Dip pen is a writing tool that consists of two parts: a metal point - “nib”, and a handle that holds the nib. Metal nib was made of copper and bronze while today it is made of steel. It has a slit that leads the ink from a vent hole to the paper and works by a combination of gravity and capillary action. Handle can be made of plastic, metal, glass and even bone. Dip pen is used for writing and drawing and it does not have its own reservoir for ink. Dip pen is dipped in an ink bottle or inkwell (action from which it got the name) so it could be used. Some people, on the other hand, fill the dip pen with eyedropper or a syringe.
Metal nibs date from Ancient Egypt and a copper nib was found in the ruins of Pompei dating from the year 79. These nibs could not replace reed pens and quills later because of their poor quality.
The Times from 1792 advertised 'New invented' metal pens. A metal pen point was patented in 1803 but nothing came out of it. Bryan Donkin tried to sell his patent for the manufacture of metal pens in 1811 but no one bought it. When the patent expired, in 1822, John Mitchell of Birmingham started to mass-produce steel pen nibs and their popularity took off. After all, they were better that quills that were used at the time (and for centuries). They lasted longer than quills, were built uniformly so you didn’t have to get used to every new cut quill and didn’t require skill to sharpen (because they are not sharpened). Pen nibs were easily made to have different characteristics for different uses. Soon, many other manufacturers of Birmingham opened their shops for making pen nib. By 1860 there were 1000 of them, big and small. In Germany the first dip pens were made in 1842 by Heintze & Blanckertz of Berlin. By the 1850s, half of all dip pens were made in Birmingham. They were cheap and easily produced and became affordable to those that before that could not afford writing tools. This helped the development of education and literacy.
Like we said, nibs are made in different shapes to suit different needs but they mainly made in two styles: broad nibs and pointed nibs. Broad nib, also called broad-edge or chisel-edge, appeared first of the two. It is stiffer nib and has a flat, wider “point”. When writing, user changes the direction of the stroke and with that, thin and thick lines. The pointed nib has a sharp point but it also can give thin and thick strokes. Thick strokes are achieved with stronger pressure on down strokes which spreads “tines” of the nib and leaves more ink on the surface. If nib stands less pressure, tines don’t spread and nib writes thin line. Except for writing, pointed nibs are used by artists and drafters for sketching, mapping and technical drawing.
For writing with dip pens people used various various accessories to make their writing more enjoyable. A leather writing-pad is a surface which allows metal pen to “dive” into paper and “glide” more easily. A rocker-blotter or blotting-paper dried the ink and prevented it from smearing the paper on which it wrote. Inkwell was a container made of glass, porcelain, silver, brass, or pewter that held ink into which dip pen was dipped. It usually had some lid that prevented spillage and contamination of ink. Inkstands hold two inkwells, a place for spare nibs and stands for pens. Some even had a place for a rocker-blotter.