Author Archives: David

David is a co-founder of Scriptus, and is the designer and author of the website.

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…

Red Ripple Is Nice…

A show pen. A show pen. A show pen? We’re doing a show pen! Yikes.

One of the first important things to consider in designing any kind of pen is what material it will be made of. Plastic is cost-effective, but can be soft. Metal is quite robust, but can be both heavy and expensive. And hand-in-hand with material comes appearance: colour & pattern. The choices are complicated before you even begin.

Now, Philip and I have been hanging out doing pen-related things for about eight years now. And after comparing lots of pens, both our own and others, we have a pretty good idea of each others aesthetics.

And so this conversation was much shorter than the last:

Philip “I think it should be a nice red ripple hard rubber.”

David “Yes, it should.”

And so it was decided.

If you wanted excitement from Parker in 1918, it had to be metal overlay.

You may, however, be asking yourself: “who in this day and age would make a pen out of hard rubber?” After all, as a material in pen production, hard rubber’s heyday was almost a hundred years ago. And it’s a good question.

Around the turn of the 20th century, hard rubber—also known as “ebonite”— was the material of choice for almost anything handheld and black: pens, pipes, musical instruments, telephones. It was cheap, easy to work, and tough. Especially after World War I, hard rubber was such a good material that Parker Pens used to throw pens out of airplanes (and tall buildings) as a sales gimmick. (They survived just fine, and even wrote.) Pen companies invested in rubber factories, and produced millions of pens.

Waterman in particular made use of striking marbled patterns made of different colours of rubber, mixed together. But all of the significant pen manufacturers made pens of rubber: coloured, plain, patterned, overlaid.

However, the material wasn’t perfect. It would oxidize quickly when soaked in water (which is foolish anyways), or left in the sunlight (which is even more foolish). And thin hard rubber could be brittle, although new blackening agents developed after 1914 accidentally improved it’s quality tremendously.

Just nine years later, the lid was blown off the fun box, and a rainbow of colours leapt out!

The end of hard rubber in pens wasn’t due to a stronger, or otherwise technically superior material. It was due to something else entirely: the pretty factor. When early plastics were developed, and introduced by pen makers, they came in beautiful colours, and in striking patterns. For the “roaring” 1920s and early 30s, it was just the sort of thing people wanted. And clinging to the use of hard rubber for too long nearly put Waterman out of business.

But as many vintage pen connoisseurs know, hard rubber was, and is, a great material. Combine that with 21st century chemistry, and it’s even greater. And a few—just a few—modern manufacturers still offer it as an option. In red ripple!

There is something to be said for the classic red and black rippled look. Olive, meh.

Philip “I’m going to contact Howard at Bexley this week.”

David “Huh.” As a rule, I don’t know much about modern pen makers. You have to draw the line somewhere. But I met Howard a couple of years ago, at the Ohio Pen Show. He seemed like a nice guy. And anyone who offers red ripple hard rubber in a new pen has to have some sense.

Philip “I’ll let you know what he thinks.”

And as soon as he does, I’ll let you all know what he had to say.

I Think We Should Do A Pen…

So, Philip and I were sitting in the official Scriptus offices in downtown Toronto, also known as Balzac’s Café at the Toronto Reference Library. We try to meet there every month or so, to compare notes, work out Scriptus strategies, show off nice pens, and enjoy, respectively, double espresso and chai-tea-steeped-in-plain-steamed-milk.

The Scriptus offices, in downtown Toronto.

Now, usually these meetings are pretty predictable. They get longer as we approach the show date, but after four years of Scriptus we know what to expect.

But this time was a bit different. The conversation went a bit like this:

Philip “So, I think we should do a pen…”

David “Huh.” (That’s my usual response to being whacked alongside the head by a giant new idea.) “You mean, do a show pen?”

For the uninitiated, some pen shows (often the American ones) will produce a limited edition fountain pen, to be sold only at the show. Tapping into the enthusiasm of collectors attending, these usually sell quite well, and can be an excellent way of generating revenue for future shows. They are also a good indicator that the show commissioning such a pen is healthy and robust. Having a show pen is for grown-up shows.

Philip “I was talking to Heinz at the pen breakfast, and he said he thinks that we should think about doing a pen, and that got me thinking. After all, it is Canada’s 150th birthday.”

David “Huh. That’s a lot of thinking. You know it’s only three months until the show?” (That’s my usual second response to a big new idea: think of reasons why it might not work.)

Philip “Well, yes. But why not look into it? If we can’t do it this year, we can always shoot for the Scriptus 5 year anniversary. Although that’s not nearly as exciting as Canada 150.”

David “Huh. Sure, why not?”

So, we are thinking about doing a pen, for Scriptus 2017.

Frightening? Yes. There is a reason that only grown-up shows do pens: they are expensive. Amateurs design pens at their own risk, and much like organizing a wedding, it is all too easy to get carried away and end up with something remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Exciting? Yes! We love pens, obviously. Philip has excellent taste in pens. I have done some industrial design work over the years, and have handled thousands of pens for repair, both good and bad.

It also occurred to us that you all might enjoy being in on the fun. So we will be publishing regular blog entries, walking through the process of “doing a pen” with us. So check back here soon, and enjoy our trip.

2017 General Registration Now Open

Midsummer is nearly here, and that can only mean one thing: the Scriptus team is thinking about nothing but fall!

We are pleased to announce that general registration is now open for Scriptus 2017, to be held on October 29. Many of last year’s exhibitors are back on board, and we have booked over half of the available tables already. This year we have booked all three rooms: the entire Appel Salon, approximately 70 tables devoted to a full day of pens and writing joy!

Do you have pens to sell? Wonderful writing & paper products? Spare storage bins filled with bottles of ink? Does your calligraphy stun all you meet? There could be a place for you at a Scriptus table! Check out our guidelines for vendors, and our Exhibitor Application Form on our Exhibitor Information page.

Do you just like spending a day browsing and enjoying pens, writing, and inky goodness? Then mark your calendar, and plod through summer, knowing that the best is yet to come…

Scriptus 2017 Pre-registration

We are happy to announce that, on May 15, 2017, pre-registration will be opening for Scriptus 2017. This will be an opportunity for last year’s exhibitors to secure a table in advance. General registration will open on June 15, 2017.

Worried that you might not get a spot in Toronto’s greatest pen & writing event of the year? Have no fear! We have booked the entire Appel Salon this year—all three rooms—so there will be space for everyone: exhibitors, visitors, and all the writing goodies that you can imagine!

We are already hard at work organizing the day, so that all you have to do is arrive and enjoy yourself. So be sure to put October 29, 2017 in your calendar. (Unless you want a table; in that case, put June 15 down…)

Scriptus 2017 – Save the Date!


With the roaring success of Scriptus over the past three years, we are happy to announce Scriptus 2017, our biggest, best show yet! This year’s show will be held on October 29, 2017, again at the Toronto Reference Library. Admission, keeping pace with the foolishness of the organizers, will again be free: Scriptus is for the joy of writing, not for the sake of profit.

We expect our usual crowd of exhibitors, representing all manner of writing equipment and interests. We are expanding to encompass the entire Appel Salon facility, which will result in a substantial increase in both the number of tables and the amount of space for visitors.

Pre-registration (for previous exhibitors) will open on June 1, 2017, and general registration will open on June 15, 2017. We will update pertinent information on the website in advance of those dates.

We look forward to seeing everyone again in October, at what has become one of the largest, and the most enthusiastic, pen & writing shows in the world!

Instagram Contest Winner

We are happy to announce a winner in the “People at Scriptus 2016” Instagram contest. While there were a number of excellent photos posted to #ScriptusToronto, one in particular struck us as summarising the entire Scriptus experience.

Photo by Farah Khattak.

Photo by Farah Khattak.

Farah Khattak spent the day supporting her husband, Salman’s table. Apparently she took loads of photos of people, most of whom were looking down at tables of writing fun; this makes for good times, but not great photos. Finally, she caught two of Toronto’s most zealous pen-lovers in the middle of the crowd—in the middle of a perfect show-and-tell moment—with Salman in the foreground. This scene is what Scriptus is all about: all sorts of people enjoying pens and writing, all together on one great day.

Our congratulations go to Farah on her perseverance and skill in taking this great photo!

Scriptus 2016 Raffle Winners

One of the biggest factors in helping Scriptus continue year-after-year is the raffle. Our third show was supported wholeheartedly by many exhibitors, and we had a record twenty prizes on offer. The draw was held in the last hour of the show, and we are happy to announce the results, including one double-winner!

Gerald Coates • Geometri Pen Set • Murtaza & Zain Ali Amarshi
Paul Hung • Parker 51 Pen & Pencil Set • Restorer’s Art
Kristin Glasbergen • Pearlescent Colours Set •
• Koh-i-noor Nib Holder •
• Nikko G Nibs •
Elena Woo • Hand-bound Album • Grace Note Press
Stan Smith • MonteVerde Ballpoint Pen • House of Fine Writing
Richard Diver • Visconti Pen Set • Laywine’s
Patrick Tang • Walnut & Maple Pen Stand • Timber Elegance
Rob Jemmett • Lamy “Safari” Pen• Phidon
Bernice Dale • Pilot “Metropolitan” Pen• Phidon
Margaret FitzPatrick • Conklin “Mark Twain” Pen • Phidon
Deirdre Hussey • Aurora “Style” Pen • Phidon
Joy Dale • Pilot “Knight” Pen • Phidon
Jill Milne • Cato “A-1” Early Felt Pen• Craig Retter
RJ McDonald • “CN Tower” Pop-up Card •
• “Hibiscus” Pop-up Card •
Roses Without Thorns
Donald Woo • Parker “17” Pen • Pearce Jarvis
Joy Dale • Pen Deoxidiser •
• Fine grade Pen Polish •
• X-fine Pen Polish •
La Belle Epoque Pens
Derrick Ngo • Lamy Safari Dark Lilac •
• Lamy Dark Lilac Ink •
• Classiky Box •
Wonder Pens
Michael Hong • Staedtler “Initium Lignum” Pen •
• leather pen case •
• Staedtler ink (black) •
• Leuchtturm1917 notebook •
Knight’s Writing Co.
Jason Bartlett • Staedtler “Initium Lignum” Pen •

Staedtler Premium
Sally Suen • “Northern Twilight” Ink • Scriptus

All of the winners will be contacted individually with details as to how to collect their prizes.

We would like to extend a special word of thanks to Peter Laywine and his staff at Laywine’s Pens & Organizers for their extra help and assistance in connection with the raffle (in addition to their generous prize donation).

Our congratulations go out to all of the winners. And our greatest thanks go to the prize donors and everyone who donated to Scriptus by participating in the raffle this year. Thanks to you we can look forward to Scriptus 2017!

Looking for a Few Good Thumbs: the Scriptus Instagram Contest

Tomorrow, hordes of pen and writing lovers will be descending on the Toronto Reference Library for Scriptus 2016. In the past, such an event would have an ‘official photographer’, who would dutifully document the day’s excitement: vintage plastics, rainbows of ink bottles, riffling paper, happy faces.

And then it occurred to us: why not crowdsource the photo-taking?instagram_app_large

We are happy to announce the Scriptus Instagram contest!

This is how it goes:

  • Theme: people @ Scriptus 2016
  • Hashtag: #ScriptusToronto
  • Best photo wins: a bottle of coveted Northern Twilight show ink & a Parker “51” fountain pen!

Upload your photos of Scriptus 2016 to Instagram for a chance to win. The winner will be carefully chosen by the Scriptus team, and will be announced within a couple of weeks (depending on how many photos we get).

Remember to include people in your photos, but please be polite about it and ask permission first.

See you bright and early tomorrow morning!