Vintage nibs in modern pens.

Vintage nibs in modern pens Many vintage nibs outlast their bodies. Hard rubber oxidizes beyond elbow grease and redemption, celluloid combusts, casein warps. Levers come unhinged, piston shafts detach, rubber sacs gooeify – but nibs of noble metal soldier on, a long way yet from the Great Parts Bin in the Sky.

I will preserve the entire vintage pen as much as I can, and have done so. There is much joy in writing with a pen that wears its decades well. I do worry about carrying vintage pens around; the heat, humidity, and omnipresent dust and dirt can’t be good for vintage materials that were never meant for this environment. Several years ago, I transplanted an Eversharp Skyline nib into a TWSBI. That nib has moved on to another pen; the TWSBI barrel eventually developed a crack (yes, I know they will replace it if I ask). But see? That nib has now survived two pens.

And so, vintage nibs in modern pens. 

Vintage nibs in Kaweco Lilliput pens

There’s nothing quite like a vintage nib. Not all vintage nibs are flexible, but the best flexible nibs are vintage. Even the nails (I’m looking at you, Sheaffer) feel responsive and almost supple,  iridium connecting to paper just so. The hottest Kickstarter pen projects claim innovation, and they do look appealing. But then the nibs are regular JoWo or Bock, or Schmidt, and the appeal is all about what you hold, which to me misses the point. 

(A point draws a line, and lines make a space, and there you go, reality.)

I admit my needs are not merely daily writing. I look for line variation because doodling is my preferred survival mechanism; meetings would be more endless than they already are without the swirls and scrolls and the occasional ink-blot-turned-flower framing my notes. Others might simply find the sameness of the stock nibs tolerable at best and off-putting at worst. 

Certainly there is no lack of custom grinds. From Mike Masuyama’s famed needlepoint to Jim Rouse’s SIG (Stub Italic Gradient) and Dan Smith’s architect, to the Binder and Mottishaw flex modifications, someone will find something they can’t wait to put to paper. There is much more choice compared to when I started getting serious about fountain pens, over a decade ago. Vintage nibs widen your repertoire and can be surprisingly affordable, especially if you luck into them at pen shows or in a junker lot (yes, those still pop up once in a while) on the ‘bay.

Things to remember:

1. Think small. We’re used to size 5 and 6 nibs now, but earlier pens had smaller nibs. In modern pens, those nibs can slide down too far into the collar or section, or are simply too narrow for the feed. I’ve had a pretty good success rate so far with Kaweco Lilliputs.

This is a modern Kaweco Lilliput nib beside a Waterman no.2 and an Eversharp flex stub I pulled from a Peyton Street pen.

Modern Kaweco Lilliput nib beside two vintage nibs

The nib and feed come out of the collar, which unscrews from the section.

Check if the nib fits the feed. There should be no gap between the tip of the feed and where it meets the nib. If there is a gap, expect hard starts  and irregular flow.

Vintage Eversharp nibs seem to match modern feeds. Not always, but a good number. Keep an eye out for them.

Yay, the nib fits

Another small modern pen that can accommodate vintage nibs is the Franklin-Christoph model 45. Below, one sports a Moore Maniflex, the other a Waterman’s Ideal no. 2.

2. Mind the gap. Earlier feeds were ebonite, and could be heat-set to adjust to the nib. Modern nibs are usually plastic. They can be adjusted with a little heat but only slightly. Vintage nibs tend to be more curved than modern ones. When you push a vintage nib into a modern collar, inspect the space between the tines and the tine alignment. A slight mismatch in curvature can put pressure on the tines, causing them to move apart or misalign. This means your pen won’t write.

In the image below, the third feed (modern plastic) has been heated and its tip bent upward to close the gap with the nib. That feed belongs to a YStudio pen, which now sports a vintage Waterman nib.

Different feeds, side view.

This teardrop Skyline nib fit a Kaweco Brass Sport on the first try. Lucky.

3. Don’t pass up the chance to stockpile nibs. You never know when you’ll find a pen that will finally fit that Swan no. 1 or the Warranted no. 3.

4. Sometimes the fit isn’t ideal. Don’t sweat it. Use the nib in the pen, take it out, rinse it, and store until you need it again.

Side note: it was harder to find a nib that would fit the TWSBI Eco. I had in fact thought it would be easier because there was no collar. Oh well. Curvature again. This nib sits too low – the feed will hit the paper at times, depending on the angle that the writer holds the pen.

Vintage steel nib in TWSBI Eco

5. Don’t forget headroom. Vintage nibs have relatively longer tines. There might not be enough clearance between the inside top of the cap and the tip of the nib. If you feel any contact at all, take out the nib and see if you can seat it lower. If you can’t, save the nib for another pen. 

6. Don’t force it. You can replace or replicate a modern production pen but not a vintage nib. The image below shows an almost match, but it is an almost that will most likely will not work without stressing the nib.

7. Be sensitive to how the nib behaves over time and with regular use. Check it through a loupe every so often to make sure it isn’t developing stress cracks, and to assure yourself the tines are properly aligned.

Do let me know if this helps you, and if you have any questions. (“Do you have any spare vintage nibs?” “No. Next…?”)

  • Jon Buller

    Have you ever had a vintage nib reground to a finer size? Or do you think the grind should be vintage as well as the rest of the nib?

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  • Markus

    I have at least 50 vintage pens… All broken, but with beautiful nibs on them. However on most of them removing the nib is really tough

  • leighpod

    Most vintage nibs are friction-fit. If the material is HR or plastic, soak in room temp water, nib down, for a couple of days. See if you can wiggle the nib and feed, gently. If you don’t feel any give, return pen to water and wait a couple of days before trying again. Took time for ink to build up and dry out: will take time to dissolve.

  • leighpod

    I don’t want to have vintage nibs reground, so I’ve never tried. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • acute

    Do you think there’s any mileage in cutting new ebonite feeds? Scientific/lab suppliers stock ebonite rods, or is this the wrong sort of ebonite?

  • leighpod

    Yes, Joey Grasty’s doing that right now. He’s flexiblenibfactory on IG.

  • acute

    Thanks; I’ll have a look-see!

  • Anne Cutler

    I just fit a vintage Waterman #5 on a Karas Kustoms Ink no problem. Thank you for the inspiration! The feed is doing a good job keeping up with the flex too.

  • John Bosley

    Amazing! How have I never thought of this before? Now I know what I’m doing this weekend. Thanks!

  • John Tryon Hubbard Jr.

    Just found your blog…very interesting. A while back I bought an Esterbrook desk pen on eBay and when it arrived I found that it had an Eversharp nib – very nice! So I tried it myself and fitted a Warranted 14K #4 nib into the collar/feed assembly of an Esterbrook whose nib was toast. Good fit and a great writer in a bulletproof pen suitable for regular carry. Here’s a link to a post on my blog about this transformation:

  • Justin Clifton

    Leigh, where do you acquire the vintage nibs you’re fitting into modern pens? I love this idea (especially when the vintage pen body hasn’t held up the way the nib has, but I don’t know where to find these nibs affordably.