One of the more fun parts of using fountain pens is experimenting with various inks. In the not-too-distant past, there weren’t many options for buying ink samples. One would have to buy a whole bottle or get samples from someone else who already owned a bottle. But luckily, we have many options available to us now, such as Anderson Pens and Goulet Pens. Never purchased an ink sample before? Brian Goulet walks us through ink sampling in this video.
There are a variety of methods people use to test inks when they get them. Let’s talk about what features I like when testing inks:
Let’s quickly walk through some of the common alternatives, and why I ultimately decided they weren’t for me. Note that there isn’t anything wrong with any of these methods. Different strokes, for different folks.
The simple cotton swab. This is something that a lot of people like to do. But for me, there is too much variability when using a cotton swab to make a swab of ink. While this method is good to cover a large area with an ink, the color isn’t always representative of what the ink will look like in a pen. As a result, I stopped doing this long ago. I instead try to use a broader, wetter nib to fill ink a square if I want to show a section of the ink. This one was just not effective for me.
This one probably ticks the most boxes in the list above. No need to try to “simulate” using a fountain pen. It is a fountain pen. There are generally a couple of ways that people will use a fountain pen to test inks: fill the pen and dip the pen. Filling the pen is the highest fidelity experience. This is inking up a pen. However, if you fill a pen fully, you could be using a lot of ink. If you want to test various nibs, you likely have to ink up multiple pens, thus using a lot of ink. Dipping a pen works well, but sometimes doesn’t accurately represent all ink properties, as the feed isn’t saturated properly and ink isn’t flowing from the pen to the feed as it normally would. But dipping a pen certainly uses less ink.
The primary downside to this that you often have to have multiple pens available if you want to test multiple nib sizes or multiple ink choices at the same time. And then, there is the cleaning that you have to do afterwards. Even if you just dip a pen, you’re cleaning the pen just like you would if it had been filled with ink.
Glass Dip Pen
This was my first serious ink testing approach. The two manufacturers of glass dip pens that I’m familiar with (and own) are J. Herbin and Rohrer and Klingner (R&K). But there are a few issues for me with them. First, you cannot always get a consistent ink supply with these. Sometimes you get too much ink, resulting in an overly wet line, and sometimes you don’t dip enough, and it’s too dry. But also, after a line or two, the supply runs out, so you have to dip again. This causes an inconsistent experience. Glass dip pens are also a totally different feel. Too scratchy for me. The line width is also much too broad for me. However, glass dip pens don’t use much ink and are very easy to clean. If you’re interested primarily in making ink swatches, these may be okay for you. Just not quite right for me.
Dip nibs are also a popular option. These are fun because you can easily switch nibs out and they are easy to clean. They are also relatively inexpensive, and there are a variety of nib options, from super fine to extremely broad, and even flexible. But they suffer from the same issue with variability of the ink sample that glass dip pens have, since they have no feed.
But dip pens are definitely a good option. In fact, at Writer’s Bloc, they chose to use dip pens as a standardized way to display all of their ink samples. Their reasoning and results are a good example of why dip pens are a good option.
It is a dip pen with a glass feed. Because the feed is glass, you can see the amount of ink that the nib is holding and when it is going dry. The feed holds the ink so it does not run dry as fast as a dip pen. In fact I normally dip the pen in just part way and can get a whole page of writing. Comparing with the same ink out of a fountain pen, the ink line from the Morriset looks just like a fountain pen ink line, not the extra wet ink line from a glass pen.
Well, this certainly sounded interesting! So I embarked on a journey to try to find one of these Morriset Dip Pens. I found some interesting things. First off, the Morris Company actually made two types of nibs. The first seem to be usable in Esterbrook pens, which come in small containers with green caps. But the ones that I heard about were actually to be used in Morriset Dip Pens, and come in a red capped container.
Morriset Dip Pens came with a pen stand that also kept the dip pen inked up via a bottle which could be filled with ink. These came in a variety of materials, but all had the same basic functionality. There are, as far as I know, four sizes of nibs available: Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, and Broad. I’ve never seen the Broad. Some detail on these can be found at Pendemonium. One issue with the full sets is that the material started to shrink and deform over time, so not many of these have survived intact.
Luckily, I was able to find a complete set on Etsy. But these are becoming harder to find. I only wanted to get the pen holder (handle), so I didn’t really need the complete set, but it was the first thing I could find to try out the nibs. Acquiring the pen alone is becoming increasingly harder, since these are no longer made. The nibs still are relatively easy to find on eBay and elsewhere, and aren’t expensive. I picked mine up for about $5 - $10 each, new-old stock!
Images from Etsy listing of my Morriset Inkwell
As @ac12 mentioned, this is a great way to test inks. The Extra Fine is really a very fine Extra Fine. Closer to a Japanese EF rather than a Western EF. So, basically, perfect for me. Between my EF, F, and M nibs, I have a lot of variety of nibs for testing inks. Do these meet my testing expectations?
So, ink testing panacea, right? Well, sort of. The dip pen itself is a bit narrow and a bit long for me. Plus, I worried about finding a replacement to hold my nibs in case something happened to my only original Morriset dip pen. (I have a few nibs in each size.) So, after a few quick emails with Shawn Newton, he agreed to try to make me a custom pen holder. Off my original and a couple of nibs went to him so he could try to replicate the threading.
I told him I wanted a pen slightly shorter than the original, but thicker and easier to hold. I gave him some other vague instructions, and he sent me a holder that was perfect. Really. It was all sleek and black, and had a lovely curve to it. The weight, width, and length are perfect. I asked Shawn if he would make this for anyone else who wanted to pick up any Morriset Dip Pen nibs. He agreed, and has a page dedicated to nib holders now.
So, now that I have my Newton Morriset nib holder, I am in a perfect state of ink testing for me. Some of you may not like that the nibs are vintage and no longer made, but for me, it’s a perfect combination.
Samples of 8 inks written quickly in one sitting with my Morriset Dip Pen