Author Topic: Need some help with early quill oblique cuts - what terminology was used?  (Read 283 times)

Offline AAAndrew

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I've been away too long, but I immediately thought of y'all when I had such an esoteric question about quills.

I am trying to track down the origin of the use of the term "oblique" to mean a nib cut at an angle, rather than the nib pointed at an angle to the line of the holder. In pointed, steel pens, we have Sampson Mordan patenting the first "Oblique Pen" and oblique holder in 1831. He uses the term "Oblique" to mean pointing off at an oblique angle. This is the origins of what pointed pen calligraphers call the "oblique pen" and the less-common "oblique nib."

In later fountain pen days, a stub nib cut at an angle was (and still is) called an "oblique" nib. If the right tine is longer, it's a "left oblique" and if the left is longer, it's a "right oblique."

What I'm trying to figure out is if in the treatises which Mordan's oblique pens, like Paillason's famous treatise, L'Art d'Ecrire, use the term oblique? In Paillason's Plate 4, there is an illustration of a specific way of cutting the tip of your quill into what the fountain pen folks call a "right oblique" with different angles used for different hands. (Ronde, Batard and Coulée)

What I don't know, is what those pre-steel-pen masters called this cutting at an angle. I've read references to  "French Cut" in English texts, but not sure what the French called it. Did anyone at the time use the term "Oblique" to refer to the angled cut?

If anyone has an idea, or has access (and can read) the older texts, or has suggestions where I can find this out or someone I could ask, I would be most, most, grateful.

Thanks
Andrew

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Offline Estefa

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@AAAndrew In my copy of L'art d'ecrire, Paillasson simply refers to the quill being cut »plus ou moins oblique« = »more or less slanting« (in the description of the Plate 4). I'm not sure if the word »oblique« is a Gallicism in English?
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Offline AAAndrew

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Interesting. Thank you @Estefa. I'm making no claim to ultimate authority, but the best that I can find is as follows.

This confirms other accounts where the French just called this a cut quill (meaning cut off square as opposed to pointed), and, as you quoted, "more or less at a slant." (presumably depending on the type of writing)  And the English mostly just called it a "French Cut" meaning that it's at a specified angle, if they called it anything.

The term "oblique" as applied to a specific design seems to appear in English first for the  Brockedon/Mordan patent for the first oblique pen and holder. There may be an earlier use of it, but if so, I haven't been successful in finding it.

So, as far as I can tell, "Oblique" is a term first applied as a label for a pen point to the oblique pointed dip pens and pen holders of Brockedon and Morden. I've also not been able to find a reference to a steel dip pen with the slanted stub shape called an "Oblique." This use of the term, for a stub cut at a slant, doesn't seem to come into use until fountain pens, which is the primary usage for the term today outside of the calligraphy world.

This is, in the scheme of things, a hugely minor point, but one I found interesting. I appreciate your confirming this for me. I'm writing this up as part of a side-bar on the history of the oblique pen for the Fall issue of The Pennant (Pen Collectors of America's magazine). I also have an article in the same issue on Josiah Hayden, one of the early pioneers of steel pens in the US. He began making first steel, then gold pens out in the wilds of Western Massachusetts during the 1840's.

Thanks again!
Andrew
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Offline Estefa

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That sounds interesting about your article! Glad I could help a bit :), @AAAndrew !
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Offline sybillevz

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Ooh, I should come her more often, this conversation is interesting @AAAndrew !

I'm not sure I can add anything to what you've both said already, though.
The French texts sometimes use the term oblique which is one of the appropriate words to describe this in French, so I never really paid attention to it. It just never occured to me that "oblique" might not have been the first word that comes to mind in English to describe this kind of cut...

As I said, some French masters use the word but it's not systematic. Most of them just describe the cut as being done in a diagonal or slant, or just specify that  one tine should be longer than the other.
in 1680, Alais de Beaulieu (who was one of the famous copybook authors), calls one of the positions "oblique", he doesn't say much about the cut itself. The pen-holds he cites are "à face" (pen slit is perpendicular to the line), "oblique" (pen slit is at an angle), "de travers" (pen slit is almost hoizontal to the line)  and "inverse" (what we'd call today the off-hand pen hold). But he prefers using "oblique" to get the same effects as "inverse"... I think he just means it's more comfortable and gives the same thick-thin potential.
Royllet in 1737 uses the word "obliquité" (obliquity ?) to describe the cut. (Démonstration de l'art d'écrire, 1737)
In 1763, Paillasson uses the word "oblique" to describe the nib cut but, as @Estefa said, it's not very precise. The word oblique just means "slanted" in this case.

The British Masters at the time were more inclined to criticizing one another than to writing stuff that would have successfully helped people learn on their own... Those who describe the tip of the pen just say that some scripts necessitate a tip "with the part which lies next to the Hand (the writing itself) when you write, be small matter the shortest and narrowest." An illustration in George Shelley's second part of Natural writing makes this description a bit less "obscure".
None of them use "oblique" to describe this cut, some call it the French cut.

By 1730, all the books that describe the cut of the pen advise the use of a square cut for Round Hand. Bickham writes that he still uses an oblique cut for running hand and mixt secretary (the left side of the knib be rather shorter than the other). Other hands also call for other kinds of obliqueness described in the same manner. (The Surrey and Southwark writing-master... , c.1750)
After this, I only see masters who reccommend the use of square nibs, or finer points.

Of course, this is only for quills... All the masters seem to agree that cutting a pen is more an art than a science, every penman will have a cut that fits his own position or style.

I don't have any information regarding steel nibs themselves. I guess you could have more information by asking a collector. Looking at Kallipos.de "left-handed" nibs section, I don't see a lot of French manufactured nibs, or mentions of the word "oblique".


Offline AAAndrew

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Thanks, @sybillevz that was very helpful.

My specialty is steel pens, so I'm fine once I get to 1820 or so, but earlier is still rather dim for me, especially in French.  :D

In 1831, William Brockedon and the famous inventor and stationer Sampson Mordan patented the first pen and holder which moved the slit off to the side at an angle, to better facilitate the slanted writing of the day. They used the term "Oblique" both to describe the direction of the tines/pen, as well as a style name for the pens and holders which accomplished this. This is the first usage of "oblique" in English as a style name attached to a pen point that I have been able to find.

For the next 70 years or so, "Oblique" meant an oblique pen or oblique holder as we use the term today in calligraphy. With the rise of the fountain pen we begin to see "oblique" refer to a fountain pen stub nib which is cut at a slant, just like the quills of the earlier age. Now you have obliques cut at both angles and called "Right Oblique" and "Left Oblique."

My little side-bar article is meant to introduce the fountain pen folks over at The Pennant to the idea that the term "Oblique" means something very different when applied to dip pens, and yet it was not a new idea when they started putting the slant on fountain pen nibs.

Like I said, it's not a momentous topic, but one of moderate interest to some, hence less that 1000 words.

What I'm most excited about for the article is that Christopher Yoke has allowed me to use some photographs of a few of his vintage oblique holders as well as a couple of his wilder modern holders he made himself. He's a great guy and makes amazing oblique holders.

Thanks again, this was great information.
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