Observations on Flexible Nibs

By Teri Morris • Buying Guides, Opinion & Blather • 3 Mar 2013

Flex Sample

Gentlemen such as Mauricio Aguilar (www.vintagepen.net), Richard Binder (www.richardspens.net) and John Mottishaw (www.nibs.com) have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about flex. That being said, we handle a lot of flex nibbed pens and have an enthusiastic group of customers who haunt our FLEXIBLE NIBS category. And so I’d like to make the following observations:

  1. No good objective reference or guide can be readily employed to standardize the discussion. It’s possible to measure pressure against a surface, but the equipment to do so is far from easy to obtain or operate.
  2. You will know a “wet noodle” when you write with one.
  3. It’s economically beneficial for pen sellers to over-state flex, because flex = bucks. It least beneficial in the short run.
  4. 1-in-10 people shopping for flex will actually know what to do with it.
  5. 1-in-10 will actually wreck a truly flexible nib.
  6. “Warranted” nibs (found as replacements and on lesser known makers’ pens) can offer nice flex on vintage hard rubber and celluloid pens at a bargain price when compared to a Waterman of similar flex.
  7. A heavy hand spells disaster for a flex nib.

Writing with a flex pen can be a lot of fun, even if you don’t know what you are doing. We suggest you start with a pen that exhibits “every day flex,” the kind people used for most purposes up until the 1940s, and get used to the notion of flexing on the downstroke and easing up in all other directions. Eversharp Skylines and Symphony pens are excellent examples and can be had for less that $100 in many cases.


2 Responses

  1. This is an interesting article. I have terrible handwriting, so the idea of a pen that doesn’t provide rigid feedback, but rather has some give to its nib is interesting to me.
    The two pieces that I found especially interesting (for me) were the comment you made on “every day flex” pens being used as daily instruments up until the 1940’s, and the comment about flexing on the downstroke of your writing, while maintaining rigidity on all other angles.
    Why did these flex pens go out of fashion in the 1940’s? Was it a manufacturing issue? Did a new model, sans-flex, skyrocket to popularity, thereby setting the standard going forward in the marketplace?
    In regards to the writing angles, that comment really draws my attention to how little we (I) truly pay attention to the small ancillary things in my life on a day-to-day basis; certainly for a long time now, I have not put any stock into how much pressure I put on my different lettering strokes, or the angles involved. Perhaps if I did pay a bit more attention to these things, I could improve my handwriting. 🙂

    • Actually, what ends up happening is that you are coaxed into writing more carefully and precisely when the nib has a bit of flex. It’s not that it is much more “forgiving” though it is certainly less jarring than a Sheaffer “nail” if you happen to stab the paper!

      Speaking of Sheaffer, aside from the really early flat top pens from the 1920s, 99% of their pens featured semi-flexible if not rigid nibs, so it wasn’t like the entire pen buying public was demanding flex. It was a matter of personal taste, so I guess you gravitated toward Watermans or Wahl Eversharps if you liked flex. A couple things happened to relegate flexible nibs to semi-obscurity, and I’m not much of an historian so I can’t offer a comprehensive list. One thing that required a more rigid nib was carbon paper … if this was before your time, it was a method of making copies of what you were writing by inserting a thin layer of paper coated with loosely bound dye between the pages. A flexible nib wouldn’t provide the necessary pressure to transfer the dye.

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