Nibs bring back memories of childhood and youth for some of us, with black splotches on notebooks and clothes, and inkwells where pens were carefully dipped before writing. A 19th-century encyclopedia stated “there is nothing more simple and common than inkwells: they are tools you can find anywhere, and everyone is familiar with them. Yet there is nothing rarer than a truly high-quality and easy-to-use inkwell.”
The range of nibs to choose from was impressive. Some say at least fifteen thousand shapes and varieties were made: there were nibs made of metal, glass, with a reservoir, made for stencils, figurative models that represented things or people, five-tip types for pentagrams, “copying” nibs (for carbon copy)… some were even designed to give patients their smallpox vaccination!
Here is a selection of nib boxes from the first half of the past century. The standard size was the so-called “big one”, which contained 144 pieces (twelve dozens).
Once ballpoint pens became popular, however, an era was over. What we have left are the boxes and their precious contents, now coveted by collectors.