About Dip Pens & Ink Quills

Dip Pens

Dip pens are unique since they do not have a supply of ink. Therefore, writers must dip the pen into an ink container to write. Often, the device will contain a metal nib that has a duct channel to hold the ink, which attaches to a handle built from materials such as wood, plastic, bone or metal. Modern dip pens sometimes feature a small cylindrical ink supply that the owner will clip onto the pen's body.

Pen collectors will enjoy having a dip writing utensil in their display since the item offers several benefits over fountain pens. For instance, writers can use waterproof-pigmented ink, which would cause problems with a fountain pen because the ink clogs and corrodes them. When writers use dip pens, they also benefit from the wide range of nibs as the variety allows them to make unique effects and lines. Dip pen nibs are typically more affordable than the devices needed for other types of vintage pens, and they offer more color choices.


According to archaeological data, the first steel pen made its appearance in 1803 and became popular in England's Jewellery Quarter and around Birmingham. However, there is some debate regarding the origination date since dip pens are mentioned in a book called "A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain" by Daniel Defoe. He wrote the book from 1724 to 1726.

During 1822, John Mitchell was the first inventor to mass-produce steel pens. His brother, William, also began a pen business, and as a result, England became the first country to manufacture dip pens. The Mitchell family invented machines to cut the nibs, and with their invention, they were able to make the pens faster.

Other early English pen producers were Baker and Finnemore, who made their pens on James Street, and Joseph Gillott and Sons with their pen nib operation on Bread Street. Once the year 1830 arrived, the main Birmingham pen producers were the Mitchell brothers along with Joseph Gillott. During the 1840s, Germany entered the dip pen market when Heintze and Blanckertz built their production plant in Berlin. However, by the 1850s, Birmingham was widely considered the steel pen and nib world center.

The industry hired thousands of talented artisans to build dip pens, which resulted in a number of the Birmingham factories refining the pen construction process. With the writing device's efficient production, the companies were able to sell dip pens at affordable prices. Merchants all over the world ordered the pens. Therefore, the writing implements inspired literacy and education. During the 1860s, an estimated 100 companies were producing steel nibs. However, 12 large organizations lead the industry including Esterbrook, Spencerian and Holland. In 1870, Perry, Mason, Wiley and Sommerville combined their businesses to create one of the largest pen producers in the world, which was Perry and Company Ltd. Today, collectors can add a number of classic dip pens to their display.

John Holland

John Holland was born in Ireland during 1839. He immigrated to the United States with his family in 1848 and began working with George Sheppard who created gold pens. By the 1860s, Holland was making his own pens. Today, his writing devices are highly collectible. For instance, the addition of a mother of pearl dip pen will add diversity to a collection. The device is approximately 4.75 inches long and features the John Holland brand on the tip.

Another collectible John Holland writing utensil is the gold-filled dip pen and pencil set. Fortunate collectors may even locate the combination in its box. Pen collectors can identify the device by the pen's tip flexible nib, which has the Holland logo embossed on its side.

Edward Todd

Edward Todd began his career as a New York City dip pen manufacturer. Later, the inventor expanded into high quality lever fill fountain pens along with eyedropper fill devices. Collectors can locate Todd dip pens on today's market. For instance, the retractable Todd pen will add a unique display piece to any collection. The pen is 6 1/8 inches long when extended and retracts to 3-1/4 inches. Collectors will recognize it by the gold body and ebony shaft. In addition, the middle section features the Edward Todd and Company NY label.

Pen collectors may also locate Todd devices from the 1850s. The creator's early writing implements are ornate and eye-catching. For instance, collectors will find 14K gold Edward Todd and Company pens with a sliding element. The pen's length is 5 5/8 inches when it's extended, and the body features stylish engravings of flowers and scrolls.

Another Edward Todd and Company dip pen for collectors to acquire is the 6 5/8-inch long unit with a retractable ebony shaft. The writing implement features the company logo embossed on the nib base while the body section is black.


Richard Esterbrook was born in England during 1812, and in 1856, he decided to immigrate to the United States to set up his pen factory. By 1858, The Steel Pen Manufacturing Company had begun production. Later, he changed the company's name to The Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company. Esterbrook pens were popular due to their durable construction and versatility, and as a result, collectors can add them to their display.

If collectors decide to procure a classic Esterbrook steel pen, then they'll find items like the 048 Falcon model available for purchase. The pen's design is simple, and collectors will recognize it from the embossed label near the end.

Esterbrook continued to produce dip pens during the 1950s, and when collectors decide to add a pen from the era to their display, they will have a historical piece as the style was popular for signing events. The body section features an Esterbrook 9668 Made in U.S.A. stamp, and the nib has the company name embossed in the center. The outer tube container is black while the nib is steel.

Spencerian Pen Company

In 1858, the Spencerian Steel Pen Company was originated as an affiliate of the Ivison Phinney Publishing Company. In the early days, Spencerian purchased nibs for its pens from English factories because the company did not produce the piece. Therefore, a vintage Spencerian dip pen may feature a classic English nib. The writing implements became popular in the United States due to the Spencerian writing course. When collectors begin searching for a Spencerian pen, they should look for devices with the Conklin label as they include high quality construction.

With a vintage Spencerian pen, collectors will have a small unit that measures about 1 5/8 inches long. They are made from steel and may list a model number.

Collectors will complete their pen display by acquiring several dip pens. Furthermore, they will expand their writing style while adding a device that will help them create unique art.