So in the first part of this series we looked at defining the various qualities that go together to make a flex nib. In part two of this series we’ll be looking at what the fabled vintage flex nibs have to offer.
Any post claiming to deal with vintage flex nibs as a single entity is going to have to make some generalisations, there is simply no way to have tested every vintage flex nib, even nibs that are from the same manufacturer are not the same. To try and solve this issue I’ve picked three nibs which I think are representative of vintage flex nibs, they are:
Onoto ‘O’: A UK made hard rubber plunger filling pen that’s over 100 years old.
Swan Minor No 2: Another UK made pen, in black celluloid with a lever filler
Parker Duofold Senior: A Canadian made version of this America pen, it has a button filler.
One of the first things to address is the national bias ⅔ are uk made pens and even the Duofold would have most likely been made for export to the UK. Now part of the reason for this is obviously that I live in the UK, but there is another. Flex writing hung on a lot longer in the UK than elsewhere in the world, to the point where you can even find pens from the 60s fitted with flex nibs. I’d tentatively suggest that flex nibs are more common on UK made pens and the prices seem to be lower than say, American made flex nibs.
Another consideration when buying a flex nib is whether to buy from someone who deals in vintage pens, or to scour ebay and antique shops. Whilst the latter approach will likely yield lower prices you’re going to be faced with a few problems. The main one being that it’s incredibly difficult to identify a flex nib from photos alone, but also the fact that you’re likely to need to learn some pen repair basics. Certainly for early forays into vintage flex I’d recommend buying from an established seller who properly describes /shows the writing qualities of the pens they sell, then once you’re a bit further along the road maybe try delving into ebay.
So having covered a little bit about what to look for in a vintage flex pen, now let’s move on to what makes a vintage flex nib so special.
Snapback: I’d say this is what really differentiates vintage nibs from their modern counterparts, they are exceptionally snappy. When flexed they very quickly return to their normal line, which makes for a nib that really allows for precise and crisp writing. Many modern pens feel quite mushy by comparison. All three of the above pens display this characteristic.
Softness: Again another key aspect of the vintage flex nib, mostly vintage flex nibs are going to flex with relatively little pressure, there are a few exceptions, but mostly vintage flex nibs should flex without a great degree of pressure. Again all three of the above pens display this ‘ease of flex’.
Tine Spread: There is a lot more variation in this one, some vintage flex nibs can have a crazy amount of line variation, not unlike the Onoto above, others have a more moderate degree of tine spread, like the swan. Lastly some may not have very much line variation at all, like the Duofold above, but how it achieves the line variation it’s got is the impressive bit that makes it vintage flex, the softness, the snapback and the excellent flow. In short, be careful not to equate crazy line variation and Vintage flex, because sometimes it simply isn’t the case.
Flow: Nearly all vintage flex pens are going to be equipped with an ebonite feed, certainly all of my three are, it was just the standard back when they were making them. Unlike modern pens these feeds have really been designed with flex writing in mind and they do an excellent job of keeping up with hefty ink demands laid upon them.
Material: Virtually all vintage flex nibs are 14ct gold, there are a few steel ones out there, but really 14ct gold in what 99% of them are going to be made out of, which is good, because it’s the best material for the job.
I doubt this post is going to have removed all the mystique and legend around vintage flex nibs, but I hope it’s at least a first step towards a little more understanding. Flex nibs are an area that people have spent years trying to fully comprehend, and there is a degree to which it comes down to a bit of trial and error, but with a certain level of understanding it can be a fun process.
You can find part one of the series here: