(a dip pen, inkwell

Dip Pen, Inkwell


Desk set[ | ]

There is an old riddle that asks, “When is a door not a door?” The answer is, “When it’s ajar.” (If you don’t get it, read the riddle and the answer aloud.) It’s a pretty silly riddle, but it offers a lead-in to my next riddle, which is not silly at all. “When is a pen that has a nib neither a dip pen nor a fountain pen?” And the answer? “When it’s a dip-less pen.”

Dip nib with reservoirIt’s important to note that dip-less pens are not dipless. You do have to dip them, but you dip a dip-less pen less than you would dip a true dip pen. And depending on your usage style, i.e., if you don't write notes long enough to exhaust its capacity, you might not have to dip it at all. You can pick the pen up, write your note, and then park the pen again.

The Theory of Evolution

Dip-less pens obviously evolved from the combination of a dip pen and an inkwell in which to dip it, but in order to make the dip-less part of the equation work, a means is required to make the pen hold more ink than it would normally hold. Clip-on reservoirs were, and still are, available for attachment to dip nibs; and with a reservoir attached, a dip pen can write more than it could do without the reservoir. Some dip nibs, such as the Hunt Speedball nib shown here, have reservoirs attached at the factory.

Besides the need for frequent dipping, there is another disadvantage to using a dip pen, even with a reservoir attached to the nib: to get enough ink onto the nib, or into the reservoir, you have to dip the nib quite deeply into the inkwell and then, to remove the excess ink, wipe it gently across the rim of the inkwell as you withdraw it. If you are less than scrupulously careful, things can get messy. Designs for inkwells that included pen wipers existed at least as early as 1904; one example of these devices is shown by the following drawing from Irving C. Woodward’s U.S. Patent No 750, 928:

Early Steps

The Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand Company, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, did not immediately solve the problem of allowing the pen to be immersed only to just the right depth by using an inverted inkwell. Sengbusch’s desk base design featured a socket as for a fountain pen, with a top-filling inkwell beside it.

Morriset nib Desk set


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