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.
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.
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.
(thank you to The Esterbrook Project for use of many of their images)
Normal heel, large, embossed design, generally floral, leading to a long, tapering body.
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.
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.
Generally a straight bodied pen with extra-long tines. Tines are much longer in relation to the body than even Bank pens.
Similar to a taper shape, but very shoulder-heavy, and a flat profile, as seen on the various Colorado pens from Esterbrook and others.
Same shape as a Barrel Pen but much smaller, thinner and a much finer point.
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.
A straight-bodied pen with notches cut out of the edges just below the shoulders.
A pen that draws two lines simultaneously. There are two sets of tines.
A straight-bodied pen with a cut-out across the body of the pen perpendicular to the line of the pen.
Normal heel, then flared transition with embossed “shoulders” “cut-out” sides moving up to a shoulder and taper to longer tines.
A stub pen in the shape of a Falcon pen.
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.
Similar to a spear, but the top of the body is flattened and sometimes curved.
Shaped like a pointing index finger.
Related to a pinched spoon, but with a distinctive sharp dip and ridge as seen in the Esterbrook Inflexible pen, and others.
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.
A longer , straight-bodied stub.
A medium-length straight stub.
Oblique pens different from regular pens in that they move the angle of writing away from the angle of the pen. There are at least four different ways of accomplishing this with the pen nib alone. You can also use a special oblique holder that holds a normal pen at this oblique angle.
An oblique pen shaped like a straight-sided pen that has been bent into an oblique, zig-zag shape.
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.
Similar to a Mordant or Elbow Oblique in that the body of the pen is bent towards the oblique angle. But unlike the other two, a separate body shape begins after the bend.
Similar to the other oblique pens, the purpose of this pen shape is to point the tips toward the right degree of slant even if the hand is pointed to a steeper angle. Unlike the other two forms of Oblique pen, this only points the tips, rather than the body of the pen.
Examples of the four types of Oblique Pen
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.
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.
Normal heel, round body with small, triangular point sticking out
Folded sheet of steel or brass to create a v-shaped profile.
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.
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.
Stub pen with a shorter, straight body
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.
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.
Wide at the bottom of the body, gentle and smooth narrowing to the tip. Abrupt transition from heel to widest part of the body.
Straight sides and even width along the length from heel to shoulders.
Straight-sided pen narrow at the heel and wide at the shoulders. The taper is straight from heel to shoulder.