A dip pen (also sometimes called a "nib
usually consists of a metal, fountain pen-like, nib mounted on a
handle or holder, often made of wood. Other materials can be used
for the holder, including bone, metal and plastic, while some pens
are made entirely of glass. Most dip pens have no ink reservoir,
however, and so must be repeatedly recharged with ink while drawing
or writing. (However, there are simple, tiny tubular reservoirs
that illustrators sometimes clip onto dip pens; these allow drawing
for several minutes without recharging the nib.) Recharging can
be done by dipping into an inkwell; however, most illustrators and
cartoonists (who are the main current users of such pens) are more
likely to charge the pen with an eyedropper, which gives them more
control. Thus, "dip pens" are often not actually dipped!
This may be why many illustrators call them "nib pens."
The dip pen has certain advantages over a fountain
pen. It can use waterproof pigmented (particle-and-binder-based)
inks, such as so-called "India ink" or acrylic inks, which
would destroy a fountain pen by clogging it up. There are also a
wide range of readily exchangeable nibs available so different types
of lines and effects can be created. The nibs and handles are far
cheaper than most fountain pens, and allow color changes much more
Dip pens were generally used prior to the development
of fountain pens, and are now mainly used in illustration, calligraphy,
comics, and manga.
History of the dip pen:
The Jewellery Quarter and surrounding area of Birmingham, England
was home to many of the first dip pen manufacturers.
In Newhall Street John Mitchell pioneered mass
production of steel pens; prior to that the quill pen was the most
common form of writing instrument. His brother William Mitchell
later set up his own pen making business in St Paul's square. The
Mitchell family is credited as being the first manufacturers to
use machines to cut pen nibs, which greatly speeded up the process.
Baker and Finnemore operated in James Street, near
St Paul's Square. C Brandauer & Co Ltd., founded as Ash &
Petit, traded at 70 Navigation Street. Joseph Gillott & Sons
Ltd. made pen nibs in Bread Street, now Cornwall Street. Hinks Wells
& Co. traded in Buckingham Street, Geo W Hughes traded in St
Paul's Square, Leonardt & Catwinkle traded in George Street
and Charlotte Street, and M Myers & Son. were based at 8 Newhall
By the 1850s, Birmingham existed as a world centre
for steel pen and steel nib manufacture, more than half the steel
nib pens manufactured in the world were Birmingham-made. Thousands
of skilled craftsmen and women were employed in the industry. Many
new manufacturing techniques were perfected in Birmingham, enabling
the city's factories to mass produce their pens cheaply and efficiently.
These were sold worldwide to many who previously could not afford
to write, and encouraged the development of education and literacy.
Richard Esterbrook manufactured quill pens in Cornwall.
In the 19th century, he saw a gap in the American market for steel
nib pens. Esterbrook approached five craftsmen who worked for John
Mitchell in Navigation Street with a view to setting up business
in Camden, New Jersey, USA. Esterbrook later went on to become one
of the largest steel pen manufacturers in the world.
One improved version of the dip pen, known as the
original "ball point," was the addition of a curved point
(instead of a sharp point) which allows the user to have slightly
more control on upward and sideways strokes. This feature, however,
produces a thicker line rather than the razor-sharp line produced
by a sharp point.