Monthly Archives: September 2017

2017 Show Ink: Confederation Brown

Label calligraphy by Salman Khattak ( Line art by Alannah (@iamjoopiter)

We are happy to announce the arrival of hundreds of pounds of ink, in crates, in Philip’s living room!

The Scriptus 2017 ink is Conferedation Brown, again formulated especially for us by KWZ Ink, in Poland. As always, Konrad has created an exciting ink, unlike most of what is available today.

For those who like reviews, you can read an extensive—and favourable—one on the GourmetPens blog

This ink will once again be available only at Scriptus 2017; price will be $16, all-inclusive. We have ordered 480 bottles this year, which is a substantial increase, but we will be limiting purchase quantities to 2 bottles per person in the vain hope that everyone who wants it will get some.

Just what we all needed: another reason to look forward to Scriptus!

We would also like to thank: Salman Khattak ( for his label calligraphy; Alannah (@iamjoopiter) for her label art; and Claudia Astorquiza ( for her creative input.

Reading and Writing

Philip “It’s Canada 150! Who doesn’t want to celebrate Canada 150?”

David “Me?”

Philip “Well, the show pen is going to be a Canada 150 celebration: restrained, elegant, red ripple. And it needs to be on the imprint, too.”

The imprint on a pen is a funny thing. Some people like it, some people don’t. And some people only like it when it is very, very minimal. But imprints on pens are as old as fountain pens themselves.

Early advertising pen: Birk’s Jewellers.

In the early days, pens (or “pen holders”, as they were called) were often used as advertising, much as they are today. In those days, a stamp was made with the manufacturer’s (or the sponsoring business’) name on it. The stamp was heated, and the design was pressed into the hard rubber body of the pen.

As the idea of branding took hold, pen imprints became more complicated. There are dozens of Parker imprints for the Duofold alone, and they changed so often that they are often used to identify the date of a pen’s manufacture.

But, when it comes to printing, and branding, typography can be a slippery slope. The way people take in information changes over time, and that includes what, and the way, they read.

An example of “American Artistic” printing, from the late 1800s.

Victorian printing was a busy, busy place. People read long, flowery prose, and they expected their advertising copy to be similar.

A sample from the American Type Founders 1923 catalog.

As time went on, tastes changed. With the “Arts & Crafts” movement of the early 1900s, simplicity became popular. Printing, tied up as it is in advertising, tends to move slowly. But printing was also a big part of the new artistic movement. So thanks to such influencers as William Morris and Elbert Hubbard, printing was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and propelled into simple elegance. And it never really recovered. Today, people are used to logos, and tend to read quick snippets of text.

What does this printing history have to do with our pen?

Just like decisions about typography in the past, there are quite a few considerations when it comes to what we put on the Scriptus pen:

  • Is the imprint simply informational, or should it have an artistic purpose?
  • Is it advertising? If so, what brand do we want to identify when people look at it? Do we have an exact logo to reproduce?
  • How much space is there on the ‘canvas’?
  • What do people expect to see on a pen?
  • What typographic rules, if any, do we follow?

Another issue is one of trademark law. When it comes to font design, the work is covered by trademark, not copyright. So if we want to use a particular font, we have to be careful to use one we have permission to use: either overt permission from the designer, or a purchased copy with such rights attached to the license.

So, we have a few design choices. (And by “few, I mean: a ton.)

Fortunately, modern reading habits work well on a pen, and the Scriptus logo is more the italic-set name than a graphic.

Philip wants something with a swashy feel to it. “A nice script” is how he put it. And it needs to include “Scriptus”, “Canada 150”, and the edition number “xx/150”.

When designing print for something small, there is no point making it computer-screen-big; it will look completely different when pen-barrel-small. So, here is what he had to browse:

The font style of the last one was chosen (Zapfino, a font by one of the most talented designers of the 20th century, Hermann Zapf. I approve.)

But the imprint will best if it matches the long, slim profile of the pen itself. Oh, and Howard doesn’t have Zapfino, so he will just substitute something else similar.

It’s the curse of the designer: you plan, and design, according to someone else’s aesthetics. The manufacturer receives the design. It falls apart when it hits the reality of the factory floor. You wait, and wait, and wait. And then you get to see the finished product on the same day as everyone else, when it’s too late to change anything.

Just think, there are some people who do this for a living.

Scriptus 2017 Call For Volunteers

Six weeks. Six weeks? Six Weeks!!

With only six weeks to go until Scriptus 2017, we are in need of our faithful army of volunteers. Could you help out, even for just an hour? Because the show is non-profit in nature, volunteers are vital for it’s smooth functioning.

Our volunteer information page (and application form) are at:

Some of the volunteer tasks this year include:

  1. Load-In Volunteers: Helping our vendors in from the loading area and finding their tables is the first, important job of the morning of the show. Volunteers doing this will assist our vendors with their materials and distribute vendor packets that contain information as well as their identification badges. The vendors must have these badges in order to access the showroom prior to the opening of the show. We’ve had problems with customers getting in before the show officially opens and we’d like to have some control over this and allow the vendors ample time to set up.
  2. Welcome and Floating Volunteers: These volunteers will welcome, direct and answer questions from customers. We will have a table of maps to ATMs, maps to vendors, etc.
  3. Raffle Table Volunteers: Our central event of the show is our raffle. It’s how we keep the show free to attend and pay for the space. We have a fantastic lineup of items this year, including a generously-donated MontBlanc fountain pen. Volunteers will sell raffle tickets and for the draw at the end of the day – 1 ticket for $5, 3 tickets for $10 (cash only—money box and cash float will be provided). If you don’t know much about specific pens, not to worry! I will provide cards with information on the items for you to consult.
  4. Show Ink Volunteers: We have an ink that is made specifically for our show by KWZ. This will be our third year selling our show ink and if our previous years have been an indication, the ink is extremely popular and sells quickly! These sales are cash only and a money box and cash float will be provided.
  5. Show Pen Volunteers: If you’ve been following the Scriptus blog, you’ll know that Bexley is making a pen for us this year. There will be 150 of them and Square will be provided for credit card sales.

Our volunteer information page (and application form) are at:

If you have any questions or concerns about volunteering, please feel free to contact our volunteer co-ordinator, Lisa, at

All That Glitters…

“Say, how do like your new pen?”

It seems like a strightforward question, doesn’t it? But the answer you might get depends entirely on when you ask. Or, rather, in what era you asked.

Today, the answer might include details about the model, the colour, or the materials of which said pen is made. The proud owner might wax on about it’s rarity, heft, or it’s writing qualities.

But if you had asked that question 125 years ago, the answer would have been much, much different.

Gold pens=nibs, circa 1925.

Back in the early days of writing equipment, your “pen” meant only one thing: the nib. All else was just details; a means of holding the “pen”. In fact, early fountain pens were actually called “pen holders”, because that is all they were considered to be. And in many ways, that nib-centric way of viewing the world isn’t a bad one at all.

The nib is the most vital part of a pen. It is the interface between the user and the paper that will receive the message. A scratchy nib is a recipe for distraction. A nib which is damaged renders a pen useless, in a way that other repair issues may not. And opinions about nib sizes and qualities are the cause of many a heated debate in the fountain pen community.

So when it comes to our show pen, the nib is a big, big decision.

Philip “We can’t.”

David “What do you mean ‘we can’t’?”

Philip “It’s just too expensive. We can sell a pen for $275, but I just can’t see $600 going over too well. And that’s where we would have to be.”

David “But…it’s not a real pen if it’s not gold!”

Philip “I know. but there are some good steel nibs available. And Cyn suggested that, if we go with Jowo, people could just upgrade on their own.”

Nibs have always been important in pen manufacture; making one’s own nibs was often considered to be a graduation into serious business. The best pen makers were referred to as “first tier”, and they all made their own nibs, in-house.

So-called ‘nib meisters’ today are viewed as modern-day magicians, with mystique and arcane lore unknown by others. Similarly, the nib departments in the past were often viewed as being the most skilled of the entire work force. And for good reason.

Nib making combined the skill of jewellers with the knowledge of engineers and the tools of watch-makers. The materials were (and are) worth thousands of dollars for even small quantities. and even the smallest of mistakes could render a day’s work useless. Rolling out gold sheets; welding on tipping material; stamping, polishing and shaping the finished product: it was all done by hand. Expert hands.

History of Foleys Gold Pens: illustrated details of mid-1800s nib manufacture.

(“History of Foleys Gold Pens” is a lovely (and public domain) combination of catalogue and simple textbook, with fabulous illustrations of 19th century nib-making techniques and technology. Click on the blue book at left for a free pdf copy. It’s a lovely read.)

Today, almost all of the nibs in the world are made by just a handful of specialist companies. The best, by just two venerable German companies: Bock, and Jowo. And, much as it would be best to have a gold nib, if you have to settle for a steel one, you may as well get one from a firm which has been making them since the 1850s.

And, as Cyn (a long-standing and enthusiastic member of the Toronto pen community) suggested, you can easily swap out a steel Jowo nib for a gold one. You just pull out the old one, and stick in the new one. The repairman in me both cringes, and cheers.

And, a good steel nib writes very well. Especially if it has proper tipping material welded on the end.

So, steel it is. It kind of glitters, when the light hits at just the right angle.

Simple Isn’t So Easy

Philip “As I work on this pen design I am amazed at how complex simple can be.”

David “Heh. That’s why so many people make things funky: no skill required. Plain, simple, and classic—with no distractions—are much more difficult.”

Philip “As I am finding out.”

Howard, at Bexley Pens, has had some good suggestions, and is confident that we can get a limited-edition pen made in time for Scriptus, now just a few months away. Some of his greatest input has been in connection with costs.

It turns out that some things never change: the two major factors in the cost of a pen are the quality of the nib, and the complexity of the filling system. For nibs, gold is, obviously, much costlier than steel. And for filling systems, a robust piston-filler will be priced like a Montblanc or Pelikan.

Don’t think we’ll sell too many $2000 pens, even if it is in Canadian dollars.

But nib and filling system aside, in terms of actual manufacture, Howard needs to have the basic lines of the pen designed, so that he can get making a prototype for us to look at and—more importantly—hold in our hands.

Not everyone agrees on what makes a pen beautiful.

We have all had it happen: you see a lovely pen in a photograph, or lying in a display case. You think “Wow, I love the look of that pen!” But when you pick it up, it’s a total fail. Or, conversly, sometimes you see a pen and instantly react: “what were they thinking?!” Obviously we want to avoid either of these reactions. But how?

Philip and I both are great appreciators of classic vintage pens. The design of pens from the early 1900s reflects an elegance of style, combined with an understanding of what feels good in the hand for hours of writing. They are often simple in appearance, with a slim & straight profile.

But—when it comes to design— simple is not always easy.

What sort of profile should the cap top have? Do we have a cap ring? What style of clip? How do we design the barrel profile: to post, or not to post the cap? What length & diameter should the gripping section be? All of these questions need an answer. And part of the answer is in prototypes. Theory is good, but actually seeing the combinations is another thing entirely.

After a few phone consultations with Howard, we finally have some prototypes on hand. Finally, something real, even if the prototypes are in fire-engine-red plastic.

We have a few options when it comes to the cap, and you have to start somewhere. In this model, the cap is in two pieces, which screw together where the clip is mounted, using a threaded metal insert.

We have a clear concensus regarding the clip. The roller clip is always a winner: easy to use, and not often seen. Howard has fit it very well, and you can hardly see the seam. There is a notch in the cap, so that the clip can’t rotate in place, which could damage the cap.

A cap ring would be nice, but if we choose all of the ‘nice’ options, costs will go through the roof. And so we agree: no cap ring.

And what about the profile of the top? While flat is a very traditional American style, something about the curve gives the pen that European grace and style. Like Philip: grace, and style. (And round on top?)

This is the part that is tricky. How do make a decision about something as subjective as how rounded a cap should be?

David “We could just decide, you know. It’s the show pen, and asking opinions just slows things down.”

Philip “Yes, but we’re not the ones buying it. I’ll ask around, just to test the waters.”

When Philip asks around, he is talking about the Cambridge Pen Breakfast, held once each month just oustside Toronto, and Pens & Pints, held (it seems) every night possible in north Toronto. At a pub. We’ve known these folks for years, and they are the hardest-core of the pen community here. Lots of experience, both in collecting and in selling pens.

Philip “It’s very simple: when I ask for an opinion, I’m happy to listen. But if I haven’t asked, I charge $500 per opinion. It’s a great way to keep the process moving.”

And so, after a week of consultation, the decision is made, just like Goldilocks: not too flat, not too round. The slightly-rounded middle option is just right. With a roller clip, and no cap rings.

One decision made, only a hundred to go…