Pen Shapes: A Proposed Glossary

Naming Pen Shapes

Steel pens come in many different shapes. There is no single source for “official” names for the various shapes. Some names are explicitly given by manufacturers and seem to be standard, like the Falcon and the Shoulder pen, but most are not explicit and almost none are consistent.

American pens also tended to come in fewer shapes than you find in Europe. Even that limited range of shapes was narrowed down by the turn of the century.  After WWI, when manufacturers were required to reduce their product lines to only a few pens, even fewer different shapes were brought back after the war. By the 1920’s the number of pen shapes generally made in the United States was greatly reduced.

As part of my capturing an inventory of my collection of pens, I have gathered together a list of shapes and descriptions that are useful to me. The names come from either standard names used in the industry, my attempt at a descriptive name, or it is named after a standard pen that seem to exemplify this shape, such as the Inflexible or the Colorado.

These tend to be rather broad categories. Many of these shapes have various sub-types under them. The most common shape, the Straight pen, can be found in variations such as the wide and shallow, the long and thin, the short and delicate, and others. Pinched Spoon pens, as well, tend to have quite a range of shapes to the pinched transition section between heel and body. Some are smooth, others faceted or decorated in one way or another, but all share the same, basic shape.

Other shapes are differentiated by degrees of one characteristic or another. The three stubs, short, medium and long, merely designate the three general sizes of straight-boded stub pens. These three designations work because manufacturers tended to make all of their straight-bodied stubs in one of these three sizes. Beaked pens and Bank pens are pretty closely related and only differ in the ratio of tines to body.

This is neither an exhaustive nor authoritative list, but one that I’ve put together to try and give names to the shapes of my pens. I’m sure as I progress in my detailed cataloging I will add to, or tweak this list. As flawed as it is, right now this is the best (and only) list I’ve found out there that tries to describe and standardize the main shapes of steel pens.

I’m sure that some disagree with some of my names and even my categorization. I’m also sure I’ll find examples that either don’t fit or are in between one or another shapes. That’s OK. This is a work in progress and I will be adding to, and modifying this list as I go along. It’s also far too limited for the wildly divergent shapes you find in England, France, Italy and German manufacturers. Should my collection begin to really to expand into those areas, I will have to expand my list of shapes.

If you find a shape that is specifically mentioned in a source and I call it something else, let me know and share the source. I may incorporate it or even revise my name. If you’d like to add to this list, especially for those pens not normally made in the US, feel free to let me know.

Pen Nomenclature.

I introduced the anatomy of a steel pen in more detail in another post, but I think it’s worthwhile including the annotated picture from that post here as well.

Anatomy-of-a-pen

The descriptions of the shapes rely heavily on several main parts to the pen. There is the Heel, the Body and the Shoulders. This diagram does not include a transition section that some shapes have between the heel and the body. These transitions generally narrow between the heel and the body, but some, like the Crown shape actually increase in width.

When I talk about “up” or “down” assume the pen is placed vertically with the heel pointing down and the tip pointing up. The “line” or “axis” of the pen is the imaginary line drawn from the bottom of the heel to tip of the tines.

Shapes

(thank you to The Esterbrook Project for use of many of their images)

Albata

Normal heel, large, embossed design, generally floral, leading to a long, tapering body.

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Esterbrook #11 Albata
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American Steel Pen, Albata Pen

Bank

A long, straight pen with longer tines than normal, but not as long as a Beaked pen.  Though the Bank pen is sometimes classified as a Beaked pen, I think there’s enough of a difference between the very common “Bank” pen shape and the longer tines of the rest of the beaked pens that I call out the Bank as a separate shape.

ESTERBROOK-14
Esterbrook #14 Bank Pen

Barrel

Pen where the heel is a complete tube and the body of the pen is shaped as normal. The body can come in various forms.

individual-wm-mitchell-pen.jpg
William Mitchell “N” pen

Beaked

Generally a straight bodied pen with extra-long tines. Tines are much longer in relation to the body than even Bank pens.

ESTERBROOK 98 CORRESPONDENCE PEN 1883 img
Esterbrook #98 Correspondence (1883 catalog image)
ESTERBROOK-343-RED-INK-PEN
Esterbrook #343 Red Ink Pen. All Red Ink and Laundry Pens are beaked.

Colorado

Similar to a taper shape, but very shoulder-heavy, and a flat profile, as seen on the various Colorado pens from Esterbrook and others.

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Warrington &  Co’s Colorado
ESTERBROOK-2-COLORADO
Esterbrook #2 Colorado

Crow Quill

Same shape as a Barrel Pen but much smaller, thinner and a much finer point.

ESTERBROOK-63
Esterbrook #63 Lithographic

Crown

Normal heel that transitions into a series of strips connecting the heel to the body of the pen. These strips are bent outwards in a rounded shape to make a sort of basket that resembles a crown.

Perry-Crown-Shape.jpg
A Perry 120 EF

Source

1876 Esterbrook 224 Grecian
Esterbrook #224 Grecian

Double Elastic

A straight-bodied pen with notches cut out of the edges just below the shoulders.

Esterbrook-135-Double-Elast
Esterbrook #135 Double Elastic

Double Line

A pen that draws two lines simultaneously. There are two sets of tines.

ESTERBROOK-344
Esterbrook #344 Double Line Ruling Pen

Double Spring

A straight-bodied pen with a cut-out across the body of the pen perpendicular to the line of the pen.

Esterbrook-129-Double-Sprin
Esterbrook #129 Double Spring

Elbow Oblique

An oblique pen shaped like a straight-sided pen that has been bent into an oblique, zig-zag shape.

ESTERBROOK-345-ELBOW-PEN
Esterbrook #345 Elbow Pen

Falcon

Normal heel, then flared transition with embossed “shoulders” “cut-out” sides moving up to a shoulder and taper to longer tines.

falcon_sizes
Three different sized Falcons

Falcon Stub

A stub pen in the shape of a Falcon pen.

ESTERBROOK-442
Esterbrook #442 Falcon Stub

Flat Leaf

Leaf-shaped pen but the body of the pen is flattened rather than rounded. There may or may not be a transition section between heel and body. Probably the best known pen of this shape is the Waverley Pen by Macniven and Cameron.

Waverley
Macniven and Cameron Waverley Pen

Flat Spear

Similar to a spear, but the top of the body is flattened and sometimes curved.

ESTERBROOK 205 SPEAR POINT
Esterbrook #205 Spear Point, 1883 catalog
ESTERBROOK 672 TRANSMITTER PEN 1941 image
Esterbrook #672 Transmitter Pen

Index

Shaped like a pointing index finger.

1870s Esterbrook 99 Ladies Pen Salesman Card 1
Esterbrook #99 Ladies Index Pen. Image courtesy of collection of David Nishimura

Inflexible

Related to a pinched spoon, but with a distinctive sharp dip and ridge as seen in the Esterbrook Inflexible pen, and others.

ESTERBROOK-322
Esterbrook #322 Inflexible
ESTERBROOK-531-FLYER
Esterbrook #531 Flyer (Inflexible but with turned-up tip)

Leaf

Similar to a spoon, but the body is bottom heavy with a deep curve at the bottom but quickly narrowing at the top. The body has a rounded profile.

ESTERBROOK-256
Esterbrook #256 Tecumseh

Long stub

A longer , straight-bodied stub.

ESTERBROOK-312
Esterbrook #312 Judge’s Quill

Medium Stub

A medium-length straight stub.

ESTERBROOK-314
Esterbrook #314 Relief

Oblique

An oblique pen in the general shape of the original Mordant patent. The body is broad and generally leaf-shaped with a generous swell near the heel and tapering to a point quickly.

Warrington and Co oblique from David Berlin
Warrington & Co. Oblique
01 spencerian pen
Piquette Oblique gold nib

 

Pinched Center

A normal heel, then the beginning of the body is pinched in and down to make a center ridge that extends up to the main body, which is generally smaller and then tapered or rounded towards the tip.

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Washington Medallion Pen
1870s Esterbrook 54 Superb Salesman Card 1
Esterbrook #54 Superb

Pinched Spoon

A spoon pen with a transition section between the heel and the body of the pen. This transition can be smooth, faceted or even decorated.

ESTERBROOK-717-FEDERAL-PEN
Esterbrook #717 Federal Pen

Round

Normal heel, round body with small, triangular point sticking out

Esterbrook-341-Reservoir-St
Esterbrook #341 Reservoir Stub

Ruling Pen

Folded sheet of steel or brass to create a v-shaped profile.

Gisburne ruling pens
Esterbrook Gisburne Ruling Pen #2

School

A straight-bodied pen with a small raised line perpendicular to the line of the pen, generally right above the imprint and before the hole. Almost all of these shape pens are called “School” pens. The Gillott 404 is one of the most famous.

Esterbrook-444-School-Pen
Esterbrook #444 School Pen

Shield

Normal heel, often there’s a transition section, then a slight, straight widening that ends in a wider shoulder. The key is that the widening from transition to shoulder is straight, not curved.

1876 Esterbrook 201 Favorite
Esterbrook #201 Favorite Pen
Esterbrook-202-Multicopy
Esterbrook #202 Multicopy. An elongated version of the 201.

Short stub

Stub pen with a shorter, straight body

ESTERBROOK-239
Esterbrook #239 Chancellor

Shoulder

Normal heel then an abrupt, sharp, 90 or near-90-degree transition to create a wider, deeper, straight body to the shoulders. These are usually long pens.

Esterbrook-9-Commercial
Esterbrook #9 Commercial.

Spear

Normal heel, very narrow and long body coming to a sharp point with no shoulders. There may be a transition section between heel and body, but it stays within a narrow profile.

Plume_Sergent-Major_spear
Blanzy  #2500 Sergent Major

Spoon

Wide at the bottom of the body, gentle and smooth narrowing to the tip. Abrupt transition from heel to widest part of the body.

ESTERBROOK-788
Esterbrook #788

Straight

Straight sides and even width along the length from heel to shoulders.

ESTERBROOK-556-PEN
Esterbrook #556 Pen

Taper

Straight-sided pen narrow at the heel and wide at the shoulders. The taper is straight from heel to shoulder.

Esterbrook-702-Modified-Sla
Esterbrook #702 Modified Slant

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