Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Employment (01/26/12)
TITLE: Nib Story
By Fiona Stevenson
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Magna Charta was ratified by signatories using a pen. It was considered important that each of the signatories used the same pen. So too is every historical document worth noting, and many that are worth nothing.
Pencils are among the earliest means of amusing toddlers, preparatory to teaching the skills of “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic.” Small hands progress snail-wise across the paper; small tongues follow in concentration from left cheek to right cheek. They reap the reward of adult “Ooohs and aaaahs” of delight. Later come the schoolroom blues when greater precision is required and certain rules must be observed. What teacher has not had to deal with a class disturbed by a note passing from hand to hand and eye to eye?
Letters are written for many different reasons. Many are the letters of authority, among them Letters of Credit, Letters of Administration, Letters of Credence, Letters of Marque, Letters Patent and Letters Testamentary. These are greatly outnumbered by the ordinary letters that flow between friends and families. Then there are the official letter-writers, or scribes, among whom we find Tertius, scribe to that greatest of letter-writers, Paul of Tarsus. Whatever the style of pen used for any of these letters, all depend on the service of a good nib. And then, of course, we have the love letters. Aah! The love letters!
Over time nibs have been developed for a variety of specialized uses. Commonly, with the ubiquitous ballpoint pen, there is the choice of little more than a fine or medium point. But for the letterer or graphic artist there are a wide variety of nibs to choose from. There are narrow nibs, wide nibs, straight nibs, slanted nibs, and nibs with shaped plates attached, each having a distinctive function. There is even a nib developed for use by left-handed writers.
You will not find many specialist letterers today, but in the days when it was common practice to illustrate or decorate initial letters, many people developed the art, although not all of them acquired the particular nibs for the task. In some ways it is a great pity that this has become largely a lost art, if only for the pleasure it gave to both the artist and the recipient. Illustrated manuscripts displaying the letterers art are today among the collectible items, highly valued.
Modern trends have not yet exorcised the nib. In the days of the French Revolution, Charles Dickens in his “Tale of Two Cities” refers to a Theresa Defarge knitting into her fabric the names of the aristocrats as they were guillotined. A modern Theresa Defarge would have a Laptop or Notebook on which to record the executions. But even with the proliferation of electronic devices you will be hard pressed to find a home or an office which does not house a collection of pens – with nibs! After all, what is the use of a pen without a nib?
Esteemed among gifts and awards you will find the pen or pen and pencil set, usually very sleek or chic, sometimes engraved, always attractively boxed. In deference to market trends cheap but attractive pens are liberally distributed as advertising tools. Where would they be without a properly working nib? In the recycling bin?
No matter whether encased in plastic, wood, glass or gold, or whether the nib delivers the ink in blue, black or red, or any other colour, we have not yet found a suitable substitute. The nib is the effective working end of the pen.
Trivial as this treatise on a simple nib may seem to be, it remains one of the most saleable items on the market today. A feature of every office, every home, found in many men’s pockets and ladies handbags, the nib is the most taken for granted of our possessions – until it doesn’t work!
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