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.
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.
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.
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.
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.