibs Flex The Same Amount? [How Much Flex Would A Flex Nib Flex If A Flex Nib Flexed Full Flex?]

A4. There is no fixed ratio. It seems that if a nib actually flexes by the tines separating (without bending) and snapping back to their ‘normal’ line, the nib is at least “Semi-Flex: Flex and Super-Flex are likewise subjective evaluations.

Not that anyone ever asked me to do it, but it seems to me that a Semi-flex nib will make a line up to 3 times the width of its normal line; a flexible nib, up to 5 times; a Superflex up to 7. No such standard exists, but using this as a working definition, the difference between ‘soft’ nibs ( which may increase line width by the bending of the tines) and flexible ones is clearer.

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Q5. What is a Nibs “Normal” Line

A5. The “Normal” Line is the nib width as set by the Manufacturer – EF, F, M, B, BB, 3B etc. A flex nib should always return to its ‘normal’ line when pressure is released.

Q6. Don’t All Nibs Make A Wider Line When Pressure is Applied?

A6. True, even a BiC will leave a wider line when it’s pressed harder into the paper. But fountain pens leave ink “on’ paper, not ‘in’ paper ( except for those using Parker SuperChrome ink). The difference is the
amount of pressure. A rigid nib will act like a Ball Point ball – pressure will not change the width of the nib unless it breaks it. A ‘soft’ or ‘responsive’ nib will bend under light pressure and may even flex, but it will not ‘snap back to the ‘normal’ line. (The nibs can usually be reset.)

Q7. Can Too Much Pressure Be Put On A Flex Nib?

A7. Flex nibs become ‘sprung’ when too much force is applied. The nib may, under great force, break.

Q8. How Much Pressure is Safe To Use On A Flex Nib?

A8. The pressure will differ from pen to pen and nib to nib, but do not press so hard that the nib tines bend after they have flexed to their optimal width – the optimal point is “just before the flexed tines

Q9. What Are Flex Nibs Good For?

A9. Flexible nibs make some people’s handwriting look more interesting. Sadly, no pen has the ability to make the content more interesting. Flexible nibs are good for correspondence and short notes.

Q10 What Can’t Flex Nibs Do Well?

A10. Flexible nibs are harder to use than Rigid nibs. Flexible nibs tend to be less smooth than rigid nibs. (Probably due to the flexes flexing.) Flexible nibs can’t make carbon copies. Flexible nibs aren’t
great for writing quickly.

Q11. Where Does One Find Flexible Nibs?

A11. For advertising purposes, nearly every pen boasts “flexible nibs.” As a general rule, flexible nibs are somewhat hard to find. Even in the ‘golden age of pens, Flexible nibs were a small fraction of a company’s output. Some vintage pen dealers are very scrupulous in describing the amount of flex a given nib has on a given pen. I have two Crocker Pens about 100 years old, one has a Superflex nib the other rivals a modern rigid nib like a Waterman or a Rotring. The only way to know if a nib is flexible is to see if it flexes. OMAS offers a 14kt Superflex Nib – but I never wanted to be parted from any of my OMAS pens long enough to have one retrofitted.

Q12. Are Any Modern Nibs Flexible?

A12. Not having tried all modern nibs, I can’t say. Pens with somewhat flexible nibs that I have are Marlen Atellans, some Viscontis, some Pelikans, some MBs, some OMAS 18kt nibs, Diplomat 1922, Delta, Cross,
Stipula Namiki. None of these modern nibs has the same amount of flex as some vintage Flexible nibs. Most of these are Semi-flex, the tines spread a moderate amount.

Q13. Are There Modern Manufacturers Who Don’t Make Flexible Nibs?

A13. In general, I don’t think that Rotring, Lamy, Waterman ( save for the Liaison and Serenite), Aurora, Ancora, Sheaffer, Alvin have any flexible nibs

Q14. What Vintage Pens Have Flexible Nibs?

A14. Nearly every vintage manufacturer made some flexible nibs – but these were a minor part of their offerings. Not only were few flexible nibs made, but flexible nibs are more subject to breakage, its likely
that fewer survived.

Q15 Are Flexible Nibs Hard To Use?

A15 They are hard to use well. First, one needs to write with very little pressure on the nib or the range of line widths is lost. (If your hand is so heavy that the nib is always flexed then there’s nowhere to go.)

Flexible nibs tend to magnify handwriting problems – so if you are not happy with your handwriting as it is you’ll be downright appalled by what a flexible nib can do to it. Getting the nib to flex when you want
it to is only half the problem. The other is keeping it from flexing when you don’t want it flexed.

Also, because there is the possibility for the wide variation inline widths, letters have to be made consistently or the handwriting is very hard to read.

If you have practiced an Italic writing style and are used to the zen of pen – the discipline necessary to make handwriting into a spiritual exercise (art or craft, if you prefer) the transition will be easy. If
you see writing as finding out what the nib will do, you’ll probably be a natural. If handwriting is making the nib do what you want it to without any realization that nibs are different, you likely to have

Q16. What Advantages Do Rigid Nibs Have Over Flex Nibs?

A 16 Rigid nibs are easier to write with and usually smoother nibs. Rigid nibs aren’t as touchy about handwriting style or angle of attack. In the pre-Xerox, pre-PC office setting, Rigid (manifold) nibs were
needed to make carbon copies; to make accounting and bookkeeping entries in large Ledgers with fixed columns (Most companies made an Accountant nib, an EEF rigid nib.)

Rigid nibs are much more durable. The rise of the Lifetime Guarantee by Parker and Sheaffer moved these companies even more heavily toward rigid nibs – They don’t have to be replaced nearly as often. Many rigid nib pens can survive being dropped nib first onto the floor. This is a death knell for a flexible one. Unlike flexible nibs, rigid nibs usually don’t get sprung. If they do become out of alignment, they are not hard to realign.

Q17. How Do You Know If You Should Try Flexible Nibs?

A17. Even inexpensive fountain pens with flex nibs are a fairly expensive item. The most economical way to practice with Italic, stub, flexible, oblique, reverse oblique, or scroll nibs is to get a handful of Speedball ( or other dip nibs) and some wooden or plastic holders. A basic Speedball Lettering or Calligraphy manual, some ink and paper, and some time are all you need to experiment with all sorts of styles.
Knowing the proper way to make letters isn’t all that necessary for rigid nibs, but is a prerequisite for flexible nibs.

Practice takes time, but the skills developed remain with you after the practice ceases. Flexible nibs require the writer to be mindful of what he or she is doing – so the learner must be disciplined in
practice. If you have 15 minutes a day, do it for 15 minutes each day – don’t try to do 90 minutes once a week (it really too boring to do for 90 minutes of correct letter formation for most of us — although some people can seem to do it endlessly — like that roommate, you had who tuned a guitar string for an hour per string, but never played anything.)

Q.18 Can you Tell If A Nib Is Flexible Just By Looking At It?

A.18. In comparing flexible nibs to rigid nibs: the tines of a flexible nib maybe be longer and thinner, the breather hole will be further from the tip, and the shoulders of the nib will not be as blocky.

Viewed from the side, a rigid nib will probably have a constant thickness while a flexible nib thins out towards the nib tipping. But this isn’t foolproof especially if you don’t have a known rigid nib for comparison. The only obvious evidence that a nib is flexible comes by flexing it. Put the nib on a white piece of paper and press very lightly, if the tines separate, it’s flexible. If the tines both separate and bend, they may not go back to their normal line.

Q19. Are Only 14kt Nibs Flexible?

A19, Flexibility depends on how a nib is made, not what it’s made of. Steel nibs can be as Superflex as springs. With Gold nibs, the increase of other metals in the alloy means that a 12kt nib could be more
flexible than a 14kt . . .18kt. But all materials can be made into flexible or rigid nibs.

Q20 Have You Told Us Everything You Know About Flexible Nibs?

A20. I’ve probably told you more than I know – but we have space to fill.

Q21. Where Did You Get The Flexible Nib Pens You Have

A21. I’ve picked up a flexible Conklin Nozac 5M at a pen show. The rest have come from dealers and individuals over the internet To mention individual names and purchases risks being a commercial endorsement and also risks not mentioning the names of very reputable dealers.

Q22. Are There Web sites With Information On Nibs?

A.22. As this is for information, you might want to check:,,,, They will all have good links to other sites of

Q23 Are Fine, Medium, and Broad the only Sizes of Flex Nibs?

A.23 In Vintage pens, one can (infrequently) come across flexible and semi-flex nibs in Italic, Stub, and Oblique. Combinations like flexible fine Italic nibs occasionally turn up.

Q 24. Are Flexible Nibs Worth More Than Non-Flexible Nibs?

A.24. Worth and price don’t always have a direct relationship in pens – often they’ve never been introduced properly. Flexible nibs are probably scarcer than rigid nibs, but then they’re also more likely to
break and harder to use It seems a toss-up to me, but then I’m not selling any. The price the seller gets is related only to how much the buyer wants the item.

Q 25. What Credentials Do You Have To Write This Piece?

A.25. I’m not a nib meister, calligrapher, or graphic artist, nor a well-known pen collector, metallurgist, pen repair specialist nor even all that knowledgeable on pen history and design.

I do use and like flexible and semiflexible nibs. They aren’t even the organizing principle of my collection- they just sort of happened as I was collecting odd filler mechanisms. Having practiced Italic calligraphy about 30 years ago -so that my handwriting could be read by me – I found that the techniques, though rusty, still carried over. A light hand and the ability to adapt yourself to find out what the nib is
capable of doing is probably the best indicator of whether someone should use flexible nibs.

Also, flexible nibs are not good for all writing – trying to take notes on a lecture with a flex nib is a recipe for disaster – and not helpful when one has to write fast. In these situations, break out the Carene
or Rotring 900. The viewpoints and opinions expressed are not necessarily the opinions
of nor the people associated with it. The secretary will disavow all knowledge (oops, wrong channel.)

Recommended Reading

Fountain Pen Nibs: The Basics

Fountain Pen Nibs: The Basics

Fountain pen nibs are made in a bewildering array of sizes and styles. Of course, covering everything about every kind of nib in one article would be bewildering as well—I won’t do that—but there should be enough useful information to help you better decide what nibs might best suit your writing style. In this article, I’ll pretend to be knowledgeable about the following aspects of nibs:

  • Nib tip shapes
  • Nib sizes and types
  • Problems

Nib Tip Shapes

There are three basic nib shapes: Round, stub, and italic. Ballpoint, oblique, and calligraphy nibs are merely slight variations of the round and italic shapes, and I’ll discuss these variations in their appropriate contexts.

Round Nibs: A round nib is ground and polished to have roughly a circular footprint so that its line width is fairly uniform no matter what direction the nib is moving across the paper. I say “roughly” because the shape is rarely a true circle. Nibs are small, and hands are big. Grinding a nib to a geometrically perfect shape by hand just isn’t possible, but this is one area in which “close enough” really is close enough. Here is a magnified silhouette representing the basic shape of a round nib, together with a cross illustrating the uniform stroke width that this nib produces:

ball-point nib is like a standard round nib, but it is also ground and polished so that you can write with it while holding the pen with its nib on the underside instead of in the usual nib-uppermost orientation. This gives a finer line so that you can have, in effect, two different nib sizes on one pen. Parker was famous for the quality of its ball-point nibs. Sheaffer’s Feathertouch nibs are also ball-point nibs, and Sheaffer included a ball-point nib among the choices it offered for the interchangeable-nib Fineline series of pens that it produced to compete with Esterbrook. (But note that Fineline nibs are not interchangeable with Esterbrook’s Renew Point nibs!) Learn more about Fountain pens at

Stub Nibs: A stub nib is elongated sideways, to have a footprint that is somewhat elliptical. This makes it lay down a slightly broader line when moving up and down (in relation to the nib itself) and a narrower one when moving sideways (again, in relation to the nib). The eccentricity of the ellipse isn’t too pronounced, and the nib is still polished to have nice rounded edges. This means that you can write with a stub just about as easily as with a standard nib. Here is a magnified silhouette representing the basic shape of a stub nib, together with a cross illustrating the slight variation in stroke width that this nib produces:

Italic Nibs: An italic nib is much more elongated. This makes the difference between its broad (up-and-down) strokes and its narrow strokes (sideways) much more pronounced than with a stub. There’s a readily perceptible straight edge across the tip of an italic. Here is a magnified silhouette representing the basic shape of an italic nib, together with a cross illustrating the more extreme variation in stroke width that this nib produces:

When you write with an italic, you hold the pen with the nib generally away from your forearm (as with a stub or a round nib). I mention this point here because you hold a pen with an oblique nib differently, and I’ll describe that difference later. When used by a right-handed person, an italic will generally make strokes that are of roughly equal width in both the vertical and horizontal directions; strokes from the upper right to the lower left will be thinner, and strokes from the upper left to the lower right will be thicker, as shown here:

This is the stroke arrangement most commonly seen in Old English and other blackletter styles and in many italic and Chancery styles:

The Old English text shows additional ornamentation that would be applied with a very fine dip-pen nib called a “crow quill.” (The illustrations here were actually produced using typeset fonts, but they are characteristic.)

Left-handed writers use so many different writing styles, overwriting and underwriting, writing uphill, writing horizontally, and writing downhill, that it’s not really possible to illustrate a typical left-handed writer’s results. Depending on the way you position your hand and align your paper, your broad and narrow strokes will be aligned in directions different from those of a right-handed writer, and likely different even from those of other left-handed writers. You’ll have to experiment for yourself.

As you might have guessed by now, italics and calligraphy nibs are the same things in terms of form; but a calligraphy nib might be even wider yet. Italics are finished with relatively less rounding to their edges than round or stub nibs. This square-edged grind and the wider footprint result in a greater tendency to catch on corners and a greater tendency to skip if the nib isn’t held straight-on to the paper (i.e., when one side of the nib lifts away due to the nib’s being rocked sideways). Writing too rapidly with an italic tends to produce scratchiness and skips.

True calligraphy nibs are often even squarer than italics; the intent is to give a very crisp and controllable line width. This is why you can’t just pick up an italic or a calligraphy nib and dash off a note the way you would with your usual nib. You’re forced to write more slowly in order to retain control of your writing. But with practice, some writers become very proficient with italic nibs, producing beautiful text.

Now we come to the oblique. An oblique is exactly like an italic except that it’s cut on a slant. The oblique shown in the following figure is a right oblique; it looks like a right foot when viewed from the top. A left oblique is cut on the opposite slant. In this figure, the italic is on the left and the oblique is on the right:

When you write with an oblique, you must change the orientation of the pen in order to make the nib’s flat surface contact the paper. A right oblique, when used by a right-handed person, will be oriented with the nib generally away from the body rather than the forearm. This will give broader strokes when the pen is drawn toward or away from the body and narrower strokes when the pen is drawn sideways across the body. In general, this is ideal for producing letters shaded in the way roman type is shaded, with thick verticals and thin horizontals, as seen here:

Left-handed writers, both underwriters and overwriters, will generally have better success with a left oblique than with a right oblique; at least, the left oblique will be easier to hold. As with an italic, you’ll need to experiment to find the best oblique for you.

Nib Sizes and Types

Nib Sizes: Nibs are made in five basic size designation: Extra fine (XF), fine (F), medium (M), broad (B), and double broad (BB). As you might expect, some manufacturers make additional sizes, such as a triple broad (BBB). There is no international standard that specifies the exact sizes for nibs, so different manufacturers will make nibs that are somewhat different in size. The tips of modern nibs seem to be a little larger, generally, than those of vintage nibs of the same designation. I suspect that this is so because over the years a broader line has become more popular, perhaps because of the influence of the ballpoint pen, so that the nib that produces a line of “usual” size is larger than it used to be. (There are technological limitations on how small a ballpoint can be and still work; a medium ballpoint produces a broader line than the average vintage medium fountain pen nib.)

Japanese nibs tend to be a little finer than their Western equivalents; a Japanese M nib is about the same size as a European F. If you’re an antiquarian account who writes with a tiny spidery hand, a Japanese XF might be just what you need.

Nib Types: When I speak of nib types, I’m referring to flexibility or the lack of it.

Most pens today—as did many in the past, including Duofold’s of the 1920s and the sturdily-built Sheaffer Triumphs of the 1940s—have nibs that run firm to rigid; they have little or no flexibility. These nibs stand up very well to being used with a firm writing pressure; and this is probably a good thing because most modern writers have learned to write using a ballpoint, which requires firm pressure. Among vintage pens, you may find nibs labeled Manifold.

These are very rigid nibs designed to be used under enough pressure to make two or three carbon copies. Some fountain-pen users dismiss nibs this rigid, calling them “nails,” but these nibs do have a purpose. George Parker, in manufacturing the revolutionary Duofold—one still hailed by many collectors as one of the best pens ever—chose to install a nail-like nib in a vast majority of the Duofold’s his company produced. The many people who bought these pens and the thousands who collect them today outnumber the few who disparage firm nibs as “nails.” In fact, for the majority of users, “nails” are actually better than flexible nibs, and this was as true 80 years ago as it is today. That’s why modern nibs are firmer: It makes sense to the majority of people to use this kind of nib. That being said, I reside on the crotchety side of the fence myself, and I carry a pen with a very firm nib only when I expect to be signing credit-card receipts.

Sooner or later, nearly every fountain-pen user will discover flexible nibs. Flex nibs, which were more common in the earlier part of the 20th century but are still available today, produce interesting and attractive stroke variation with only an ordinary round tip. As you press more firmly, the nib’s tines spread, and the stroke grows broader. Flex nibs have been made in semi-flexible, flexible, and super-flexible variants; a super-flex will do under relatively light pressure the same things that a semi-flex does with more pressure.

By choosing the proper degree of flexibility you can fit your nib to your writing style without risking a nib that becomes sprung from the application of too much pressure. The difference between what a flex nib will do and what an italic or oblique will due to lies in the fact that the italic or oblique produces its stroke variation, for the most part, in specific directions, as described earlier in this article. A flex nib, on the other hand, can produce a broad or narrow stroke in any direction; this yields handwriting that its users extol as being much more characterful and personal, citing the uniqueness of every individual’s particular combination of stroke direction and pressure. Mastering a flex nib isn’t easy, but many users find it well worth the effort.

The ultimate flex nib for some writers is a flex italic. With a flex italic, your writing takes on a combination of italic and flex characteristics, thinner than expected in some places and as broad as the Pacific Ocean in others. Writing with a flex italic is difficult to master—even more so than a regular flexible nib. Flex italics have all the bad handling characteristics of both of their parent types. They are not for the faint of heart.

Some makers, notably Moore, attempted to produce nibs that were a delicately-balanced compromise between flexibility and the rigidity needed for making carbon copies; Moore labeled its nibs of this type as Maniflex, and most of them are more nail-like than not.


A nib can misbehave for several reasons, some of which are simple maintenance problems of dirt, oil, or clogging. (If you use cheap paper, for example, fibers can become lodged in the slit and inhibit the flow of ink.) But beyond these common maintenance problems, nibs can suffer flaws of manufacture or be damaged by improper use. I’ll discuss a few of the more common such problems.

Too Dry or Too Wet: If a nib writes but refuses to lay down enough ink to satisfy you, it’s possible that the slit is too narrow for your writing style. Similarly, if the line is always too wet, the slit might be too wide. The slit width needs to be different for nibs of different sizes; that is, an XF needs a very tight slit if it is not to throw too much ink, while a BB needs a slit more nearly the width of the Grand Canyon to supply the large quantity of ink needed. But there’s a balance here; too narrow a slit produces a dry writer, and a slit that’s too wide dumps more ink than the nib can handle, leading to uneven lines and slow drying.

As a general rule, the nib tines should not touch each other when the nib is at rest. The firmer or more rigid the nib, the more important it is that the tines not touch; if they do, the nib is likely to suffer an extreme case of the “too dry” syndrome. As with most rules, however, there is an exception. A flexible nib’s tines touch at the tip when the nib is at rest; in fact, they are slightly sprung so that if you move one tine slightly up or down, the two tips will overlap very slightly.

Loss of Line: A nib’s slit must conform to certain restrictions of shape. The slitting process, performed with a very thin abrasive wheel, produces a slit that is perfectly straight; that is, the slit’s sides are the same distance from each other along the slit’s length, as shown here:

The nibs in most inexpensive and moderately-priced pens go to market this way, and for the most part, these nibs perform reasonably well. Occasionally, a nib with a straight slit will have difficulty maintaining capillary action and will stop writing from time to time. This is more common in broad nibs, whose slits are wider. A quick shake will usually restart the nib, but it’s an annoyance, and it creates the risk of splattering your companions. Worse, if your name is Lewis Waterman, you risk destroying an important insurance contract and having to find a new line of work.

Better-quality nibs, which are hand-finished, usually exhibit a slight taper to the slit. You can see, upon close examination, that the tines are slightly closer together at the tip than they are at the breather hole:

A tapered slit is more conducive to the proper capillary action, and nibs with tapered slits are usually more reliable writers than those with straight slits.

A more severe loss-of-line problem can occur if a nib’s slit has an inverse taper; that is, if the slit is wider at the tip than it is at the breather hole:

In this case, capillary action has an uphill battle from the outset, and the pen will probably refuse to write more frequently than it actually writes. This problem can occur when a nib is sprung by the application of too much pressure. When this happens, the loss-of-line problem is aggravated by the fact that the tines, which are now bent slightly upward, are no longer in proper contact with the feed. An inexperienced repair person may diagnose this problem incorrectly as a feed that isn’t set properly, and he or she may simply re-set the feed without solving the real problem.

Hard Starting: This is the condition that occurs when a nib doesn’t start laying down ink immediately upon contact with the paper. The most common nib-related cause of hard starting is slit edges that are improperly ground. Look at the round nib silhouette, repeated below. Note the slight rounding of the edges where the slit is cut through. If these edges are not rounded, the nib is likely to be scratchy. Many inexpensive modern pens, and some not so inexpensive, have nibs that suffer this fault. But if the slit edges are rounded too much, capillary action will hold the ink too far away from the paper instead of drawing it toward the paper as intended, and the nib will have trouble starting. This condition is shown on the right in the figure here:

If your nib starts after a little extra push and then writes well, the fault may well be slit edges that are too round. Nibs with too-round slit edges tend to be very smooth, so there is a delicate balance between too round and just right.

In Conclusion

Different people write in different ways. The important thing is to experiment and have fun; and whatever nib style you like, don’t let anyone disparage the nib—or you—because, in the end, no one’s right or wrong or more elegant or less elegant. The only mistake any fountain-pen user can make is never to try a different style nib.

Recommended Reading

Parker 100 — an Evolution and a Revolution in Design

Parker 100 — an Evolution and a Revolution in Design

When I first saw the new Parker 100 last year I had mixed feelings. The Parker “51” has been one of my favorite writing instruments for many years and this new visitor appeared to have an attitude… ‘move over cousin “51” you’re a has-been and I’m the new kid on the block!’

Well, once in my hands for review I can say the Parker 100 is a modern complement to the “51” yet this pen has qualities and design to make it stand quite separate and apart from anything ever produced by Parker. The design is borrowed from legend and brought to the 21st century with modern materials and technology. Slightly larger than the “51” or “61” I find it is still quite light and just as manageable as its smaller cousin. The 100 weighs in at 1.25 oz, slightly twice the weight of the “51” and only .25 oz more than the smaller Sonnet. So given the slightly larger profile, the lightweight makes this an almost identical feel in the hand. Learn more parker pens at

The Parker 100 is 5 5/8” (142mm) closed and almost 6” (150mm) with a cap posted. The barrel is 0.498” (12.66mm) diameter, noticeably larger than my “51”s yet has a very light and comfortable fit. The satin-brushed caps and striking new style clip gives an appearance fit for the new generation. The clip is tight and gives a firm grip, and notably a smooth and solid fit when it is posted.

The trim is 23K gold or silver-plated gold trim with a high polish finish that contrasts nicely with the matte finish of the brushed caps. The metal end jewels are a bright high polish finish but are recessed so they would do not appear to be exposed to scratching or abrasion. I really like the appearance of the hooded nib and find a very slight flex, maybe not a part of the intentional design, but nevertheless we are very conscious of this performance and are able to coax a slight line variation.

The ballpoint, pencil, and rollerball are almost identical in size and they feel in the hand. Each weigh-in at 1.25 oz. The pencil is a twist-action clutch repeater, the lead is gravity fed and stored under the eraser. The ballpoint also accepts the new gel refills.

All gold trim Parker 100 fountain pens have 18K gold nibs. All silver trim fountain pens have 18K gold rhodium-plated nibs. Parker 100 caps are finished in a shimmered gold or shimmered graphite effect, and the barrels are lacquered in a choice of five modern colors. The barrel colors are Smoke Bronze, Diamond Blue, Honey White, Opal Silver, and Cobalt Black.

The filling system is either an ink cartridge or ink bottle with the Deluxe piston fill converter. Fountain pen nibs are available in XF F M and B. Parker 100 fountain pens are beautifully gift-boxed, and include a black velvet pen pouch.

So where does this model slot in the Parker family line up? I would say right with the vintage or modern “51” SE and the Sonnet.

Pen in hand image courtesy of Pentracer Joseph Camosy

Parker 100 pens are available from Fountain Pen Hospital

© 2004 Len Provisor.

The Williamson Pen Company

The Williamson Pen Company

Fig 1

The town of Settimo Torinese (Fig.1,2, and 3), situated a few miles east of Turin, on the northern shore of the river Po, became the undisputed capital of Italian pen production in the years spanning from the end of WWI to the beginning of the 1970s… In this small industrial town at the peak of its expansion in the 1950s, over 160 pen manufacturers were engaged in manufacturing high quality and very well-made fountain pens of reasonable cost.

Fig 2

This article aims to show the history of one of the less-known Italian pen companies which evolved from simple beginnings to become one of the very best Italian pen manufacturers.

Fig 3

The Williamson pen company

The origin of this pen company stems from some very unique circumstances. Williamson was an American manufacturer of steel nibs that was already active in the early 1800s. Their output was of the highest quality, rivaling the best English steel nib producers and their products were adopted as standard issues by U.S. government offices. During the first years of the last century, the Williamson Co. established a factory in Janesville (Wisconsin, USA), not far from the Parker plant, and began production of reliable and well-made hard-rubber fountain pens. It was at this time of considerable success and expansion for the Williamson Pen Company that a Turin businessman named Riccardo Amisani began importing their pens into Italy. lean more about Williamson at

Fig 4

Italy, just before the First World War (Fig. 4) was a relatively new Country, having finally gained its independence in 1861. The North of the Country was thriving, with many new industrial activities launched in an industrial revolution that, while late if compared with the development of industry in Great Britain, nevertheless brought a new level of prosperity and produced the rapid growth of a relatively affluent middle class. The Williamson pens sold very well in Italy and the Williamson name became a respected and admired marque among foreign pen manufacturers.

Boosted by this success, Mr. Amisani started building spare parts for Williamson pens in a small workshop located in Settimo Torinese. Unfortunately, Williamson pens fared a lot worse in their home market and, under pressure from formidable competitors such as Parker, Waterman’s, and Wahl, just to name a few, the company eventually folded in the late 20s.

Fig 5

At this point, Mr. Amisani made a bold decision: he would continue to produce Williamson pens in his shop in Settimo Torinese. Under Mr. Amisani’s management, the company continued to grow and produced some truly excellent pens. In our opinion, the best of the Williamson pen production occurred during the ’30s (Fig.5). During this decade, the Penne Williamson-Torino company (as it was now officially designated) borrowed heavily from the designs of two American pen makers, namely Parker and Eversharp.

Fig 6

One of their first designs was a gorgeous, oversize pen which was clearly inspired by the Parker Vacumatic (Fig 6, 7, and 8).

Fig 7
Fig 8

Like the Vacumatic, the Williamson pen was machined from a rod of laminated celluloid and sported shiny black “jewels” at both ends. Unlike its American counterpart, however, the ink filling mechanism of the Williamson was of a simple and proven design: a classic button-filler, closely resembling the one used in the Parker Duofold. Williamson nibs were numbered and for its flagship models, the company installed a No. 6 nib (Fig. 9).  learn more about pens by clicking here

Interestingly, the company adopted a Christmas-tree-type feed, once again showing the influence of the Duofold pen. These pens are graced by three metallic rings around the cap, just above the lip and they employ a beautiful and interesting variant on the Parker “arrow” clip: instead of depicting an arrow, the clip, resembling in its overall shape the one used by Parker, is embellished with a long, flowing quill. The overall impression is that the slender Parker-type clip is made even more beautiful by the rendered feather motif. Fig. 10 shows a detail of this beautiful pen clip.

Another high-quality pen produced by Williamson in the ’30s and ’40s was a marbled celluloid 12-faceted pen that has a passing resemblance to the Wahl Eversharp Doric (Fig.11 and 12). The Italian pen, however, is considerably larger and of wider girth than even the oversize variant of the Doric. This Williamson pen was a lever-filler and sported the same high-quality gold nibs as its button-fill counterpart. The cap ended in a shallow cone and was enriched by three thin gold bands. The clip was of simple design, understated to the point of being almost plain-looking, the quality of the workmanship is superb. For this pen, Williamson used an array of incredibly beautiful patterns, some of them in translucent celluloid; the marbled celluloid was impeccably polished to a high gloss and their patterns and colors are quite beautiful. This celluloid have resisted discoloration and staining very well through the years.

Fig 10
Fig 11

These pens have become treasured collectibles and are actively sought after by lovers of classic Italian fountain pens.

Fig 12

After the revolution caused by the introduction of the Parker 51 (post-WW2, in Europe), Italian pen manufacturers rushed to produce look-alike, hooded nib fountain pens. Out of several attempts, one turned out to be particularly inspired: the Aurora 88, designed by Marcello Nizzoli, became a commercial success and an instant classic. The pen sold in the millions, both in Italy and abroad, and, in the early 1950s, it was the pen of the writing elite. Williamson’s swan song was a slim and graceful pen clearly inspired by the Aurora 88. The Parker Vacumatic influence, however, could still be found in the material used by Williamson for this pen of the “Atomic Age”: the Williamson hooded-nib pen was machined out of laminated celluloid: one last link between fountain pen designs that had characterized two distant eras and two very different ways of interpreting the very concept of a modern writing instrument.

All this was soon to be changed by the arrival of Mr Laszlo Birò’s invention, fresh from Argentina and soon to be made ubiquitous by Baron Marcel Bich, relegating for many years the classic fountain pen to the role of an almost forgotten anachronism. That spelled the end of “Penne Williamson – Torino”, together with many other smaller manufacturers whose names have often been forgotten

Still, if you are lucky enough to own one of Mr Amisani’s creations, you hold a piece of pen history and a pen that is unique in having its roots in 19th century America and its blossoms in the Italy of the 1930s.

Recommended Reading

What Material is Best for Flex Nibs?

What Material is Best for Flex Nibs?

The performance of flex nibs depends on two factors: (a) a properly shaped nib from good material to withstand flexing and (b) a proper feeding system not only to supply adequate ink but also to follow the rapid changes of flow requirements flex nibs.   The amount of flexing (the opening of the tines) depends on the geometry and the material of the nib. The focus of the discussion here is going to be the nib material.

The discussion on best materials for flex nibs is often clouded by a number of misconceptions or unclear use of terms.  For example, the stiffness of a nib is confused with its strength.  For a flex nib, we want

  1. Low stiffness, so that a small force can produce large reversible deflections of the tines.
  2. High strength, so that after large deflections the tines return to their original shape (i.e. do not deform permanently.

The stiffness or the strength of a nib can be adjusted by changing its geometry, e.g., by changing the thickness of the nib.  For a fixed geometry, however, the performance of a nib depends on the material. For a good flex nib we need a material with:

  1. Low elastic modulus, to get low stiffness which allows for large tin opening at low force
  2. High yield strength and fracture strength: which allows for large openings of the tines without permanent deformation or cracking at the tip of the breather hole.
  3. High fatigue resistance: to avoid opening of cracks at the breather hole due to repeated flexing of the pen.

Additional criteria that apply to all nibs (flex or not) are:

  1. Weldability of tip alloy  (this essentially excludes plastics, composites and aluminum)
  2. Corrosion resistance to inks (this excludes a number of otherwise good materials)
  3. Ease of manufacturing.

There are steel alloys with excellent strength and fatigue performance but the modulus of steel is 2-3 times that of gold alloys (~200GPa versus 60-100GPa).   Therefore any advantage offered by steel due to high strength/fatigue performance is lost due to the high modulus (stiffness) of steel.  The strength and fatigue performance of some gold alloys is quite remarkable.   The low stiffness of gold is its biggest advantage.  In simple words, if you had two nibs of identical dimensions, the gold one would give you the opening of the tines at a force that is half or a third of the force needed to flex the steel nib to the same tine opening.  As a result, the stresses that may cause fatigue will also be 2-3 lower in the gold than in the steel nib.

It is possible to compensate for the high modulus of steel by decreasing the thickness of the nib/tines (or other geometric characteristics such as the length of the tines, the curvature of the nib, the width of the shoulders, etc).  A thinner steel nib can match the opening of a thicker gold nib.   Steel nibs with some flex exist (e.g., 9128, 9048 Esterbrooks).  The thickness of nibs, however, is ~25 thousand of an inch, and often close to the tail it is as thin as 5 thousand of an inch. Getting such thickness in high-performance steel is much more difficult than in gold. Nib punching from a metal sheet will cause high wear on the tools.  The problem is similar with titanium nibs – in fact, the properties of titanium are even better than gold (about the same modulus and high strength/fatigue).   The difficulty in processing and the high capital cost of tools make the processing of steel and titanium nibs unfavorable given the small production sizes.

The advantage of gold is even stronger if you consider the corrosion resistance which excludes some other interesting materials such as memory alloys. Stainless is more sensitive than gold to acids and titanium is slightly worse than gold to bases and acids. I would rank the material selection criteria for flex nibs in terms of importance (high first) in the following way:

  1. Weldability of tip alloy
  2. Corrosion resistance to inks
  3. Low Modulus
  4. Ease of manufacturing
  5. Fatigue resistance
  6. Strength

Therefore gold is better than steel for flex nibs because of the low modulus (stiffness), reasonable strength/fatigue, excellent corrosion resistance, and good formability.

There are two other facts that also lead to confusion in the discussions on the best material for flex nibs:

1.     A single material can have a range of properties depending on processing (rolling + heat treatment). In simple words, we can change the properties of the metal by rolling the sheet before stamping the nibs or by heating the nibs to a high temperature than induces changes in the internal structure of the alloy.

2.     Generic materials designations are not enough to specify the material. For example, when we say 14K this includes a very large range of materials.  The karat designation only specifies the gold contained.  The other elements in the alloy (e.g., silver, copper, etc.) can affect the properties and may result in a large variety of properties. 

We say that in general 14K is better than 18K for flex nibs because we can make 14K gold alloys that have lower elastic modulus and higher strength than the 18K alloys.   This is shown in the table below that compares some of the common nib materials.


Gold 14K80-90   200-500*      150-450*     Very good/Very Good/VeryGood    Good
Gold 18K90-100              150-400*120-350*     Very good/VeryGood/Very GoodGood
Stainless 302SS200750-900440-750*     Very good/Good/Very GoodDifficult
Ti-6Al-4V110450-750       610-650*Very good/Good/GoodDifficult

*The wide range of properties indicates variation in composition and processing.

Remember we want

  • low elastic modulus
  • high strength/fatigue limit
  • good corrosion
  • good formability

It is interesting to note in the table above that it is possible to get a 14K alloy which is totally inappropriate for flex nibs if its properties (strength and fatigue resistance) correspond to the low end of the range.

There is a lot of room to optimize the composition and the processing of gold alloys for flex but the cost of R&D with gold and the small market size for flex nibs are not favorable for such a pursue.  I hope to get back to you with a detailed report on the geometry of flex nibs.

Care and Feeding: How to Replace a Pen Sac

Care and Feeding: How to Replace a Pen Sac

Although I’m in the business of repairing and restoring fountain pens, I’d be silly to ignore the fact that some collectors are eager not only to use but also to maintain and even repair their pens. Replacing a leaking, ossified, or otherwise dead sac is among the simplest and most straightforward repairs you can make, and I know from experience that it’s tremendously satisfying to start with a pen that won’t take ink and end with one that does. This article, then, is my way of sharing that pleasure with you.

It’s always a good idea to learn by practice rather than waiting until a precious pen is on the line. To this end, I suggest you buy a couple of cheap pens on eBay or at your local flea market or antique mall to teach yourself the ropes before you turn your attention to your minty red ripple Waterman’s Ideal No. 7 with the Blue nib. Arnold, Wearever, Epenco, and Tuckersharpe are some cheap names to look for, and there are countless no-name junkers that go for less than $10.00. (I use the term “junkers” loosely, as you already know if you’ve read Don Fluckinger’s recent Extra Fine Points series on these pens.) If you get pens that have sacs, you can easily rip ’em out. This, too, is part of learning to resaca pen.

Tools and Supplies

First, you need a supply of sacs. No problem. Shown here, from top to bottom, are No. 13, No. 16 (latex and silicone), and No. 22 straight sacs. At the bottom, for reference, are a Debutante Vacumatic diaphragm and a standard Waterman Ink-Vue sac.

My sac vendors of choice are the Pen Sac Company and Wood Bin Ltd. (Contact information for all the suppliers I mention is at the end of this article.) The Pen Sac Company sells a bewildering variety of straight sacs, necked sacs, tapered sacs, Ink-Vue sacs, and Vacumatic diaphragms. (“Diaphragm” is what Parker called the rubber doohickey in a Vacumatic so they could advertise the pen as being sacless.) They offer a couple of assortments as well as individual sacs. Their catalog includes several pages of information showing which sacs go into which pens. (There may be exceptions on a per-pen basis; the catalog says to use a No. 21 necked sac for a hard-rubber Duofold Junior, but I couldn’t even get a No. 20 to fit into the barrel of a Junior I resacked some time ago.) Wood Bin Ltd offers a smaller variety, but Wood Bin also sells straight sacs made of silicone. Silicone is sometimes a better choice than latex because it doesn’t outgas sulfur vapor that can cause some celluloid to turn brown.

You can also buy sacs from Fountain Pen Hospital, Pandemonium, and others; and Pen Sac Company and Wood Bin Ltd will of course be happy to sell you one or two sacs.

Next, you need sac cement. Some pen suppliers can sell you sac cement; several of the vendors I list here offer small bottles with an applicator brush for about $5.00. Being a professional cheapskate, I ran down to my local paint store and handed over about five bucks for a half-pint can of orange shellac, which is what the pen companies themselves used. I have enough shellac to last until my 273rd birthday. On the other hand, I don’t have that nice applicator brush, so I have to resort to subterfuge. I use toothpicks.

Steal your spouse’s talcum powder, but make sure that it is 100% pure talcum powder. Do not use baby powder or ladies’ dusting powder, or any powder that contains fragrances, cornstarch, zinc oxide, or other additives! These products are oiled to protect delicate skin, and oil eats rubber. Pen sacs are rubber… If there’s no plain talcum powder in the house, go buy a can. (I should point out that pure talcum powder is very hard to find these days; your best bet may be from a billiards supplier.) If you absolutely cannot find talcum powder, you can substitute powdered graphite. This stuff is sold by hardware stores and locksmiths for lubricating locks and other mechanisms that are exposed to cold and wet. It’s messy, but it does work.

The last pen-geek item you’ll need is section pliers. Many pens — most, really — don’t call for the big guns, so you may not need section pliers immediately. When the time comes, you can buy very good ones from Fountain Pen Hospital (shown here) or from Father Terry Koch.

Note that the Fountain Pen Hospital pliers shown here are actually intended by their manufacturer, K–D Tools, for use on automobile spark plug wires. You may be able to find them for a lower price at an auto parts store.

If you have a bench grinder, you can make your own section pliers out of garden-variety slip-joint pliers from a hardware store and some rubber fuel-line tubing from an auto parts store. If you go this route, you’ll need two pieces of tubing, each about an inch long, of a size to slip securely over one jaw of the pliers. Grind the teeth of the concave serrated part of the jaws, leaving a smooth curve, and slip one rubber onto each jaw. Position them so that they cover the part of the jaws that you ground smooth; that’s the area in which you’ll grip a section.

This is exactly the way Father Terry makes his section pliers, and to be quite frank, I bought a pair from him rather than expend the effort to make them.

Okay, you have the tools (with one possible afterthought, of which more below). Sit yourself down at a well-lighted table or desk, and we’re off.

Disassembly, Cleaning, and Sac Removal

The first job is to get the old sac out. This means taking the pen apart. Most pens have a section that is a slip friction fit (just pushed into the barrel), but some (notably button fillers, Touchdowns, and Snorkels) have a threaded section that screws out. Virtually all lever fillers, except a few early Sheaffers, are a slip fit. For simplicity, I’m going to describe only the typical slip-fit lever-filler in this article. (If you decide you like this kind of work, get a copy of “Da Book,” Frank Dubiel’s indispensable guide to fountain pen repair, and let Frank show you how to handle the more esoteric pens.)

First, try using your fingers to rock the section gently back and forth sideways, pulling as you rock, to break it loose. Don’t rock too far or you risk cracking the barrel!

If it refuses to budge, it’s probably shellacked in place. (Sheaffer shellacked violated sections but not hard rubber ones, for example.) You can resort to section pliers. Grasp the barrel firmly in your closed fist. (You can enhance your grip by using a rubber kitchen jar-lid gripper.) On the other hand, apply the section pliers to the section, and repeat the rocking/pulling action, twisting a little as if to unscrew the section. If it’s a slip-fitter, it’ll come loose unless it’s been shellacked in place, or possibly even glued (as on Waterman’s Taperite from the 1940s). In that case, you’re better off leaving it to a professional. Yes, I know, you just blew the price of a pen on tools. Use them on the next pen.

With the section loosened, you should be able to work it gently out of the barrel. Use your fingernails or a sharp kitchen knife to scrape all remaining fragments of the sac from the end of the section (the nipple). You need to get the nipple as clean as possible so the new sac will adhere properly. You can use your knife to scrape off the shellac that is probably there, and you can use rubbing alcohol as a solvent for this operation. But don’t use alcohol on a violated section; the plastic used for isolated sections is likely to be soluble in alcohol!

This is your opportunity to do your pen a favor by giving it a thorough cleaning. Drop the section assembly into a bath of diluted clear household ammonia for five or ten minutes. Make your solution by mixing 1 tablespoon (15 cc) of ammonia with 2/3 cup (160 cc) of water. After soaking the parts, scrupulously clean off any ink residue and the cleaning solution. This means flushing water through the system, which you can do by using an ear syringe to force water through the section from the sac end. (If you don’t have an ear syringe, you can use your mouth for this job.) When the assembly is clean, dry it thoroughly; blow some air through to dry the inside.

Clean the cap the same way, paying particular attention to getting the ink out from inside the cap. One way to do this is to use a paper napkin. Twist one corner of the napkin into a long thin spear, and insert it into the cap with a screwing motion. Turn in the direction that will keep the twist tight. Drive the paper as far down as you can get it. Repeat as necessary.

Now, if the sac didn’t come out in one piece, extract its remains from the barrel. Long thin alligator pliers, such as you can get from Wood Bin Ltd, Fountain Pen Hospital, or Widget Supply, can be helpful here but isn’t a necessity. If the sac is ossified, you can probably just dump out the chips. Occasionally you’ll run into a sac that has managed to glue itself, whole or in pieces, to the inside of the barrel. This can get ugly. I use various “afterthought” tools such as dental picks and scalers to chisel pieces of sac away from barrel walls. You can get dental picks from Wood Bin Ltd or Widget Supply. I find scalers very useful, and I get them from KV Vet Supply. Take your time; as with the nipple, you want to get the barrel clean. Be careful not to damage the filler assembly.

If the old sac died and dumped ink all over the inside of the pen, clean the barrel, too. You may also find that using your soaking solution on a barrel will make it easier to extract glued-in bits of the sac. Get the barrel absolutely dry afterward; any moisture left inside can corrode the parts of the filling assembly.

Sac Selection and Installation

With everything clean, you’re finally ready to install a new sac. If you don’t know the right size, try different sizes (you bought the assortment, right?) until you find a sac that just slips snugly into the barrel with the filler assembly in place. Then choose a sac two numbers smaller; if a No. 18 fits snugly, use a No. 16. You need to leave air space between the sac and the barrel to keep the pen from transferring your body heat into the sac when the pen is in your pocket. If the sac gets warm, the air in it expands, and it can force ink out through the feed. This makes the inside of the cap very messy, which is why you just cleaned it. No matter what sac size you end up with, it needs to be a stretch fit over the nipple. If you’ve chosen too small a sac, you may have to go up one size. You can try stretching the end of the sac over the nipple to verify that it’ll go.

The sac needs to be the right length. Most sacs are “straight” sacs; that is, the diameter of the sac is the same along its entire length. Sacs are made much too long; you will need to cut your new sac to the right length. To find how long it should be, slide it into the barrel, closed-end first until it hits bottom. Slide it back out about 1/8” (3 mm) so that it won’t butt against the end of the space into which it fits. Clamp it with your thumbnail right where it enters the barrel, and pull it out.

Still clamping it, hold it up to the section, lining your thumbnail up with the step on the section that seats against the end of the barrel. Now mark the point on the sac that corresponds to the step between the nipple and the part of the section that fits into the barrel. This distance will be between 1/4” (6 mm) and 1/2” (13 mm). In the illustration here, you can see a bright line where light is reflecting off the step between the nipple and the rest of the section.

Cut the sac at this point, being careful to cut straight across.

If your pen requires a necked sac (with the open end smaller than the diameter of the rest of the sac, like the neck of a bottle), you must rely on the information in the Pen Sac catalog or else measure the space into which the sac fits and then choose a sac of the proper length. You don’t cut necked sacs; they have to fit right. This may mean that you can’t order the exact sac you need until you’ve taken the pen apart.

With the sac ready to install, apply a small amount of sac cement (shellac) around the outside of the nipple. Be careful not to let the cement get into the inside; it’ll clog the feed — possibly permanently! Spread the open end of the sac, stretch it over the nipple, and adjust it so that it’s pushed all the way down and is seated against the step. If you find that you’re a little clumsy and have trouble fitting the sac in place, you can buy a sac spreader. Pandemonium offers these little gems for $5.00. I recommend that you buy yours yesterday, as today — with wet cement drying on your pen — isn’t the best time to go shopping. The sac should stand straight up, in line with the section, and the stretched part should be symmetrical on all sides. (The sac shouldn’t be pulled over toward one side of the nipple.) If you like, you can run a very small bead of cement around for an improved seal right where the sac butts against the step.

Once the sac is installed properly, the assembly is down. Go away for half an hour to let the cement dry. It doesn’t necessarily take half an hour, but if you adhere to a firm half-hour waiting period, you’ll never proceed too soon. Getting itchy and proceeding too soon means having a still-wet sac come off in your hands or leak in the pen or — worst of all — glue itself inside the barrel.

Now cover the new sac with a thin coat of talcum powder (or graphite). This will make it slide into the barrel more easily, and the filler will also work a little more smoothly. Reinstall the section into the barrel, aligning the lever with the nib as you go. (Some pens, mostly English brands such as Conway Stewart, usually have their levers aligned on the underside, 180° away from the nib surface.) There’s no need to cement a hard rubber or ordinary plastic section in place unless it’s close to falling out, but Sheaffer has always recommended that violated sections be shellacked in. If your section is so loose that it really does fall out, try shimming it with a bit of paper.

Et le voilà! You’ve just accomplished a task that used to require the services of a highly paid professional. You’re on the road to restoring your way to a better pen collection. Fill your revitalized pen and enjoy the ride!