Safety Dance

This post is about the joining in writing bliss of two orphaned items: A nib and a pen. It’s always heartwarming to bring about such a lovely union and in this case worthy of a few words since both parties are quite interesting. Let’s look at their backgrounds briefly (just to be sure no one is a gold digger) and then see if they function happily ever after.

Our suitor is a “safety pen” which came about as an odd answer to the question of how to keep a fountain pen from leaking. These pens showed up at the end of the 19th century and gained a niche that kept them on sale through the middle of the next one.. The best known early maker of Safety Pens was Moore who introduced a model in 1899 heralded as the “non-leakable” pen. Why didn’t these pens leak? Well, basically it’s an ink bottle with a nib. The ink is held in the barrel and a short cap screws tightly down on a lip at the end of that which is open. Where is the nib and feed you ask? When not in use they are hiding down in the barrel. The Moore accomplished this by using a sleeve you pushed to extend the nib out of the end like a turtle’s head popping out to see if the coast is clear. You pull it back to retract the nib into the barrel and then you cap it up tight which makes this a marvel of hermetically sealed safety.

Sometime around 1908 the design most people think of when they hear “safety pen” was introduced by Waterman. The difference here was that these functioned in a fancier way. To extend the nib and feed a knob at the end is twisted and that magically extends the writing point out and into action. The principle was pretty simple and effective: A pin set at the base of the rod that holds the nib and feed extends sideways into a hollow spiral attached to a knob. Due to a restriction in the pin’s axial motion it travels up and down when the knob is turned. This simple method was copied by other manufacturers and became the de facto construction for a safety pen.

A safety pen taken mostly apart.


Our inky groom happens to be a Waterman safety likely from the 1930s.. This is the late version of the pen which is more from the art deco era than the earlier models most people come in contact with. The interesting military style clip and the smooth sides make it a most modern looking safety but under the skin it’s still the same pen that was made for years prior.

The better half of this marriage is what the safety pen will hold to write: A music nib. I’ve certainly written about music nibs before (or at least my poor memory twinges me in such a way as to make me think that’s a possibility) so my description will be brief. A music nib is the unforgettable Cerberus of the pen world and like that mythic figure it has parts that seem too plentiful. Specifically I refer to the tines where three are in residence instead of the usual two. If you want to know why just take a moment to recognize the use this nib it put to (hint: read the name again). Musical notation has some thin and very thick lines so writing them requires quite a bit of stroke contrast and the ink flow to go along with it. Two ink channels going to a chisel tip can keep ink flowing during those big bold bits.

The formerly single music nib which accepted the proposal to join this pen is the Waterman #5 above. It is hard to date but possibly from the 1940s. It’s a lovely nib with flexibility which makes it a great joy to use.

So now that we know the couple in this pen story we wonder how they function together since blind dates don’t always work out. The deeply channeled feed on this pen supplies a great deal of writing fluid to the nib which is fine with it. Lines go from thin to extra bold in an instant. The ink is liberally doled out so this is a pen you need to blot a lot when using. As you can see in the writing sample you really can have some fun utilizing it and together they make a great team. Indeed a pair for the ages.

Writing sample of the music nib.


  1. June 1, 2011, 12:04 pm

    That is so cool! πŸ˜€

    1. TAO
      June 5, 2011, 6:37 am

      Happy you thought so!

  2. June 1, 2011, 12:41 pm

    Okay now that is cool. πŸ™‚

    1. TAO
      June 5, 2011, 6:36 am

      I think it’s cool but then again I’m a bit odd. Thanks for the comment.

  3. June 1, 2011, 12:43 pm

    I love this post, very poetic and what a wonderful pen!

    1. TAO
      June 5, 2011, 6:36 am

      I thought the post was a bit strained but happy you enjoyed it.

  4. June 1, 2011, 1:11 pm

    I’m so entranced by this!

    1. TAO
      June 5, 2011, 6:35 am

      I hope you broke out of the trance finally. Glad you liked it.

  5. June 5, 2011, 5:59 am

    You have the coolest pens! I didn’t know Waterman did music nibs πŸ™‚

    1. TAO
      June 5, 2011, 6:35 am

      Well, it is a cool pen but not mine. I was fixing it for Leigh and my price is a blog post about it.

  6. Raphael
    August 16, 2011, 12:44 am

    Tom, that is one cool pen πŸ™‚
    That is a pair made in heaven πŸ™‚