Testing Inks - The Morriset Way

Morriset Dip Pen nib in Newton Pens HolderMorriset Dip Pen nib in Newton Pens Holder

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:

Ink Testing Features

  • Color - Prefer that the ink look like it will coming out of one of my actual fountain pens. Want something that closely simulates a fountain pen so the color is more accurate.
  • Cleaning - Easy to clean the tester pen, so I can quickly compare colors or brands quickly, in a variety of nib sizes.
  • Flow - Consistent flow during a test. When I have a tester pen inked up, I would like the color to be consistent throughout the testing cycle. I don’t want the flow to start very wet and then end up dry too quickly.
  • Line Width Fidelity - Line width similar to a fountain pen. I prefer to be able to replicate the look of different nib sizes so I can see how properties of an ink may shift when going from the ultra fine nibs I like to use to something a bit broader and wetter. For example, colors may shift or sheen may be more apparent when a broader/wetter nib is employed.
  • Feel - Want to replicate the feel of a fountain pen, as much as possible. If the feel isn’t the same, how will I be able to ascertain how the ink will feel in a fountain pen? For example, well-lubricated inks, or drier inks.
  • Ink Usage - I would rather conserve ink from a sample vial if I’m comparing it. Samples range from 2-3 ml, generally, so I don’t want to waste a lot of ink when I’m first doing some comparative testing.

Morriset Dip Pen and Glass Dip PensMorriset Dip Pen and Glass Dip Pens

Alternatives

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.

Cotton Swab

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.

Fountain Pen

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 Pen

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.

Morriset Dip Pen

Ever heard of Morriset Dip Pens? Me either. That is, until I read this post from @ac12 on the FPGeeks Forums (quoted with permission):

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 Replacement Section ContainerMorriset Replacement Section Container

Morriset Replacement Section Top and BottomMorriset Replacement Section Top and Bottom

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!

Morriset Inkwell DisassembledMorriset Inkwell Disassembled

Morriset InkwellMorriset Inkwell

Images from Etsy listing of my Morriset Inkwell

Morriset Dip Pen - In Practice

Morriset Writing SampleMorriset Writing Sample

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?

  • Color - Since the nibs have a feed on them, they accurately represent what ink looks like coming out of a fountain pen.
  • Cleaning - Just as easy as a glass dip pen or dip pen. You just swish the nib around in water and blot the nib dry with paper towel. I can test an ink and clean a pen in less than 10 seconds. Also, since the nib units have a grip area at the top of them, you can unscrew the nib and swap in another quickly without having to get your fingers inky. A nice bonus.
  • Flow - Due to the existence of the feed, the pen’s flow is very consistent, and lasts a long time. With the EF nib, I can write a couple of pages without having to re-dip the pen, and the line is consistent that whole time.
  • Line Width Fidelity - The line width is very consistent, since it is a pen nib.
  • Feel - Feels just like a fountain pen.
  • Ink Usage - Very little ink is used because the nib is being dipped. But the feed allows enough ink to be held to write a decent amount, if desired.

Newton Morriset Holder Without NibNewton Morriset Holder Without Nib

Newton Morriset Nib Holder

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.

Morriset Pen and Newton Morriset Holder with TWSBI Diamond 580Morriset Pen and Newton Morriset Holder with TWSBI Diamond 580

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.

Morriset Color Writing SampleMorriset Color Writing Sample Samples of 8 inks written quickly in one sitting with my Morriset Dip Pen

Tagged: inks, pens, nibs, custompen

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