The Oblique nib is one of 3 nib grinds that I use regularly. The use of this nib has largely fallen out of favour with most writers nowadays, but was in fact extremely popular and prevalent during the fountain pen heydays, mostly in Europe. Most people describe this nib as a “solution” to correct for over rotating underwriters’ pen angle, but I do not necessarily agree with that sentiment. In this entry of “The Anatomy of”, I will discuss the cut and shape of this grind, the way it affects writing and angles, and why I love this grind.
I started writing, as most beginners do, with round nibs. My first was a Pilot Petite in F, but after a year of the Pilot Petite, I was ready to graduate to a full sized pen. I happened to stumble into a fountain pen shop during my summer internship, and they had a burgundy Montblanc 144 Tribute to Chopin in OM. I didn’t know what that meant, but it was the last one they had in stock and I needed something to motivate me through the summer, so I bought it.
Unboxing the pen and writing with it proved to be a huge challenge for me. I found that this pen didn’t write at all angles, but when it did, it gave my writing a distinctive characteristic that I couldn’t replicate with a round nib. The flat surface of tipping meant that there was a sweet spot and I couldn’t be liberal with my grip, but I could make these diamond shapes due to the flat sides and angling of the nib, lending it an italic calligraphic quality.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of what this grind entails.
An Oblique nib is one that is ground to have the tipping cut at a slant. Most modern nibs are round, or at least spherical, so it’s fairly easy to tell an Oblique nib. Oblique nibs are often, but not always cut to be a broad edge nib; Sailor’s Lefty nib and Lamy’s Oblique nibs are some examples of non-broad edge styles.
So I mentioned that I don’t agree that this nib is for “correcting” over rotating underwriters, at least not modern Oblique nibs. However, to understand the Oblique nib, it is important to understand the history of nib grinds in general.
It seems to be that European nibs of old, regardless of nib point, were ground to somewhat flat angles. This is most easily seen in Montblanc and vintage Pelikan nibs, the former of which has kept the stubbish tradition of their grinds. This characteristic is especially pronounced in larger nib points, such as BB and 3Bs. What this means, on the other hand, is that these nibs are much less forgiving than modern nibs. As a result, writers who rotate their pens, their wrists, their elbows, their paper, or any combination of the above would have a more difficult time with non-Oblique nibs. As a result, Oblique nibs were rather common in European pens, with many interesting sizes, ranging from Oblique Fine to Oblique Triple Broad. Interestingly, nibs from the United States, in general, do not exhibit this stubbish nature, and Oblique nibs are correspondingly seen far less in pens of US origin.
US manufacturers had a more “blob-like” tipping style, which was suited for all angles but sacrificed line variation and character in return. Eventually, Japanese manufacturers copied pens from the UK and the US, along with their blob-like tipping, so Oblique nibs were rare in Japan (though they existed). European manufacturers, particularly post-war, also adopted the blob-like tipping, reducing their nib offering and improving their manufacturing efficiency. Eventually, Oblique nibs became specialty nibs no longer commonly used.
However, I still use my Oblique nibs as daily drivers. I do not rotate my pen, but I did rotate my paper for years and I do underwrite on purpose. Oblique holders are still extremely common in dip nib calligraphy, and similarly, Oblique nibs help me write in a calligraphic style.
That is why I like to grind my own Obliques into sharper Italics, as it can give me the maximum line variation and yields my writing into a simple calligraphic style with ease.
I find Oblique nibs particularly nice to write cursive with, which seems fitting for a nib grind of European origin. Just simply writing lends my handwriting a casual cursive italic style, while a little extra effort helps me branch out into other more formal italic, uncial, or blackletter styles.
As a nib grind, I believe that Oblique is a prefix to the width descriptor, unlike Stub or Italic, which I consider to be suffixes. That is to say, they are not mutually exclusive, and you can have a nib that is both Oblique and Italic.
Obliques are not for everyone. Some people may even find them difficult to use, but I personally love them, and there is always one in my rotation. Regardless of whether you rotate your pen, wrist, elbow, or paper, I highly suggest trying an Oblique nib to experience for yourself the difference and character that you can exhibit with one!