An Abecedarian's First Impressions of Two Seriously Flexy Nibs (or: How I Stepped Into a Bucket of Ink and Called it a Review)
Like so many fountain pen lovers I've always wanted to try my hand at writing with a flexible nib. My first attempt was, of course, with Noodler's Ahab Flex. An experience which I found appalling; we don't use fountain pens just because the output looks better, but also because the experience as a whole is better. I don't see why it has to be any different with a flex nib. No. If I'm getting into flexible nibs I am not wasting time and money on sorry excuses and intermediates. I'm reaching straight for the best... Yes Sir!
It is generally accepted as fact that there is no modern substitute for the vintage flex nib. The closest one can come to superflex, in a modern fountain pen, is a custom job on a Pilot 912 FA (there's also the W-E Decoband, but that's fodder for another ink spill). Now, after close to a hundred fountain pens over the years, I know exactly what I want in a modern fountain pen, I know exactly what to look for and what to avoid. However, I have no clue when it comes to vintage flex fountain pens.
Thw1990 to the Rescue
After asking him for advice, @Thw1990 very generously offered to loan me his Pilot Custom 912 FA with Spencerian* modification and a 1920s vintage Wahl-Eversharp with a #4 Gold Seal flexible nib, to try-out and compare. Well, a few days later I was happily lost in Flexhalla.
I filled both pens with the blandest ink my collection, Pelikan Royal Blue. I wrote on Wolf paper in my Book of Ra. Some writing samples are shown below. I was going to shamelessly crop for the neatest samples, but then quickly realized that it would be akin to finding Medusa's most photogenic angle.
With the first few strokes the 912 FA immediately made an impression on me with how easily it flexed and then with how challenging it was to write with. I have to point out here that without the Spencerian mod the 912 FA is just a modern semi-flex, a very good one, but still just that.
With the Spencerian mod the 912FA is incredibly fine, the tines feel terrifyingly delicate and it will not forgive you even the slightest hint of nib rotation. Switching to the vintage W-E I was struck with how effortless writing with it was, even though it required a bit more pressure to flex than the 912FA. Absolutely anyone who's used a fountain pen can pick up the W-E and start 'flexing' right away.
Basically you can write with the W-E as you would with a regular fountain pen without having to adjust your writing style except to apply pressure on the down strokes. Without pressure it writes like a well-tuned regular medium. Transitioning from pressurized down strokes to side strokes is easy and untroubled thanks to the vintage nib's bounce-back.
This is not the case with 912FA, you have to momentarily pause between down strokes and side strokes, to allow the nib to reset. Fluid uninterrupted transitions are almost impossible. And then there's the railroading.
While the FA nib is considered the best option for Spencerian modification, the feed in the Pilot 912 is still a modern one and not well-suited for ink-thirsty flexible nibs. You have to pause every 8-10 words to allow the feed to catch up. You get none of that with the W-E, the ink flow remains consistent until you run out.
Ink shades nicely, and even an uninspired ink like the Pelikan Royal Blue gives you a deep saturated blue. The fast feed however, has its drawbacks. I would not feel comfortable carrying such a pen in my pocket, the nib seems to magically ooze ink. Don't get me wrong, for the week or so I had it, it never leaked once. It is still a bit scary though.
There is no question that the vintage W-E is a better flex-writer in almost every way, especially for a greenhorn. The only thing the 912FA has going for it is the modern filling mechanism, right?
No. God No! The modified Pilot Custom 912FA is a an awesome pen, the more you write with it the more it grows on you. If you are already skilled with a flex nib, mastered Spencerian or Copperplate, or just want to enjoy some casual line variation every once in a while the W-E is your pen. They really don't make them like that anymore. However, if you are committed to learning Copperplate or Spencerian script and want to dedicate some serious time to your newfound passion, then I actually recommend you start with a Spencerian 912FA first, and get a vintage later.
The 912FA challenges you, it literally forces your hand to learn a radically different cursive script. You see, it has become apparent to me that writing your contemporary cursive with a flexible nib just completely misses the point.
For a more aesthetically pleasing contemporary cursive use your italic or cursive nib. However, to take advantage of the kind of line variation a superflex offers, you need to rethink how you write. Either figure it out yourself (like I tried in 2 as opposed to 1 in the last photo) or learn Copperplate/Spencerian, which is obviously what the Spencerian mod is intended for.
*To find out more about the Mottishaw Spencerian customization go here: