Design Features: Integral Nibs

(This page revised June 22, 2012)

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Before the advent of the fountain pen, and for a time thereafter, the part of the pen that we now call the nib was called the pen, and it was inserted into a pen holder for use. To distinguish a fountain pen from an “ordinary” pen, the former was given its full two-word name. For nearly a century, the distinction remained clear; but in 1970 things changed with the introduction of the Parker T-1.

(If there is a magnifying-glass symbol (Magnifying glass) next to an image, click the magnifying glass to view a zoomed version for more detail.)

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This T-1 shows off the pen’s attractive silhouette and coloring.

Fountain pen nibSuddenly, all over again, the nib was the pen. The revolutionary T-1, created to honor the U.S. Apollo space program and built of titanium, featured an integral nib. There was no separate nib of gold or Octanium; the body of the pen extended forward and, with its underside cut away and fitted with a feed, became the writing point. In keeping with the “personalized” design of Parker’s then-flagship pen, the 75, the company fitted the feed of the T-1 with a small screw that the user could turn to adjust the wetness of the T-1’s flow and, with limits, the breadth of its line. In the image to the left, the lighter-colored “bump” visible along the bottom edge of the feed is the adjusting screw.

Fitted with flat, ruby-red jewels at its ends, the sleek brushed gray T-1 is a very attractive pen. But it is, unfortunately, not a very good pen. Most T-1s write poorly no matter how their users adjust their nibs. This deficiency is to some extent the result of inadequate quality control during manufacture, and the writing qualities of many of these pens can be improved. More serious is the T-1’s alarming tendency to shed its nib tipping material at the least provocation. For this reason, most collectors tend to leave their T-1s unused.

Fixing the Problems

Titanium was, and still is, difficult to work. The T-1’s exotic construction was expensive; it is reported that each T-1 cost more than its retail price to manufacture. Parker retired the model after only about a year. But stainless steel had been used for pens since the appearance of steel nibs in the 1930s, and Parker had pioneered its use for body components in the 1940s with the Lustraloy cap of the “51” and, later, the brushed stainless body of the “51” Flighter. The concept of an integral nib continued to appeal to Parker’s designers, and in 1977 the company introduced the 50. In Europe, the company named the pen the Falcon. Collectors today frequently combine the designations and call it the Falcon 50:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

Fountain pen nibThe Falcon 50 featured a variety of finishes and materials, including chrome-plated models as well as the gold-plated and Flighter versions shown above. What all Falcons have in common is a stainless steel gripping-section shell with an integral nib, shown to the right on a prototype featuring a brushed coppery-gold finish. The darker matte-finished trim area provides a good gripping surface for the user’s fingers , and it also gives the pen a rakish look. But, as so often happens, it is not an unmixed blessing. Capping and uncapping the pen wears a line around the section as the inner cap bears against the surface. Falcons with unworn sections are highly desirable as collection specimens.

The Falcon 50 has a distinct advantage over the T-1, in that it is an excellent pen. Its nib is not adjustable, and the resulting simplicity allowed Parker to tune the pen’s design so that it works very well. The Falcon was also far less costly to manufacture than the T-1, and it remained in Parker's catalog alongside newer entries into 1983.

If You Find a Bandwagon, Climb On!

Unlike the hooded nib of the “51”, the integral nib of the T-1 and, later, the Falcon did not spark a revolution. Other manufacturers did not flock to develop their own integral-nib pens. At least one, Sheaffer, had introduced its own strikingly modern pen, the Targa, in 1976. With the next best thing in its justly renowned Inlaid Nib™, which gave the sense of an integrated whole without the attendant manufacturing difficulties, the Targa was a remarkably successful pen model.

But “not all” is not quite the same as “all”; and in fact one company, Pilot of Japan, did climb aboard the bandwagon with a series of excellent integral-nib pens, the stainless-steel Pilot Murex (upper) and Murex MYU (two lower) models:

Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass
Fountain pen Magnifying glass

These pens look good, write well, and handle well. The Murex MYU version is unusual in having a barrel that is much shorter than its elongated nib section; capped, the MYU is very short (like Sheaffer’s Tuckaway of the 1940s), while posting it creates a full-sized pen that is very comfortable even in big hands. (There are also striped full-length Murex pens.)

Oops!

Fountain penI like integral nibs; and judging from the intense interest in, and correspondingly high prices of, T-1 and Murex pens, I am not alone in this. But there is one serious downside to all integral-nib pens: you can’t simply replace the nib if you bend or break it. Repair, if possible, is Hobson’s choice if you want to restore the pen to service. An expert nib repairer can straighten a bent nib; the Murex nib shown here was badly bent and has been straightened. Missing iridium is another matter. Unlike gold, stainless steel does not weld easily to replacement tipping material, and the usual treatment of a nib that is missing its tipping material is to reshape and smooth the titanium or stainless steel and rely on the metal’s hardness to provide a result that is suitable for occasional use.


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