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Dip pen staff writing

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IMG_20230612_220211.thumb.jpg.97aa5489696ee9a19ea564e01c71b09d.jpgI have found it fascinating how people had to make their own manuscript, stave lines, often in the past, and knew they used very special nibs for it.

So, as a side line of my art design background, and used to using pen and ink, I researched where I could or if you could still get those special music nibs these days; and YES you can indeed find them.

So, through curiosity, I sent for a few.

They look like mini forks you use for eating your dinner with.. but they  are tiny nibs side by side, made of a coppery metal material.

And several attempts, dipping nib into, India ink, firstly was initially too thick. So, I watered the ink down with water (ratio about 50% ink to 50% water).. this improved the flow to the nib better. Line width quite neat, with a tendency for the ink to smudge if use ruler to keep lines level. However, very interesting to use a basic, manual method of preparing staff lines; will be useful for the odd page or more idiosyncratic individual design, or music.🌝🌝🌝🌝🌝🌝

Have a go yourself, try the process by hand.. it's slow, not always precise, but you will learn a lot in the process. Blotting paper also recommended,😊



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Another very interesting stave pen writing implement is this one which I bought from a large second hand warehouse, store in York. ( Several years ago)..Amongst various items was this unusual item for writing the staff lines; very fine nibs on wooden shaft, in its box, with a wooden pen nib also included.

Called Excelsior music copying apparatus!🌝 Possibly early twentieth century and virtually unused.



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  • 2 weeks later...
On 6/12/2023 at 10:06 PM, SIMON GABRIELOW said:

a tendency for the ink to smudge if use ruler to keep lines level.



It has been many years, but I believe the trick is to use the ruler upside down, so the edge of the ruler is a millimetre or so off the paper and therefore not in contact with the ink.

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Update to my own attempts at stave writing with non pen and ink.

Thanks to advice received here ( by Moll Pearly).. it appears that the use of upside down ruler is working much better!

My stave page ruled tests already better, and no smudging so far!

Using basic ruler upside down with nib tucked inside edge, but not touching ruler itself ( as a guide only)!

Much better.. grateful thanks🌝🌝

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I have the five nibbed pen, from the previous century, blotted all, like the new time.


Love the excelsior gadget, even remember the currency, Nineteen and Elevenpence,  Three Farthings.


I got one of these books, from Moleskin, for 30 quid.


Noted a couple of tunes, then discovered copy and paste.


Thanks, Simon, for the trip down memory bótherín


I am  slightly envious, of those who can, pencil duly sharpened, sitting over the left ear, whip up a tune, in staff, or even ABC

( proper ABC like, none of that oul pc speak )

Moleskin Staff.png

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Thanks for being inspired in some way by my own attempts at pen work ( stave writing by hand)..

That old box with Excelsior pen was from a warehouse in York that sold all kinds of house clearance stuff. The Banana Warehouse in York!).. yes that was indeed it's name! ( Now long closed down.

I still like to combine the old and new techniques when I can, but haven't given up using my hand skills in the arts generally. I used to like doing letter face design, and calligraphy, and so this type of nib writing intrigued me enough to have a go, as I use pen and ink frequently anyway in art and design.

That 'moleskin' book you show here should be filled wlith writings or ideas, regardless so have a go.

And you never know what may arrive in your mind🌝

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Simon, I could do that, or I could just watch this programme.


I can see them,   in Bewley's Tea Rooms

Moleskins on the table, or in back pockets,  

Dickens,  Shelly (Mary) Beethoven and Goethe.  

French (Percy)  Lennon (Charlie) Reavy, (Ed)  Flann O'Brien (The Poor Mouth)

All chatting away, clinking tea and coffee cups, nibbling cherry buns.

Every once in a while, hearing a phrase of conversation or a bar of a tune, and thinking, that's a good one, whipping out the Moleskin and Quill, and calling to the waiter for smidgeen of Best Indian Black.

All the while, Tommy Williams tipping away in the background,  giving a rendition of Woodland  Flowers 

"a favourite of all Concertina players"


The Moleskin Years, a Docudrama, BBC Home Service ( Kodak 35 mm )

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