Glossopedia of Pen Terms

(This page revised July 3, 2017)

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O
oblique Nib shapeNib shapeA nib shape that is ground so that the writing tip contacts the paper properly when the pen is rotated in the user’s hand. Obliques are made in left- and right-foot shapes, and there are variations in the angle at which the tip is finished. The left-foot oblique (shown here, and so named because the angled tip resembles the shape of a person’s left foot) is the most common style. A left-foot oblique requires counterclockwise rotation of the pen so that the nib, instead of facing straight upward, is leaning toward a right-handed writer or away from a left-handed writer. Most modern obliques are ordinary round nibs, not designed to produce line variation (illustrated near right). An oblique italic nib, which is designed to produce line variation, has a wide thin tip cut at an angle across, to create broad strokes in one direction (at a slight angle to the nib itself) and very thin strokes in the orthogonal direction. A crisp oblique italic nib (illustrated far right) is relatively lacking in smoothness but produces greater line variation than a cursive oblique italic, which is ground to be relatively smooth in use. [Historical note] The history of oblique nibs goes back millennia; in Roman times, when hand-cut reeds were used to make nibs, all nibs were italic to a greater or lesser degree. As writing styles changed, scribes discovered that cutting a nib with the edge at an angle, instead of straight across, changed the orientations of thick and thin strokes, allowing the development of further new styles. Blackletter styles, notably, were customarily written with oblique italics. Because of this usage, over a period of centuries the term “oblique” became synonymous with the production of line variation; but, as explained here, that association is neither the only possible one nor even necessarily the correct one. Read a tutorial on nibs here. See also Blackletter, cursive, italic, nib, offset pen, Relief, reverse oblique, stub.
Octanium Parker’s trade name for the stainless steel used to make nibs for the company’s lower-priced pens; so called because the alloy contains eight elements (40% Co, 20% Cr, 15% Ni, 15% Fe, 7% Mo, 2% Mg, trace Be, trace C). Used from 1948 into the 1950s.
offset holder (among dip-pen calligraphers, oblique holder) A dip pen holder that holds the pen (nib) at an angle so that the pen itself will be pointing upward and to the right when the penholder is oriented toward 12 o'clock relative to the paper; used to create line variation in copperplate and round hand scripts. See the illustration below, showing a modern offset holder with a vintage Waverley nib. See also offset pen, holder, nib (historical note).
Oblique holder with steel pen
offset pen Steel pen(also offset nib; among dip-pen calligraphers, oblique nib or elbow nib) A flexible dip pen nib, usually steel, made with a pronounced offset in its body (illustrated to the right) so that the pen itself will be pointing upward and to the right when the penholder is oriented toward 12 o'clock relative to the paper; used to create line variation in copperplate and round hand scripts. See also dip pen, holder, nib (historical note), steel pen.
Old English See Blackletter.
olive ripple See ripple.
Olson Christian Olson, a pen manufacturer located in Copenhagen, Denmark. Olson began some years after World War I by importing Parker pens, but by the early 1930s, Denmark was suffering from depletion of its foreign currency reserves and placed limits on the importation of foreign products. Later, the limitations were expanded and included a prohibition in the importation of complete fountain pens. Olson’s response was to found the Penol company, which became known as a manufacturer of high-quality pens, and also to begin manufacturing Parker pens under license. Production continued after World War II and included a squeeze-filling variant of the Parker VS. Olson’s license-made Parker pens are marked in various ways, including M.I.D. (Made in Denmark) and a small anchor trademark, and examples are known in colors not used by the parent company.
One-Shot See Vacuum-Fil (definition 1).
1000 See Sheaffer numbers.
Onoto the Pen A long-lived series of pen models produced by printer/stationer Thomas De La Rue & Co., of England. In 1906, De La Rue entered the pen market with a self-filling fountain pen that it named Onoto the Pen for the name’s euphony and, because Onoto is not a real word, the lack of need to translate it into foreign languages. The pen’s innovative pneumatic filler, invented by a mechanical engineer, tinkerer, and sometime vaudeville performer named George Sweetser, flushes the pen and refills it in a single out-and-in cycle of a barrel-length plunger and was the prototype for similar fillers produced by Sheaffer, Wahl-Eversharp, and Conklin during the 1930s. Shown here is a very early straight-cap Onoto. See also De La Rue, Vacuum-Fil (definition 1).
Fountain pen
Onward See Kahn.
Onyx TurquoiseWaterman’s name for a celluloid color consisting of red-brown ribbons of color on a pale creamy pearlescent ground, as shown to the right. Used on the Patrician, Onyx is very prone to discoloration; the sample illustrated here is distinctly darker than it was when new.
open nib Retronym indicating a nib that is exposed to view; the type commonly seen. Until the advent of the hooded nib on the Parker “51”, the term was unnecessary. See also hooded nib, Inlaid Nib, nib, “TRIUMPH” point.
O-ring O-ringsA gasket made of a natural or synthetic elastomer (e.g., Buna-N or Viton®), having a circular cross-section (similar in shape to a “cake” doughnut; designed to be lightly compressed between two surfaces to make a seal. Patented in 1939 (U.S. Patent No 2,180,795) and coming into wide use during World War II, when the U.S. government declared it a critical war resource, the O-ring is now nearly ubiquitous where a circular seal is needed. In modern fountain pens, it is frequently used to seal between the barrel and section to allow use as an eyedropper filler; vintage eyedropper-filling pens did not require such seals and can be damaged by attempts to use them. Sheaffer used O-rings for the sliding seal in its Touchdown and Snorkel pens. See also packing.
OS (also O/S) See oversize.
osmalloy An alloy containing osmium, used by Sheaffer beginning in 1944 for tipping “TRIUMPH” point nibs. See also osmium. “TRIUMPH” point.
Osmia (Osmia GmbH) A pen manufacturing company located in Dossenheim, Germany, founded as Böhler und Kompanie in 1919 by former Kaweco employee Hermann Böhler along with his brother Georg. Hermann Böhler used the knowledge he had gained during an extended period while Kaweco was acquiring A. Morton & Company, a manufacturer of gold nibs, to set up the production of high-quality nibs for his company. He also created a brand name, Osmia, from the name Osmiumalloy, a name for a tipping alloy called osmiridium, which he used for his nibs despite its high cost because it is much harder and more durable than plain iridium. The company’s first products were mechanical pencils and ebonite safety pens whose nibs carried a lifetime warranty. Osmia’s initial success led the company to build a new plant to supply the demand for its pens, but by the latter 1920s demand had slowed and margins were weak; Osmia was in trouble. In 1928, Parker acquired the company in order to expand its business into Europe, and Osmia began producing Duofolds bearing the imprint Parker - Osmia A. G. Heidelberg while continuing to produce its own safety and lever-filling pens and mechanical pencils. The German market did not like the Duofold’s high price and rigid nib, and in 1930 Parker divested Osmia. The company, now Osmia GmbH, launched its own Osmia Supra, a pen similar to the Duofold but better attuned to the German market. In 1932, to recover funds to reimburse the cost Parker had incurred in buying and then releasing Osmia, the company sold its nib factory to Degussa. In 1933, Osmia launched a new range of successful pens, more streamlined, including a piston filler (shown below, the 884) and a model with a Vacumatic-like pump filler. In 1935, A. W. Faber-Castell began a lengthy process of acquiring Osmia, completing that process in 1951. Production continued as before except that the pens and pencils now bore both the Faber-Castell and Osmia names. in 1938, Hermann Böhler resigned from Osmia and founded a new company. Osmia fared better than many other companies during World War II; although production declined as more and more employees were called into military service, the company’s facilities were not seriously damaged, and production resumed in 1946, with the company offering the same models as before (but revised so that all were piston fillers, and without the explicit endorsement of Faber-Castell). The Osmia trademark was retired in the early 1960s, and with demand continuing to spiral downward, Faber-Castell discontinued fountain pen production in 1975. See also Degussa.
Fountain pen
osmiridium (referred to in the metals trade as native iridium) A naturally occurring alloy of iridium and osmium with traces of other platinum-group metals, one of the first metals used extensively for tipping nibs; now disused because of osmium’s extreme toxicity. Osmiridium contains more iridium than osmium. See also iridosmine, iridium, osmium, tipping material.
Osmiroid A pen manufacturing company located in Gosport, England. Founded in London in 1824 by James Perry, the company (then known as Perry & Co.) pioneered the manufacture of high-quality steel pens. Using Perry’s patented design, it became a world force in the market, rivaling Esterbrook with sales of its Iridinoid and Osmiroid nibs. After World War II, Perry (then E. S. Perry Ltd) developed its first fountain pen, the Osmiroid 65, and subsequently relocated to Gosport. The 65 (shown below) is a lever filler; its design includes what became Osmiroid’s trademark feature, user-interchangeable nibs that are compatible with the Esterbrook Renew-Point. The company officially changed its name to Osmiroid in 1987. It was acquired by Berol in 1989, and manufacture ceased in 1991. The name is now owned by a manufacturer whose cheap Chinese-made products are not compatible with, or equal in quality to, those of British manufacture. See also Esterbrook, Renew-Point, steel pen.
Fountain pen
osmium A brittle blue-gray metal (atomic number 76) of the platinum group, formerly used in nib tipping material alloys for its hardness (3290 MPa on the Brinell scale, second only to diamond). No longer widely used because of its extreme toxicity. See also iridium, iridosmine, osmiridium, tipping material.
ossify (also petrify; said of the rubber sac in any pen using a sac as an ink reservoir) To harden due to the chemical action of ink. Ossification is a slow process; a pliable sac becomes progressively more leathery and then stiff, to the point that when squeezed it will shatter into shards with shiny edges that give the appearance of broken glass (illustrated below). An ossified sac is typically strong enough to resist the squeezing action of the lever in a lever-filling pen; attempts to operate the lever in a pen with an ossified sac usually result in serious damage to the lever or the lever box (if present). See also lever box.
Ossified sac
Osthenium (also Osithenium) An alloy of osmium and ruthenium, with trace amounts of one or more other platinum-group metals; used by Eversharp for tipping Ventura nibs. See also osmium, ruthenium, tipping material, Ventura.
Ottawa  1  A Conklin sub-brand (1930s), named for the Ottawa Indian tribe, who were the original inhabitants of the area where Toledo, Ohio, is located. After the company’s 1938 move to Chicago and subsequent sale to the Starr Pen Company, the name Ottawa was used for a Conklin-branded pen model. See also Starr.  2  A pen manufacturer located in Paris, France. Known to me from a single 1950 newspaper advertisement for a broad line of button-filling fountain pens, ballpoint pens, and repeater pencils; as of this writing, Ottawa is still in business producing promotional ballpoint pens and repeater pencils.
overfeed NibA feed that lies along the upper surface of the nib instead of within the curve of the under surface; used mostly during the 19th century. Shown here is an H. M. Smith “Rival” pen, c. 1895, with an overfeed. See also feed, over-under feed. Do not confuse the reinforcing projection on the upper surface of the Parker 180’s nib with a true overfeed.
overlay  1  A decorative covering of (usually) precious metal, made of sheet or tube, typically with decorative cutouts or engraving, or both. The pen shown here has a gold-filled (rolled gold) overlay with an embossed pattern resembling chasing.  2  Colloquialism for a pen so decorated. See also Continental, half overlay, LEC.
Fountain pen
oversize (also Oversize; abbreviated OS or O/S) A pen that is larger than the “standard” size. Various companies used specific model names such as Maxima (Parker) or Premier (Sheaffer, shown below, 1933 oversize Balance and “standard” Balance) to designate their oversize pens. See also giant, Magnum, Maxima.
Fountain pen
Fountain pen
over-under feed (also double feed, dual feed) A double feed, with parts that lie both along the upper surface of the nib and within the curve of the under surface; used mostly during the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, and advertised as providing superior reliability. At first glance, an over-under feed can easily be mistaken for a plain overfeed. See also feed, overfeed.
overwriter A left-handed person who positions his or her hand and the paper so that the hand passes across the paper above (over) the line being written, as shown below. See also underwriter.
Left-handed overwriter
Oxford (also Wahl-Oxford) A Wahl-Eversharp sub-brand (introduced 1931). Early Oxford pens (illustrated below, upper) featured 14K nibs and have the same shape as the contemporaneous (and more expensive) Equi-Poised model; later models are more cheaply made and are much less elegant (below, lower). Eventually, pens with steel nibs were added to the line.
Fountain pen
Fountain pen
oxidation See ambering, discoloration.

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