I received a question about stub tip steel pens. A stub tip is broader across than a pointed pen. They come in a variety of widths, sharpness of corners, and a few are even flexible. Which one you need depends on what you’re wanting to do: italic writing, regular rapid writing, ornamental engrossing, etc…
The stub pointed pen was developed fairly early in the history of steel pens as an alternative to the sharp, pointed pen for people who wrote a great deal, and needed to write more quickly, with less effort.* A pointed pen, especially a flexible one, requires a lot of small movements up and down off the paper, even if it’s not terribly flexible, in addition to the two dimensions across the paper. This is because pointed pens require heavier and lighter touches depending on if you’re writing a down or upstroke. Upstrokes need to have a very light touch to prevent the tip from catching on the paper.
Stub pens were advertised as a true replacement for the smooth writing quill pens. Most quills were not cut to a sharp point, but had a slight cross-cut made to the very tip. The steel stub pen mimics this cut.
Italic or engrossing stubs differ from their rapid-writing cousins by the sharpness of their corners. The corner of the tip, affects both the smoothness of the writing, and the crispness of the line. For decorative writing, “engrossing” in the older terminology, you need a sharper corner to make a clean and thin line.
For rapid and easy writing, you need a smoother, more rounded corner. This is one less thing to get caught in fast upstrokes and side strokes. The line also tends to be less crisp.
Mostly, stubs come in three sizes of nib: small, medium and long. This is not related to the size of the tip (fine, medium and broad), but to the size of the nib. And then there are the falcon stubs. (like the 442 Jackson stub)
From Esterbrook alone, I would recommend the 314 Relief Pen (“It’s a Relief to write with”). This nib was so popular that when Esterbrook first started experimenting with fountain pens (made by Wirt, De La Rue, and eventually Conway Stewart), out of all of the nibs they made, they chose the 314 Relief to be the nib. (before the interchangeable Renew-point nibs)
Or the Esterbrook 239 Chancellors. This is a smaller sized stub that’s a lot of fun to write with. Very smooth and a long-time top seller as well.
Or if you’re looking for a broader nib, the 313 Probate. Shelby Foote wrote his 3000+ page opus on the American Civil War using this pen. It’s what they used to call a “coarse” but we today call “broad” stub.
For a finer stub, the 312 Judge’s quill, though I find the 239 and 314 much nicer to write with.
Hunt made a very nice small size stub, almost identical to the 239, called the 62 (X-62 silverine model). I have a bunch of those and they are quite smooth and a lot of fun to use.
For the medium size (length) stubs, I’m also fond of the Spencerian Society Stubs, which come up periodically on eBay. They’re flashy with their gold coating, and very high quality, as you expect from Spencerian nibs.
Spencerian also made a very nice falcon stub called the Subway Stub that’s almost as good as the Jackson.
And no discussion of stubs would be complete without mentioning the extraordinary Spencerian 28 Congressional. A medium-broad long stub pen, but what makes it so amazing is that it’s a fully flexible stub. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and not necessarily practical for everyday writing, but soooo much fun to write with.
There are literally hundreds of styles, but these are some which are more commonly run across in online auctions and other sources of vintage stub dip pens. And perhaps honorable mention should also go to the less common, but very fun, Esterbrook 284 Blackstone stub. A very broad “signature stub” in a striking black coating.
Writing with a dip stub is different than writing with a fountain pen stub nib. The best way to write, which gives you the best results is to change the orientation of the nib and paper so that the broad edge of the stub is parallel to the line of writing.
When writing with an italic nib, to write italic style letters, you hold the nib at about a 45-degree angle to the line of writing. Here’s a cheesy ASCII representation of the nib to the line
With a dip stub, when you’re writing regular (i.e. cursive, not Italic) script, keep the nib parallel to the line of writing. This usually requires you to turn the page a bit, and keep your arms in towards your body.
Here’s a comparison between a stub nib (Hunt x-62) on the left, and a pointed pen (Eagle E840 Modern Writing) on the right. The stub was held parallel to the line of writing.
The Story of the Esterbrook #442 Jackson Stub.
And as a historical side note (I can’t help myself sometimes), the introduction of Esterbrook’s famous 442 Jackson Stub has some little bit of drama around it.
In 1886, a small, but quality producer of steel pens in Philadelphia, Leon Isaacs, develops and trademarks a pen called the #12 Falcon Stub. Isaacs was very careful about trademarking his designs and branding, and in this case he trademarked both the terms “Falcon Stub” as well as “Stub Falcon.”
Here’s an ad from early in 1887 that shows the #12.
In 1889, just a few years later, Leon Isaacs & Co. had a bit of a rough patch.
First, in July, Leon Isaacs’ long-time partner, Michael Voorsanger, lost his grown son, who at 23 seemed destined for success, but was struck down in minutes by a mysterious hemorrhage. Michael was on the road on business and rushed home and was reported as “very sick from the shock.”
Just a few months later, in September, Leon Isaacs himself died. Voorsanger, along with two of Leon’s sons: Alexander Leon Isaacs, and Judah Leon Isaacs took over the business. (Judah would later found J. L. Isaacs pens in New York City)
And then in late October, Esterbrook, the 800-pound gorilla in the industry, makes the following announcement which, while not outright saying so, implies that they saw a need and invented a new pen to fill it.
October 31, 1889 “American Stationer”
“The ‘Jackson’ Stub Pen
The “Falcon” is undoubtedly the most popular form of fine pointed steel pen ever put on the market. There has been a steady call for a pen of similar style, but with a stub point. In response to this the Esterbrook Pen Company has just put on the market a pen filling these requirements. This new pen is known as the “Jackson Stub,” and an illustration of it is presented herewith. The pen has a smooth, easy action, and possesses qualities which will commend it to those who wish a thoroughly effective pen for rapid writing.
And then ran an ad featuring the new pen.
In December, the new management of Leon Isaacs & Co. won’t let that lie. They come out with a new version of their advertisement which now highlights their falcon stub and includes the following new text.
The Title “FALCON STUB,” or “STUB FALCON,” is Copyrighted and Registered May 8, 1866, at Patent Office, Washington, D.C., by LEON ISAAC’S & CO
It’s interesting to note, that Esterbrook never uses the term Stub Falcon or Falcon Stub for decades after the introduction of the 442 Jackson Stub. You will find the term used by other companies later, 1930’s or so, but that is long after Leon Isaacs & Co was sold to Turner & Harrison, and long after any kind of trademark would have expired.
A small victory for a company who had a very, very bad year in 1889.
*I’ve encountered this explanation for stub pens in several places. One was contained in the history of turned-up points as explained by Esterbrook in The American Stationer in 12 February 1889, p. 331
Turned Up Point Pens
The first steel pens made in Birmingham about the year 1837, while providing a ready made instrument for penmen, failed to give that ease in writing which was the characteristic of the old quill. They were uniformly fine pointed and naturally more or less scratchy. The remedy for this was not found until a generation later, when the demand for an easier writing pen because imperative. Manufacturers began to make them with blunt and broad points.
In 1871 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company made its first stub pen, No. 161, and now the company has as many as eighteen numbers of stub pens on its catalogue. This did not completely satisfy the demands until the happy idea occurred to turn up the points. This rendered the evolution of the pen complete.
In 1876 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company produced its 1876 Telegraphic, followed shortly after by No. 256 Tecumseh, and No. 309 Choctaw. At the special request of many the Falcon pen was made in this style. Another pen has now been added to the list, and is known as No. 477 Postal. This is a size larger than the Choctaw, with finer points.
The perfect ease afforded by these pens contributes one of the most valuable luxuries provided for writers at this end of the century. The penman can write longer with less fatigue than with the ordinary styles. The tediousness of writing is almost entirely avoided, and the relief is so complete that it converts a drudgery into a delight and a pain into a pleasure, and anyone who has taken up one of these turned up point pens for a companion will never consent to be without it.