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The Pen Museum, Birmingham UK

The Pen Museum, Birmingham UK

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I came home from work one Friday night, and JW was quietly working away on his laptop. Suddenly, he pronounced that he had found cheap train tickets to and accommodation in Birmingham (we live in London). I wasn’t expecting a weekend away, so I was a little bit hesitant, but I got involved and started investigating “things to do in Birmingham”.

There, ranked 13th on the list of Birmingham attractions, was The Pen Museum. I suddenly couldn’t wait to go, and also didn’t really care what else we did in the city (although the Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery and the Barber Institute of Fine Art were calling my name, too). I was a kid on Christmas eve: “TO THE PEN MUSEUM”. It did not disappoint.

A handsome gent welcomed us in, inviting us to take a look around before he would show us the nib-making machines that were used in the booming business of the time, when Birmingham produced 75% of the world’s pen nibs.

Step by step, he took us through five of the 17 steps in the nib-making process: “blanking”,  “piercing”, “marking”, “raising”, and “slitting”  (thanks to C Brandauer & Co blog for the process details). I’d come across as the ultra nerd I am if I tried to explain how awesome it was to do that, so, suffice it to say that it was good fun for a calligrapher.

The nib-making process

Blanking

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Piercing

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Marking

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Raising

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Slitting

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JW got to have his time in the sun when we sat ourselves at old-school school desks and tried out the nibs they had on display. To be fair, they had been pretty trashed by the unseasoned calligraphers, but I think it’s more important for people to be able to feel and see and have the technique become more accessible in that way than keeping them locked up.

Naturally, when surrounded by boxes and boxes of nibs at 25p a pop, there was no doubt that I would leave with a fair selection. I bought 10 different nibs The Pen Museum; four were perfect for copperplate.

I also bought 1 gross (144 nibs) pack, Victor Series Exhibition Pen, for a fiver. I had no idea if that boxed set of nibs was going to be any good for copperplate, but they were vintage, and a great price so worth the risk. I’m glad I did, because they’re lovely.

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  • John Heath’s Golden Coated
  • Victor Series Exhibition Pen
  • John Heath’s First Class Selected
  • British Pens Co. 5005
  • University School Pen

I’m so super excited to have found The Pen Museum, and looking forward to visiting again. Run by volunteers, the museum relies on donations and support. You can support in lots of ways:

  • donate a couple of quid every time you visit
  • support them with an online donation
  • become a member
  • shop online (the nibs I’ve noted aren’t listed in the shop, but get in touch with them; I’m sure they’ll be happy to help).

Take a look also at this blog post from Tiger Pens, which gives more detailed information about the history and venue details of The Pen Museum.

So, where’s your favourite calligraphy spot?

2 comments

Claire Gould

I’ve heard of the Pen Museum, but it’s a long way… you’re a superstar for sharing this Kate, it looks fantastic!

I live near the Pencil Museum, which is nice (and has a couple of display cases of nibs) but it’s just not the same. As you can imagine!

C x

    Kate

    It is a bit of a trek, Claire! The Pen Museum combined with all of the other fab cultural bits to Birmingham really made the trip worthwhile (from London town, at least!). I have heard of that pencil museum, but I think both times I was your way it was closed. It’s on the list. x

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