Archive for May 11th, 2011

Fountain Pens: Whither Iridium?

For more than a hundred years, the very tips of the nibs on most good-quality fountain pens have been made of, rather than steel or gold, as the rest of the nib, a very hard chunk of metal usually referred to as iridium.

Iridium itself is a fairly rare element of the platinum family, and it’s widely known that the “iridium” tipping on modern fountain pens contains no actual… iridium. Fountain pen geeks with scientific backgrounds have actually run tests, and found that there hasn’t been any actual iridium in pen points since, probably, before WWII.

On his website, famed “nibmeister” John Mottishaw has a couple of articles about this, the most pertinent of which is right here. In it, he asserts a couple of things about the tipping of early fountain pen nibs, most notably that they were made from crude pieces of unrefined ore.

Elsewhere, he points out the rough, porous nature of some early pen tipping – easily seen under a high-powered loupe – as having been caused by corrosion – further proof, he thinks, that early pen-makers were using unrefined material they were not “in full control of”, as you somewhat obviously wouldn’t choose to make a nib of something that would be attacked by ink, right?

I know it takes enormous hubris to suggest that a man of Mr. Mottishaw’s stature could be wrong, but I’d like to direct your – and his – attention to the March 3rd, 1883 issue of “Mechanics”, the “weekly journal of engineering and mechanical progress”.
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Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on May 11th, 2011 | No Comments »