Medium nibs; in thrall to the average?
He saw the shadow of the Average Man
Attempting the Exceptional, and ran”
-WH Auden, The Average
What better way to delve into the world of Medium nibs than by reflecting on WH Auden’s great poem The Average… Ok I hadn’t heard of this poem before and just found it on Google after running a quick search for “the ode to the average”, which I was sure would exist, but apparently does not. Auden’s poem is actually about working class aspiration towards the middle class, or as Auden puts it “The Average”. He seems to be both mocking the aspirations of the working classes, but only by also mocking the middle class by posing this question- “who on earth would aspire to be average?”.
Or more importantly, why do most European fountain pen manufacturers make the majority of their nibs in Medium?
Mean, Median, Mode
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the the average is defined as;
“halfway between two extremes”.
This is the Mediun definition of average. One theory is that pen manufacturers plumping for Medium is an attempt to appeal to the broadest number of people by positioning themselves “halfway between two extremes”. In the case of fountain pen nibs, that would most commonly mean halfway between EF and Stub. Lets see, EF, F, M, B, BB…oh shoot, Stub messes it up. Lets just assume that Medium is the Median.
This is where things get confusing. Should the Median even be used to calculate the average in the first place? By average I mean the nib width that most people use. Should it not be the case that Mode should be taken as the average instead. Mode would not simply denote to the middle nib width, but rather the most frequently used nib width. I would suggest that the most frequently used pen (which lets be clear is a ballpoint or biro), is not Medium at all. I can’t say I have ever come across a medium- width biro. Rather the Bic biros I have used in the UK over many decades are all of the fine or extra-fine variety.
Here is a quick breakdown of what I mean;
EF- most people
F- a lot of people
M- Montblanc “serious collectors”
B- they really like smooth nibs
Stub- most fountain pen people
Does my handwriting look messy in this?
Here are a few examples of factory Medium nibs from European fountain pen manufactures.
Unless your someone writing in capitals all the time, I think its extremely difficult to write neatly with round Medium nibs. I think my handwriting is illegible using these nibs.
Here is a complete writing sample list of all my Medium nibs. All samples are written on Hobonichi TR paper using Pilot Iroshizuku’s Tsukushi;
Is it the Paper?
I find round Medium nibs are better suited to European paper such as Rhodia, and look much thinner and more presentable than they do on Japanese TR paper, as per above sample. Unfortunately, having been spoiled by the super smoothness of TR paper, I am now not so keen on Rhodia paper. Is this the real cause of my Medium-nib phobia? Is it the paper?
Japanese Medium is not the Japanese Mode…
Japanese nibs are generally regarded as having much finer nibs of the same designation i.e. Japanese Fine nibs write more like Western extra-fine etc. However, I have found this is not the case with Medium nibs, which can be quite similar to their European cousins.
Here is a close up of those Medium writing samples from Japanese pen manufacturer Sailor.
The Medium nibs on the Sailor Pro Gear Slim and Pro Gear Realo are quite similar to the European samples from Omas and Visconti. However, there is variation, as with the Sailor Pro Gear Morita Mini below which is much finer. Also ink flow plays it’s part, and this Morita Mini was on the dry side…
I believe the real reason why Japanese Mediums tend to write like Western Mediums is because they are trying to appeal to the Western market. It seems that the strong belief that what Westerners really want is a good, round, average nib has taken hold in Asia too. I believe in Asia the most popular nib widths are EF or even UEF (ultra extra fine) or Needlepoint nibs. This is mainly due to how Asian characters are written. If you try and purchase Japan-only store exclusive Sailor fountain pens for examples (via surruptitious means such as a mail forwarding service, or Rakuten), I find EF and even Fine is always sold out. To be fair Fine- Medium is usually available.
Here is a sample of the Fine-Medium nib on my Sailor Pro Gear Apres Ski…
Here are a few bonus pics of the Apre Ski from Sailor’s Cocktail Series…
Unusual clear finial on this one…
21ct two-tone nib…
Ok enough of that.
Is it possible that the seeming-overaturation of Medium nibs in the market is not due to pen manufactures over- manufacturing them, but rather because people are not buying them up, opting for the more extreme nib widths on either side? I wonder about this as if you ever surf around eBay hoping to snag a good deal on the latest and greatest offering from Visconti or Montblanc, it will almost exclusively be offered in Medium width. I have fallen victim of this myself on numerous occasions, being unable to resist some dazzling Omas celluloid or flashy sterling silver baseball bat from Visconti- here’s one…
Close-up of the barrel- why not?
Small Writers Bias
Is it me?
I have naturally small handwriting. Is it possible that the problem I have with factory Medium nibs is actually down to my own tiny cursive script? I find the spaces in my letters tend to close up completely when I use them. I think my small handwriting has been developed having used nothing grander than a cheap Bic biro over the past few decades. I actually still have some of my old notebooks from primary school (how I still have these?), and I notice that my cursive circles were a LOT larger back then. My handwriting generally was also a lot neater.
The kind of fountain pens we used were similar to the cheap Pilot V Pen, but with the barrel covered in some cartoon character. I think frogs were big back then, I assume off the back of Rupert the Bear movie and the famous Paul McCartney Frog Song;
If I recall those cheap fountain pens always had space in the barrel for an extra cartridge. I think Montblanc do this with their Meisterstuck Classic, as well as Boheme. I don’t think we ever used cartridge converters. We would endlessly practise cursive handwriting in primary school. In those days fountain pens were mandatory. It was the 80’s so perhaps Margaret Thatcher was an avid fountain pen user…
Ummm looks like a Pilot Metropolitan- were they even around in the 80’s?
The Collectors choice
Then there is the case of the serious fountain pen collector. I’m thinking here specifically of Montblanc Limited Edition collectors, who pounce on every new release of i.e. the Writers Edition or Patron of the Arts. In the case of the Writers Edition, collectors tend also to grab the whole LE set, namely the fountain pen, ballpoint and pencil (I wonder if anyone has ever used one of these expensive pencils…). I’m sure Omas have their collectors too, but then they have (had!) all those stunning celluloids to stare at for hours on end, fountain pen or Medium nib not withstanding. To be fair if I was loaded I could easily see myself becoming a collector of Montblanc’s Medium-nibbed WE skeleton series fountain pens. That Blue Hour…
A Cut Above; On Medium Stubs (and Italics)
Serious fountain pen people, the kind you come across on pen forums who seem to really know there stuff, tend to sit at the extreme end of the spectrum nib-wise i.e. at BB and beyond. The wetter and less practical the better. You can usually find these types in the Montblanc and Pelikan threads. Then you have those that use their pens everyday at the office, who tend to go for UEF or EF for practicality and I suppose by that I mean legibility.
But is it not possible to have a Medium nib that makes your handwriting legible? Ah yes, the Medium stub.
Whenever I stumble across any discussion of Medium nibs, someone always pipes up to declare the superiority of Medium stubs. I have to say Medium cursive italics and Medium stubs take boring old Medium nibs to the next level.
Here are samples of my Omas Oblique Medium stub, and Franklin Christoph Medium cursive italic…
Hold on, does my handwriting even look neater or more legible here, compared to with my plain ol’ factory Mediums? I suppose that is a matter of debate, but I certainly enjoy using them a whole lot more. Or perhaps I’ll find a better writing sample…
I will end this post with this to ponder; is there a place for Medium nibs in the modern fountain pen world?
Should Fine or even Extra Fine become the new Medium, given they are already the Mode? There is much discussion at present as to the increasing dominance of the Asian fountain brands, particularly the likes of Sailor and Platinum who make the ultra-desirable Nakaya fountain pens. At the same time the last few years has also seen the closure of some beloved European fountain brands such as Omas. Perhaps as a reaction to this I have noticed a pivot in some of the brands in offering more and more exotic nibs. For example Aurora with their flex nib. To be fair Aurora has always had a very comprehensive range of nibs including italic fine and italic stub.
The Aurora point notwithstanding, if the Asian brands are in fact grabbing more and more of the fountain pen market, are we going to see the end of the Medium nib?
In short, if Fine is the real Mode, is Fine the new Medium?