Kolkata, India

Nib it in the bud

Nib it in the bud

“The heart of a fountain pen”, they say, “is the nib”. Some nibs, like the people around us, are large hearted – they write with beautiful, bold, wet lines. Some on the other extreme, are extra fine – frugal in their countenance, their lines thin and precise. Some move almost effortlessly through life’s relationships, gliding on the paper. Some again, have what we pen-enthusiasts call “feedback”, scratching on the surface of the paper, making its presence felt, as it were. Some exhibit characteristics that make them appear almost “made for each other” with some inks and some specific types of paper, while to others they are, shall we say, less amenable; while with others still, they are plain incompatible!

Just like we scale people from the large-hearted to the heartless, our nibs too, are generally ranged from the BB to the EF, with most nibs populating the Medium and the Fine categories, exactly like people. Well, I do know that I am running the risk of over simplifying things here, that I am running the risk of erring on the wrong side of over generalisation, but drawing the parallels, is so tempting!


Some nibs are cold. Made of Steel. Hearts, that do not wilt at the first sign of turbulence, romantic or otherwise. Nibs and hearts, that pick up the gauntlet life throws towards them with a kind of nonchalance that make us ordinary mortals look at them with awe. Some have tips made with stuff that is harder still – harder than steel. Some break at the slightest pressure, while others still, use the same pressure to spread their tines, flex, to spin the yarns of life, moulding the lines to capture their different hues.

Some nibs are golden. Precious. Heirlooms, that we merely carry through life to bequeath to those that we hope will follow, to keep our legacies alive. Golden hearts, that people remember for many years, generations even. Nibs, that are sheer pleasure in the hands of the beholder, in the eyes of the aficionado. Golden hearts and nibs that have this typical habit of transforming themselves, to mould into the perfect shape to address your needs – call it a “soft spot” if you may! The relationship of a golden nib with that of the person who has made it his (or her) own, for life, is beyond words – a kind of ecstasy that many among us are increasingly being denied. But let us not digress.

But me no buts, if it is indeed the nib that is the heart of the pen, why do so many people buy pens with nibs that are “generic” – made by Jowo, Schmidt, Bock, Sanghai Jingdian or for that matter, our own Kanwrite or Ambitious ? Won’t an Opus 88 or an Esterbrook with the similar Jowo nib unit provide a similar writing experience, whatever be the price points or the characteristics of the individual pens, however differently they may be branded? Will the “heart” be of lesser value to its lover if it is encased in a body that is otherwise cheaper, unbranded even? I mean, will the nib write less beautifully if it is fitted in an otherwise “cheaper” pen? Or vice versa?


The question has confounded me and continues to do so. Pen lovers, who are obsessed with tinkering with their pens tell me, and quite convincingly at that, that a pen is not the heart alone and they often change the nibs / hearts, to make the good, better. By extending the same argument, I personally feel that every pen is unique and therefore should be accepted the way it was created, “with all faults”, if I may use the term. Pens, to me are like people, and they do have their quirks, their unique characteristic features, that make them what they are and somehow, just like I wouldn’t contemplate doing one better on God by having those that are dear to me “upgraded” by changing their body parts or features, I wouldn’t attempt doing the same with my pens. Perish the thought. Yes, to me, it is sacrilege.

This is perhaps reason why Japanese, or European pens, to cite an example, are so popular – because they make their own nibs. Nibs that are unique to the pens. Nibs that fit the bodies, having been crafted, mostly inhouse, to adhere to certain norms, or to reflect a set of values that are represented by the particular brand. A Montblanc or a Conway Stewart or a Pelikan or a Pilot or a Sailor nib is therefore as much representative of the names as the pens themselves.


Just because they are “expensive” (in terms of price as well as legacy and brand value) as compared to, say, an Indian pen which fits its own nib (admittedly outsourced, but perhaps from the same entity for decades at an end) can the Indian pen not expect users to accept it with its “original” nib? Surely, it too has its own high points? I know it is a fallacy to compare apples to pears, but considering the price points at which we offer our pens, can we not expect even a modicum of respect (love, if you may) from our buyers? Why can’t we accept pens, all pens in general (and Indian, comparatively “cheaply priced” ones in particular) as they are, with their quirks, their nibs being what they are? I know this is akin to throwing a stone at a hornet’s nest, but has it occurred to you that the reservations that we have about nibs are often purely psychological? That some nibs are “terrible” or “scratchy” or “hard” or “unwieldly” because we approach them with pre-meditated stilts on? Let me tell you this, I did conduct “blind tests” with many a detractor and the results have been, shall we say, astounding?  

A heart, any heart, responds to love with love alone. A nib does the same. Yes, hearts (and nibs) can be transplanted, but is it reason for you not to love the one that already has given you all the love it can muster? Will an expensive nib, just because it is costly, love you more? Can it? I beg to differ. Celebrate love. Caress they heart. Give the nib a chance.                    


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3 Responses

  1. Sundaram says:

    What a thoughtful philosophy! Accept and love a human being and a nib with their unique characteristics… Every fp has its own story.

  2. In my view people work on nibs, to change its characteristic…

    There are 2 groups here..
    1) Who buy a nib without basic understanding of what the need is..e.g. I am comfortable with a F nib, but bought a costly pen with a M or B nib…I have to spruce it to a F.

    2) I know my nibs and want to experience other spl nibs like OBB, Architect Grind etc.

    In most cases, people have just bought pens, without understanding the nib factor…later they realise that they have a bunch of pens, with nib completely mis-fit or scratchy… Here they try to garner it by working on nib grinds.

    People venture to do it themselves, as the concept of Nibeisters is yet to catch up or there are hardly any available today. Only a couple.

    Also, when people ask me, i first tell them that they should freeze the nib width they are ok to, then decide…this is the area where seller-buyer interaction help.

    I agree to your view, that generic nibs may not be very different one to one. Here is where, a sellers support plays important role.

    Many customers tell me, “I want my pen to write fine but juicy”, “I want wet flow”, ” I want it Bold”.
    These helps us adjust the nib before sending. even a generic nib can be adjusted to suit one’s preference.

    Some say, pls decide which is good for me..here a few leading questions will help seller understand his liking.

    But these may not be possible if one is making a mundane buy over a sell-all website. Specialists websites plugs this gap.

    I believe as a pen enthusiast, pen I sell should go beyond just a sale and must help the buyer, experience something he craved for.

    I spend 20-30 mins in testing each pen…involves process like assembly, heat setting, trine alignment, smoothening (if reqd), cleaning, before packing.

    All these are key.

    Also, There is a unique challenge today. The Infra to have a nib making setup, may make it unaviable against generic nibs.

    If I have to choose i may go for a generic nib, which is cost effective and later work on it (or get it worked upon) to write the way I want.

    Apart from speciality nibs, handmade nibs all other nibs are just a pc of steel with a hard tip and its same across brands..

    Only when it has intervention, it can have a characteristic

    Also, many ask me for a Nib like vintage Waterman or Swan…and I have no answer to them…so there is surely a hug gap in nibs made and in general people like..any answer? 😁

  3. john eaton says:

    Very well written. I agree that the nib is the heart of the pen. I have both, cheap and fairly expensive pens. What I do most in this hobby is to take an inexpensive pen, often of Chinese origin but not always, and upgrade the nib. Not terribly expensive, but something that I consider more suitable to my needs. I don’t care for feedback at all. I want it to feel like writing on butter. And, the nib doesn’t have to start that way. I have a Dremel w/ a diamond cutting wheel, micro mesh, and some Mylar paper, and I know how to use it. Cheap or expensive, I’ll make that nib what I want it to be.


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