Pen Museum, Birmingham

On Sat 7th Jan 2017 my wife and I visited the Pen Museum in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. It’s a small but fascinating museum containing traditional nib-making machinery, displays of pens, inks, quills, ornate inkwells and ink blotters, early typewriters and braille equipment… and a lot of nibs. The volunteer staff are friendly and full of interesting information about the pen trade and the people involved. Amazingly, at its height in the nineteenth century three quarters of the world’s pens were made in Birmingham.

The museum is quite interactive and one can even make one’s own pen nib on traditional equipment. The process consists of:  1. “Blanking”, cutting out the nib shapes from sheets of metal. 2. “Piercing”, cutting the hole in the centre. 3. “Marking”, stamping on the manufacturer’s information. The full process then includes “annealing” – heat treatment to soften the nibs – but of course this was not possible in the museum. 4. “Raising”, bending the nibs into a rounded shape. In the full process the nibs were then hardened and tempered to increase corrosion resistance and flexibility, the cleaned by pickling and scouring. 5. “Slitting”, to split the nib from the pierced hole to the writing tip.

I also bought a few nibs and started doodling with them once I had returned home. I watched a T.V. program on fungus while I recovered from the ride (I had cycled to Birmingham), so the doodles began mycelium-like before evolving into knots, chains and weaves. I will start writing calligraphy with them soon.


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