My grandfather, George W. Knock, was a high school penmanship instructor from the 1920s through the 1950s. When his students graduated, he wrote out their names, with his expert hand, on their diplomas. I inherited a number of his fountain pens when my grandmother was cleaning house in the 1980s. She gave me several Esterbrook pens, including a plain black one still new in its mailing box from the company. Of all the pens in my grandfather’s cache, my favorite is a Moore fountain pen with a squared-off nib—what’s known rather inelegantly as a stub nib.
Fountain pens give strokes of different thicknesses—down strokes are wider, sideways strokes are thinner. Ball pens, by contrast, produce a more machine-like, uniform line. A stub-nib fountain pen like the Moore accentuates the feather-like style of fountain-pen writing, yielding a graceful look sometimes approaching calligraphy. Even bad handwriting looks good with a stub nib.
How True Writer got its stub nib (it may surprise you)
We decided we wanted to give this writing experience to our customers in our most popular line of pens, our True Writers. But to tool up for a new nib is expensive, and stub nibs are such a special item. We thought we would be unlikely to sell the 10,000 we’d have to order from our German manufacturer.
One of our Levenger pen mavens, Frank Weissman, suggested we hire a skilled artisan to make stub nibs by converting our medium nibs through a delicate grinding process. This, actually, is how some of the finest nibs were made during the golden age of fountain pens in the 1920s. Fortunately, there are still a few artisans practicing this rare art.
The enthusiasm of our customers for the nib (with the ugly name but the beautiful writing) delighted us. We quickly sold out and had to ask our nib converter to work like Rapunzel and spin out more stub nibs fast.
While we install the stub nib only in a black True Writer, what many customers don’t know is that you can easily unscrew any True Writer nib and screw it into another True Writer fountain pen.
This interchangeability of nibs, incidentally, was a major selling feature of the popular Esterbrook pens. We made this a design requirement when we launched our True Writer series back in 1999. (To read the whole story, click on True Writer History in the How-To section.)
So we now also sell the stub nib separately. In addition, it’s one of the four nibs in our True sampler set.
Rediscovering the joys of the handwritten note
Pictured here is some writing I’ve done with my stub-nib True Writer on the Oasis Pad that sits on my desk. Notice the variation in line thickness. As you’ll see, I only print, yet it manages to look pretty nice because of the pen.
People often compliment my handwriting, but the stub nib is my secret. It rewards slowing down and luxuriating as you form letters. Try one yourself. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, even if you think your handwriting—like John F. Kennedy’s—is terrible.
I reach for other pens for intensive note-taking, but every workday I try to take a few minutes in the afternoon—like a rewarding coffee break—to write personal notes to customers and friends. I slow down, take up my stub- nib True Writer, and try to make an art of delighting people—including myself—with that old-fashioned communication of one hand to another.
How about you, dear reader? Is this an art form worth preserving? And can you think of a better name than “stub nib” for the magic this pen performs? (The gift of a True Writer stub-nib pen awaits the reader who has the best suggestion.)