Dip pens, or dipping pens as they are sometimes called, preceded the fountain pens that were developed by Lewis Waterman and others in the second half of the 19th century. As their name suggests, dip pens had to be regularly dipped into an inkwell or ink bottle because they lacked on-board reservoirs of pigment. Some of the earliest dip pens were made of reeds and quills, but these organic materials began to be replaced by steel in 1822, when John Mitchell of Birmingham, England, first mass-produced the working ends of pens, which are generally referred to as nibs.

Before long, some manufacturers, such as John Foley of New York, were making nibs out of gold, often lavishly engraved. But the secret sauce of a good nib, regardless of its main metal, was an iridium alloy at its tip. To sell their iridium-tipped pens to the masses, manufacturers like Foley described their pens as having diamond points, even though they were not made from the precious gemstones. Today, ironically, pens described as having iridium points generally lack iridium, that metal having been replaced by osmium and other less-expensive minerals.

The reason for all this attention to a pen’s tip is that its composition has an enormous effect on the marks it makes on a sheet of paper. Because iridium is hard, its surface can be finely polished, which lets the pen move smoothly across a surface. Further, it is resistant to the corrosive properties of many inks, which keeps its contact point free of pits and imperfections. Before long, nibs for dip pens were fashioned into hundreds of shapes, permitting the user to execute letters in blocky or italic styles. The flexibility of a nib’s two tines could also determine the style and shape of letters, in some cases allowing more ink to break its surface tension at the end of the nib to flow in greater volumes onto a sheet of paper.

While these variations were real, manufacturers branded their pens for marketing reasons rather than to be purely descriptive. Thus, dip pens of the late 19th century are labeled for use by bankers, merchants, bookkeepers, and insurance agents. Others were labeled for ladies. Regardless, the holders, or shafts, for these pens were made of everything from ebony hardwood to mother of pearl, often plated with decorations of silver or gold. Some pens were even housed in telescoping holders, with mechanical pencils secreted inside their opposite ends.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Parker51.com

Parker51.com

Ernesto Soler's extensive homage to one of the most popular pens ever produced, the Parker "51," introduced in 1941… [read review or visit site]

Penhero.com

Penhero.com

Jim Mamoulides' vintage and modern pen-cyclopedia. Start at the main gallery, featuring detailed articles (with pho… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Penner Writing Travelling Inkwell Dip Pen Seal Etui Japanned Brass BoxFrench Silver Victorian Mechanical Propelling Pencil Dip Pen Calendar Seal Chinese Antique Dragon Double Inkwell Desktop Dip Pen Brush Wipe & Stand BoxGilded Silver Art Nouveau Antique Writing Set Dip Pen Seal Letter Opener DesktopNo Reserve C1900 Long Sampson Mordan Sterling Silver Dip Pen Vintage AntiqueAntique Sterling Silver Dip Pen Desktop Writing Numbered 68 Calligraphy Esterbrook Vintage Dip Pen & 2 Desk PensVintage Lot Of Nib/dip Pens/quills & Nibs By Esterbrook, Palmer, Sheffield, EctAntique Sampson Mordan Silver Dip Pen & Propelling Pencil Set - C 1860-80'sWilliam Mitchell Fleetwing Writing Dip Quill Pen Nibs No 0528m Mint Unopened Box2 Antique Ruling Pens, Dip Pens R. Nicholl, London.Mabie Todd Swan Retractable Dip Pen Large #5 Flexible NibRare Antique Sterling Dip Pen With Figural Snake Wrapped Around The MiddleVintage Antique Wood Dip Ink Pen Writing Case Box Set Bundle Of Georgian Antique Uncut Goose Quill Dip Pens Calligraphy Never Used Antique Victorian Old 1895 Vintage Silver Samson Mordan Dual Ink Dip Pen PencilAntique No. 2 Aikin & Lambert Co. Dip Pen With Mother Of Pearl Handle~orig. BoxAntique Style Solid Wood & Brass Dip Pen Writing Ink Rocking Blotter Antique Style Wood Slide Lid Swing Open Writing Box Campaign Inkwell W Dip Pen Dip Pen Nibs Box "gauloise " Dip Pen Nibs Box Setten & Durwards " Perfection J"Large Vintage Lot Of 134 Hunt Dip Pen NibsAikin Lambert Dip Pen, Retractable Nib, Gold Filled Trim, Mop HandleAntique Mother Of Pearl Gold Writing Dip Pen Crown No. 2 Vintage Estate FindAntique Victorian Mabie & Todd Mother Of Pearl Gold Filled #2 Dip Pen With CaseVintage/antique Dip Pen Metal 'challenge' Nib Tin Box/holder With Assorted Nibs Dip Pen Nibs Box Setten & Durwards Rare Antique Vintage E. S. Johnson 14 Kt Gold Dip Pen #3Vtg Dip Pen Nibs By S.v Sanger & Co New Century Iridium Lot✔Rare Multi Blue Swirl 4.5" Rubinato Hand Blown Glass Dip PenJoseph Gillott's Double Elastic 604 Ef -imperfect- Lot Of 5 Dip Pen Nibs (b)Joseph Gillott's Double Elastic 604 Ef -imperfect- Lot Of 5 Dip Pen Nibs (a)Joseph Gillott's Double Elastic 604 Ef -imperfect- Lot Of 5 Dip Pen Nibs (c)Speedball Artist Nibs Ink Dip Pen Points Lot Of 31-total NewChased Gold Jno. Holland 6 Dip Pen Leroy W Fairchild No. 6 Gold Flex Nib Antique Dip Pen Lot Mother Of Pearl Sterling Thorn Vintage26 Vintage Pen Nibs - Unused & Used - Various Brands24 Dip Pen Nibs. Wm Mitchells Pedigree Polygraph 0649Vintage Calligraphy Dip Ink Nib Pen Antique W Igy Budapest W Special NibAntique Walnut Wood Wooden Vintage Dip Ink Writing PenE. J. Wirt Dip Pen — 14 K Nib, Gf & Mother Of Pearl Handle W/ Velvet BoxAntique Cream Swirl Marble Agate Quill Dip Pen & Nib - Excellent - 160 MmAstoria Eiffel Tower Dip Pen NibVintage Porcupine Quill Spine Dip Pen With Gillotts NibEdward Todd Retractable Dip Pen — 14 K Nib, Guilloche Hbr And Gf BodyA.l. Salomon's Aluminoid Dip Pen NibsAntique Red Marble Agate Quill Dip Pen & Nib - Excellent - 160 MmAntique Lapis Lazuli Blue Marble Agate Quill Dip Pen & Nib - Excellent - 160 MmAntique Green Marble Agate Quill Dip Pen & Nib - Excellent - 160 MmAntique Mauve Marble Agate Quill Dip Pen & Nib - Excellent - 160 MmGlass Signature Pen Ink Dip Pen Vintage Style Pen Handmade X'mas New Year GiftsLeroy Fairchild Retractable Dip Pen — 14 K Nib, Guilloche Hbr And Gf BodyE. D. Valentine Retractable Dip Pen — 14 K Nib, Silver Plated BodyAntique Nib For Dip Pen Waterlow And Sons Lta N°6 (ref.#6938)Antique Aikin & Lambert Dip Pen #2 In Case