Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Pen is Mighty

So, a couple of weeks ago, I'm surfing around on eBay, itching to buy something, and I get this bizarre notion in my head that I want to buy some fountain pen nibs. I don't know why, I just did. I have many fetishes (such as the tiny padlock fetish mentioned earlier), and one of them is office supplies. I've had a fascination with quill pens since I was very young. I bought my first feather quill when I was about 6 or 7 at the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. In the 80's and 90's I used to write letters to friends with a calligraphy pen.

So again, I'm on eBay, looking at pen nibs, and I find several auctions that I like. I bid on 5 of them (why I needed that many I don't know). I didn't expect to win all of them, but when I only won two (which sound have been plenty), I some how became incensed and determined that I must have more. As I mentioned in several older posts (remember the tiny locks?), when I get a hankering and make an impulse buy of some small trinket that I desperately want, I tend to buy a lot of them. I mean, a lot of them. So I went back on eBay to look for more, and I found a great little offering from Australia selling antique, new in box, post office pen nibs from England in gross boxes. It was all I could do to resist buying more than two boxes. Why I would ever need more than 288 pen nibs of the same size, is beyond comprehension. But I bought them. They are pictured above, along with one of a set of a dozen from another auction (lower left).

So, what to do with them, but make pens! I couldn't find any good deals on pen holders (the handles), so I decided to make some for myself. In the past I have taken turkey feathers from the craft store and cut them to make quill pens and sold them at my store for spell writing. They sell rather well, but they write for crap. I figured that a cheap and simple solution would be to glue the new pen nibs right to the tip of the feather and then wrap the joint for aesthetic purposes, and voilà, a good quality stylish writing instrument that was cheap and easy to make.

I used 5 minute epoxy to set the nibs in place, and then wrapped them with a leather cord, which I affixed with super glue. I also stripped some of the feather back to make a longer handle. Otherwise, the feather tends to get in the way of your hand when writing. I only had black and white feathers, but I intend to make some other colors when I get the chance. Ironically, about two days after I made these, I found a seller on eBay that was making the exact same thing. They even looked to be using the same type of nib and even wrapping them in the same type of leather cord. Weird. They are charging like $12+shipping each for theirs. I am only charging $7 each for mine in my store.

The first pen I made was actually a wooden handled one. It took me about an hour, maybe a little more, to make. I carved out a spot on the tip of a wooden dowel so the nib would sit flush. Then I did some tapering to the ends. It took me a little bit to decide how to decorate it, but I decided on engraving the handle with a motto, written in Theban script, and spiraling up the handle. It says "power of the word". Sort of a nod to that whole "the Universe was created with a word" thing. I used a piece of tape and wrapped it in a spiral around the shaft and marked along one edge with a pencil to get my baseline. Then I penciled in the letters. I had to redo this step three times. The first time, the spiral was going the other way, and the letters didn't want to lean that direction. It looked awkward. The second time I wrote "The power of the word", but found I didn't have enough room, so I truncated the first article. The third time it worked perfectly. Next I used a Dremel with a tiny tiny engraving bur to carve out the letters. Then I sanded and stained it with a mahogany stain and gave it two coats of polyurethane. I was content to leave it like that, but a few days later I decided to wrap the joint like I did with the feather quills. I'm still not sure which way I like it better.

So, all told, I now have around 350 quill pen nibs in about three different styles (not including my own personal collection of around 30 different speedball nibs for calligraphy). And of course it didn't stop there. Once I had nibs on the way, I decided I would have to make pens to sell in the store, and I can't sell pens without ink, so I had to go shopping for ink. I bought a 32oz. bottle of black india ink that I could repackage. But, of course that meant I would need bottles to repackage the ink. I searched around and the best deal I could find was on eBay for a lot of 288 bottles (WAY more than I needed), which cost me just over $60 with shipping. The bottles are the perfect shape and size for ink, but have ugly caps. I am experimenting with painting the lids and adding an appliqué.

Between the ink, the bottles, and the three different purchases of nibs, I've got about $130 invested into this little brain fart. I'll have to sell at least 30 pieces to cover my costs. That aught to teach me to impulse buy. Not.


  1. There is an odd relief in stumbling across a kindred soul.

    I keep telling myself it is time to part with my watch gears, optical lenses & other things I just had to have - LOL

  2. Hey, I, too, bought some of these on eBay back in the day, like, 2005 or so. The seller was also in Australia. Maybe it was the same guy. I bought four or five boxes, lol.