Pen Nibs and Quink

Today I’m delighted to be handing the blog over to Rachel Atkinson. Rachel’s love of stationery is well known, and I hold her fully responsible for my addiction to Blackwing pencils.
Here’s Rachel.
Defining characteristics of my Grandad are his days as a pipe smoker, checking the pools coupon on a Saturday evening, tending his allotment and veg patch (see also, over-pruning trees), being a proud ex-fireman and indeed a proud Yorkshireman, and then his handwriting.


RA red tin (2)


Grandad dabbled in drawing, painting and watercolours, but his true love has always been calligraphy. Having trained and worked briefly as a sign-writer, he is always careful how he writes everything; Shopping lists are printed in a clear capital letter type, Grandma would write me a letter and hand the envelope to Grandad for him to address with his immediately identifiable script, and birthday cards bear his signature ‘everyday’ handwriting—occasionally Grandma would add her own name at the bottom if he remembered to leave room for her!


RA pens (2)


Always one for picking up interesting bits and pieces of ephemera, Grandad is a stationery magpie and I suspect partly to blame for my ‘habit’. He and Grandma were always very careful with money and wouldn’t spend willy-nilly on unnecessary fripperies, so everything he bought will have been for a specific purpose but that doesn’t mean he only had one of everything.


RA ruler (2)


Realistically, you only need half a dozen pieces of equipment for calligraphy; A pen, nibs, ink, paper, pencil and a ruler, but looking through the box of stationery it became obvious that within each of these categories Grandad saw a multitude of options…


If you buy a pen what type of barrel should it have and do you need different ones for different purpose?

Will the length of the barrel affect your writing?

Will that be a positive or negative outcome?

Better get both and see.


Nibs. Where to start?

What type of type do you want to produce?

Surely you need different nibs for different moods?

Serif or sans-serif, that is the question.


You are going to need ink in every colour and at least one pot of each and half a dozen in black.


Paper is expensive. Instead of buying paper pick it up wherever you go and ask friends and relatives for offcuts and leftovers. Before you know it you will have enough to build something as tall as Nelson’s Column.

However, picking up an artists pad at the discount bookshop every once in a blue moon won’t hurt. File it with the others you have only used the first four pages of and whilst you’re there, better take another notebook just in case.


Pencils. Just buy all the pencils.


Wooden or plastic ruler?

Plastic or wooden?

Technical or the bog-standard everyday variety?

Better throw in a few setsquares for good measure and some of the other random mathematical instruments you get in those back to school packs.


RA nibs (2)


Late last year when Joy invited me to write a guest post for Stationery Week, we had just finished moving Grandad out of his bungalow into a home as his dementia meant he needed 24-hour specialist care. Mum gave me a box filled with all his stationery and said she thought I might like to have it.


Sadly, as Stationery Week approached, Grandad took a turn for the worse and we are in the process of saying our goodbyes to him.


I don’t want this to be a sad post. I want it to be about the individual characteristics that define those who pass through our lives, and how everyday objects can say so much about someone. Maybe it seems a little strange to some that a pen-nib or bottle of Quink can immediately make you think of a loved one, but that is because to me at least, it represents an intrinsic part of Grandad’s character and the small things that connect us—simple reminders of those we love.


RA quink (2)

All images and text © Rachel Atkinson and used here with permission.



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5 Responses to Pen Nibs and Quink

  1. Tig says:

    My father died over five years ago now (he had dementia too) and if I come across his handwriting unexpectedly it still moves me to tears. Funny how evocative these things are.

  2. Jackie says:

    Perhaps it’s a generation thing, but my mother always wrote with a fountain pen (except for the crossword, as the paper soaks up ink). And at school, teachers handed back my mum’s notes to explain why I was off, as I was the only person who could read her rather unique handwriting.

    But as soon as I saw the Quink, I smiled! I’d found a massive open bottle in the stationery cupboard in my first job, and as it was thought no-one had asked for ink for at least 25 years, I was allowed to take it home to my mum. It was still in the cupboard when we emptied the house, the level had gone down considerably, but there was still half a bottle, probably 40 or 50 years old at that point.

    So thanks for those memories, and, you know, your grand-dad will always be around in your heart, and you will think of him often…..

    much love xx

  3. My dad used to use enamel paint to write on all his tins of “truck” which he kept in his garage and numerous sheds…nails, nuts, botls, screws…..his handwriting was really simple, no fancy flourishes just very clean. I don’t think I’ve got an example now of his writing (mum used to write birthday cards with both their names) but when I think of how it looked, those tins are the first things I think of.
    Reading this bought back some memories of my dad I’d forgotten all about, how small and tidy his handwritng was (he was a proper tall ‘un being well over 6ft 3 and it amazed me this great big man would write so wee) and how he’d really lean over the paper to write up business things….thank you for helping me remember these little things.
    I’m really very sorry to hear about your grand-dad x

  4. Seraphima Cyranek says:

    Sorry to hear about your grand-day, Rachel. He sounds like he had such a beautiful, special place in your life. I loved your article. All the best to you.

  5. Pingback: pen nibs and quink

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