March 2005: Fountain Pens for Lefties 101

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • As long as I have known, lefties have gotten short shrift. On the sole basis of being a lefty, I was branded as “slow” and “retarded” before I entered kindergarten, and was forced to wait a year before starting school.

(Don’t cry too hard for me. My mother — upset with the school authorities — thought she’d show them a thing or two. She taught me to read before I even started school, and I never looked back, graduating near the top of my class.)

As if this wasn’t enough to make me wonder what was up, when I was a little kid I picked up a 1920s-vintage dictionary at a garage sale. Under “left-handed,” it gave a couple definitions that weren’t too positive, including “sinister,” and “satanic.” Nice.

When I was a little kid I picked up a 1920s-vintage dictionary at a garage sale. Under “left-handed,” it gave a couple definitions that weren’t too positive, including “sinister,” and “satanic.” Nice. Extra Fine Points

In the pen world, the playing field’s not level for righties and lefties, either. But it’s not so bad. While yes, most of us will have trouble with super-flex Waterman’s No. 52 nibs — I struggled to master writing with one for a year or two before finally giving up and laundering the pen on eBay — it turns out that there are options for interesting grinds, too.

Left-foot round nib tipRound nib tip “Despite what many so-called ‘experts’ will tell you, there is no nib style that is absolutely inappropriate for lefties,” Richard tells me. “Lefties often find that they can use oblique nibs (far right) more easily than nibs that are round (near right) or are cut straight across like the standard italics and stubs. But because lefties’ styles differ so widely, it’s often a matter of trial and error to discover whether a left-foot or a right-foot nib works better for a given individual.”

So what’s the deal with flexies? “Most lefties find flex nibs difficult to deal with because flex nibs give line variation based on writing pressure. For most normal writing styles, it is the downstrokes that should show the increased line width that comes from increased writing pressure.

“Unfortunately, for many lefties the pull stroke is often an upstroke. This means that downstrokes are often ‘push strokes,’ and applying extra pressure on a push stroke causes the pen to dig into the paper instead of spreading to give you the pretty lines you want.”

And when those tines catch the paper, we lefties experience something righties encounter occasionally, but not nearly as much: the linear or — if we’re really unlucky — rainbow spatter. The good news? I’ve had great success and heartily recommend semiflex nibs if you want to get in on the fun.

Parker Vac, Wearever Pacemaker, and Eversharp Skylines all can be found with lefty-friendly semiflex nibs that don’t have the cool action that the Waterman’s No. 52 “wet noodle,” but hey, at least you can sign a check without squirting the payee in the face. I own and endorse all three of these semiflex-nib pens for everyday use.

Nibmeisters such as Richard or John Mottishaw can help fix up other pens. Where a nib might write smooth as glass for a righty, it can be scratchy for a lefty. Explaining to the person who adjusts your nibs if you’re an overwriter or underwriter and describing the trouble a nib is giving will enable that craftsman to adjust it properly.

Lefties are more sensitive to flow issues than most righties, too: Too dry, and the pen cuts out on the upstrokes (when I sign my name this is prone to happen on the “Ls” in “Donald J. Fluckinger,” as well as the middle initial); too wet, and you find out very quickly that the end of your hand doesn’t make a very good blotter.

So Richard, let’s say I give you a $100 budget. What pen would you go out and find for me?

“I’d find a modern Waterman or a 1930s or 1940s Sheaffer that I thought the lefty might like,” he says. “The reason is simple: These pens’ nibs tend to be firm to rigid, and the firmer a nib the less problem there is with starvation on push strokes.”

Now you have $500. Does that change anything?

“No… except that I could buy a much nicer pen for the increased price.”

And while the people registering kids for kindergarten in Archbold, Ohio back on that bleak August day in 1973 might have had prejudice against lefties, I’m happy to say, Richard doesn’t. In fact, although he’s a righty, I’m half-inclined to make him an honorary lefty just for saying the following in summation:

“Don’t give up, and don’t let anybody, anywhere, tell you that you need a special nib just because you’re left-handed. It may happen that you do need a special nib, but so do many righties. It depends on the individual, not on which hand holds the pen.”

Just half-inclined, though. He’s not yet earned his stripes. If someone would teach him Hebrew or some other language that requires he write from right to left, then I might.


cover Further Reading: Lefties: The Origins and Consequences of Being Left-Handed,, by Jack Fincher

Tired of taking all that noise from righties? Fight back with Jack Fincher’s handy little commentary, which will give you a laugh and a lift in your shoe.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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