PERRY No.366

15 11 2009

it is sunday and this is post 366! I thought the following story should fit.


this is about nibs. probably most of you are younger readers, and I am not sure if you know what I am talking about. nibs are made out of steel, very sharp and pretty small. you dip the sharp end in ink and in case you have a good day, you can do some damn good sketches with them. some of my favourite artists like ronald searle, ralph steadman, sullivant, heinrich kley and a lot more used them. they call the result – a PEN AND INK DRAWING.

nibs 1.06.0

since I started my studies I got kind of hooked on these little things. with the right chinese ink you could create some really interesting drawings, with splatters all over the sheet – what gave it a real expensive ‘art’ look. the good steel nibs were hard to
find. the cheaper brass or tin ones broke very fast, and the drawings did not look good either. at least that’s what I was convinced of.

madeira aa4.0

in 1985 my late wife and I spent our first christmas vacation in a non-snowy area, in MADEIRA, a beautiful portugiese island in the southern atlantic ocean. we had enough of the cold german winter, and madeira was like early summer. anyway, it was a shocking experience as well, to be confronted with so much poverty, hopefully that has changed in the last 24 years.
in funchal, the capital of the island, there was the only major store, like we had seen them in germany in the early fifties. the store was not too big but it sold everything. and in one corner I saw a glass case with some boxes of nibs, they looked like a 100 years old, together with some english ‘parker’ ink. I was hypnotized. finally I asked one of the sales ladies how much the nibs were. she misunderstood and told me after a long search the price for a single nib. I forgot, but it was about 2 or 3 cents. my god, I could not believe my luck. I said to her, I buy all 4 boxes. maybe about 800 nibs. she just stared at me. like we might stare at an alien. after a while she said she could not sell them all. why? well, someone else might need some. I was really surprised. I had not heard something so human in a while. I tried to convince her – but they are in that glass-case for a 100 years and probably you did not sell too many of them, at least you don’t have to worry about future sales. she had to ask her boss. to make it short, I bought them all. took me 2 hours. but it was worth it. and I bought some of the very old ink bottles as well. there were 2 or 3 where the ink was a solid block in the beautiful glass. they did not want to sell those – why? told them, I love the bottles. – but the ink is dry! I don’t care, just want the bottles -it went on and on. had to come back. and I got the bottles as well. still have all that stuff. today – after 24 years. and use it. gave a lot of the nibs away to friends. but I keep most of them as a treasure.

nib shop int.1987.0

now the 2.part of the story continues in london in 1987, when I worked there on ROGER RABBIT. by pure accident I found this tiny shop near covent garden in a side street. it had tons of nibs in its window display, as you can see in the picture. very nicely decorated. nibs hundreds of years old, made from porcellane, nibs in all sizes and materials. the shop owner looked more like a doctor in his white coat, he must have been over 70 years old.

nib shop wind.87.0

and he loved what he had in his shop. boxes and drawers full with nibs and inkbottles. I just stared speechless. after a while we started to talk, and he showed me some very special nibs. most of his clients were some of the most famous drawing artists from all over the world, like ronald searle, ralph steadman and gerald scarfe. of course he showed me ronald searle’s favourite nibs. and I bought 10 of them, hoping that my drawings might improve now. and he explained some of the most precious porcellane pieces and how they were used. it was like being in ali baba’s treasure cave, with the genie showing me around. the nibs I bought were way more expensive than the madeira ones. but they had a magic spell, at least I hoped they had. a few years later I tried to find this magic toy shop again. but it was gone. I wonder what happened to the
genie and his treasures.


P.S. thanks to COLIN STIMPSON and SEAN PHILLIPS there is some more information about the london nib-shop. PHILLIP POOLE was the owner of HIS NIBS in drury lane. phillip died in 1999 at the age of 90. in the late 80s, rising costs had forced phillip to abandon his premises in drury lane, but he ended up renting space at L CORNELISSEN, the art shop, at its new site in Great Russell Street, where he worked for six years.
here is the CORNELISSEN website, where you can order all kinds of art materials.




12 responses

15 11 2009
Sean Phillips

The shop in London is still there….
The back room with the nibs is long gone but it is still an amazingly well stocked art shop. It’s on Great Russell Street a little way along from the British Museum and Gosh, the best comic shop in London. I bought boxes of nibs there when I lived in London in the late 80’s which I’m still using, and I always visit whenever I’m in London.

16 11 2009

good stories, mr. bacher, good stories.
i agree, there is just something about nibs… and im under 30! although, the air of the mystery tool of forgotten ages somehow befits that special air of the nib.

16 11 2009

I loved this story. I’ve recently become a fan of pens and nibs myself.
I’m 20 years old and I know plenty of people my age who still use them – long live pen and ink.

16 11 2009

Fantastic post Hans! I remember the shop well, I think it was in Drury lane. I used to visit it a lot when I was at college and also enjoyed chatting to him about his famous customers. When the shop closed the old man moved into a corner of Corneilisons and sold his nibs from there. Corneilisons is a wonderful art shop near the British museum, it sells anything from nibs to raw pigment. It’s definitely worth a visit.

16 11 2009

I’ve just googled it and the shop was called His Nibs, there are a few more details about it on the site below. Thanks for reminding me about it Hans.

17 11 2009

hi hans,

i don’t know if it’s the same but before i read your post, i used to call them speedball pens. as in from the book of speedball lettering – i only first encountered it in my lettering class…

my problem here is that every time the nib touches the surface of the paper it gives me the same irritating feeling like someone is scratching the surface of the blackboard.

does anyone have the same problem or is it just me? how do i overcome it then? could you please do more post on how to properly use a nib pen?

please do forgive me if the comment sound ignorant, but i am very much willing to learn how to use this nibs…

thank you very much!

10 11 2010
Rafa Garres

The question is that there´s many diferent nib models,each model
is designed to draw over a diferent kind of papper or surface.The big rounded point ones are perfect for big grain watercolor pappers and the more sharpe point are designed for soft-satin papers like Marca mayor,Shoellerhammer,or Thanders.
If the rrrrough sound of the nib disturb you (it hapen to me too),you can change to a less sharp nib or use a more soft papper.

18 11 2009
Uli Meyer

Hi Hans,
Ronald send me a box of nibs he has been using for his board work. They are French school mapping nibs called Atome, very flexible and cheap. Unfortunately the ones you can buy today are a cheapened down version and nowhere near as good.
Which Nib did Philip Poole tell you Ronald Searle was using back in the UK?

from hans –
that’s 20 years ago. and I have ’em all in one box.
I need to check the names. besides that it never
really happened, what I imagined – that with the
famous nibs I became a magic superstar. now I
take care of them most of the time to sort out the
rusty ones, you can imagine in the climate over
here. but what do I complain, I get rusty as well…

10 11 2010
Rafa Garres

Hey Hans.
I also have some story like yours,it happens when you love your work and you are in a permanent state of “research”.
I lattelly been trying to draw with sharp markers again instead pen nibs,but there´s nothing like a nib flying over a satin paper.
If you know how to handle the nib,you can ink faster than the marker,also the ink is permanent,and you can color over it, and also nib inking art take the artist´s personality.
Some of my best drawings was done with nibs.
…and thanks again to share all that useful knowledge.

6 04 2011

Greetings from Funchal. I was fascinated to read this account of your visit here.

I am pleased to tell you that Funchal has improved a great deal since your visit here in 1985. I can’t think what shop it was that you visited 25 years ago. You don’t say, but back when you visited, did the plane have to make the short hop to nearby Porto santo to fuel up before proceeding with its journey? I can’t remember the exact date that the first runway expansion at Santa Catarina Airport took place.

Anyway, today, Madeira’s capital is a hub of innovation and at the forefront of a thriving tourist industry. However, if I ever come across a few old nibs in one of our older shops, I’ll let you know.

from hans –
in those ancient days madeira as part of portugal was not member of the EU yet, what probably changed the economic situation. I just hope that it did not destroy the charme that I experienced and what I tried to write about.

7 04 2011

Well Funchal has got more commercially orientated over the years. However, you do not have to travel very far from the city to reach places that still retain their traditional charm.

If you want to relive some of Madeira’s bygone charm put “Madeira Grandfather” into the search box on YouTube. There is a great home movie there which was shot in 1955. It is not mine, but these images of the past fascinate me.

4 05 2012
Roy Siggins

I have a lovely William Mitchell’s pen and nib display case which Mr Poole wished to buy from me in the early 70’s. He regularly sent me Christmas cards always hoping to buy my display which I still have.
Roy Siggins

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