A match made in… Arkansas!

A match made in… Arkansas!featured

(To maintain the surprise today’s featured image is Emma, as she ‘helped’ me test this pen. Nose decor curtesy of Diamine) 😉

This is the story of a nib.

A few years ago I was scrolling through eBay listings, as those of us who have odd hobbies are wont to do, and my finger suddenly shuddered to a halt over a nondescript listing from an estate agent. You know, those folks who pick through the leftover “stuff” after we’ve died and our families have taken all the heirlooms home and don’t want to deal with the rest of it.

There was a single unassuming photo, and the title was something like “point for fountain pen, gold.” But that wasn’t what caught my attention as I stared at the picture. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the pen. Perhaps it was destroyed long before the demise of its owner, perhaps it looked so poor (black hard rubber, which it most certainly was can get that way) that the agent had thrown it away and kept just the nib, figuring they’d get at least gold value out of that. But what I saw as I frantically clicked for more details was not one nib slit, but two. Two nib slits means you are dealing with a music nib, an old style of nib that, just like it sounds, was used to write music. But some of those nibs, just a few, are also incredibly flexible and the result? Well it’s rare, but it’s divine and the nibs alone can command $500.

The opening bid was $50, and that’s what I won it for. When the nib arrived and I tested it gingerly on my fingernail it was confirmed, it flexed so easily and so widely that it took my breath away. Finding it a home however was a long and sordid ordeal. I tried a renowned expert first who found it a feed, and fit it into an old Waterman body, but the body wasn’t in great shape and I hate lever fillers (which it was). It never felt right, and I used it once and put the whole thing away feeling sad and disappointed.

Years passed and I began to see some pretty impressive things from Shawn Newton. And then, one day, I began to see him fit old nibs, very old nibs into sections. He was even cutting feeds to fit them out of old fashioned ebonite and I began to get an idea. So earlier this year I emailed Shawn, I told him what I had and asked if he felt up to the task of making a pen worthy of a 100 year old nib like no other. I’m not sure he knew what he was getting into.

The wait for one of Shawn’s pens is long, for good reason, he’s becoming a well known expert in the field of hand made fountain pens, a craftsman. So it was months from the time the nib, still in the banged up antique body I hated, arrived in Shawn’s hands until I got a stunned email from him complete with pictures. He’d begun the pen, first crafting the section and carefully fitting the odd nib and feed into it. And then, to be sure the feed was seated properly he’d tested them and another person was initiated into the wonder that is an antique music nib.

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Shawn does amazing work. There are very few people with whom I would have trusted this nib, Shawn is one of them and he did not disappoint. Here is the unboxing, shot (a first for me) as I actually unpacked the pen on the dining room table this afternoon.

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Inside that unassuming box was a little black box that contained the old pen body (who knows what I’ll do with a broken Waterman 94 but Shawn returned it anyway, it was the right thing to do. There was a lovely letter from Shawn thanking me for working with him, a snazzy business card and a newsletter about his company, and the scholarships he awards to high school students. And there was a bubble wrap wrapped (sorry) cylinder far bigger than any pvc pipe I’ve ever seen. (Small PVC pipe cut to just longer than pen length is often used to protect fragile pens in transit as it would take a front end loader rolling over it to damage it, and hence the pen inside. There are days with shippers when you need that kind of protection!) But when I unrolled that mysterious package I found….

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OK, that’s probably the coolest way to package a pen, ever. Shawn’s got his own travel mugs! The pen was tucked inside, in even more bubble wrap, snug as a bug in a rug. Well, actually inside the wrapping was another protective layer. 😉 A hand made pen sleeve which, in a stunning design move that I can’t believe no one else has thought of didn’t open on the end (which I found when I tried to shake the pen out) but rather on an offset slit so the pen can’t accidentally slip out and onto the floor, you have to intentionally fold back the top to get it out of its snug little nest.

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(Note my helper in upper right, she will figure in this story again.) It’s not silk, it isn’t’ a Nakaya pen sleeve but it’s practical and really nicely made and a great added bonus. By now stopping at each stage to take pictures had extended the feeling of Christmas morning about as long as I could take and I eagerly pulled the pen out of its sleeve.

(Click images to enlarge)

The pen style is one Shawn designed (as far as I know he invented it and is still one of the few who makes this style), he calls it Shinobi. The pens themselves are simple cylinders with one side flattened so without clip or roll stopper they just don’t roll off the table. It’s a simplistic, almost zen like design. I chose clear acrylic for the body and cap because in a pen like this that holds nearly 3ml of ink I wanted to see all that pigment moving and swirling. The section is a contrasting garnet colored acrylic that is smooth, nicely curved and very comfortable in the hand. The whole pen is incredibly light and well balanced and beautiful clear and perfectly polished.

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In the straight on photo of the nib (inside cap) above you can see the tines and the two slits and see that those tines look oddly aligned. This, the original antique nib expert who looked at the pen, told me, is fairly common for nibs of this type. The tines are so long, so soft and so fine that they misalign constantly. It means the writing experience is never smooth as butter, but most full flex nibs are not. But the nib is so incredibly flexible just its own weight on the paper aligns the tines for flawless writing. It’s a feat of metallurgy that no one today can come close to approximating. Some in the hobby will tell you the actual technology to produce such nibs has been lost in the march of progress, either way, no one today has the capability of making such a nib. Those that remain are priceless.

So how does it write you say?  I inked it immediately (of course) with Diamine Golden Sands. The swirling golden glitter really cannot be captured in a still photograph but I made an attempt in the fading Seattle sunset, and Emma made her own attempt to capture the moment. I am utterly enchanted and absolutely in love with this pen. Shawn has created here a work of art worthy of the nib she carries. The writing experience? Well let’s just say it’s golden. 😉

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Diamine may have just created the perfect inks for flex nibs with their new shimmer line. They even dry quickly, not however as fast as a cat can move hence the lovely portrait above. I could not be happier with this pen, with it’s beauty, with the way it feels in the hand, with how much ink it holds (that would just be greedy!) with its finish, or with the expert job Shawn did setting that old flex nib and feed (not always a simple operation for it all to work properly).

I feel that perhaps I am “collecting” fountain pen artists rather than pens now. I have my custom Nakaya, a unique creation from Renee at Scriptorium pens, a lovely little Edison pen (from my husband), and now one of Shawn’s masterpieces. I’m off to write, you all might want to check out Shawn’s website yourselves and start dreaming up something…

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