If you ever start using or collecting vintage fountain pens, chances are you’ll end up with a nib that is no longer shiny. While it may still work just fine, wouldn’t it be nice if it looked good, too? I’ve got a very simple trick that you can use to shine up almost any gold nib that has seen better days.
Polishing A Fountain Pen Nib
You’ve probably used a silver polishing cloth to make your jewelry or silverware shine like new. Well guess what… you can do the same thing with your fountain pen nibs! Simply use a polishing cloth on your nibs and carefully wipe away the years of tarnish. I say carefully because you don’t want to snag the tip of your nib in the cloth and either drop your pen or bend your nib. On less expensive, plated nibs, you can also rub away the gold plating with too much polishing.
My preferred technique is to start near the pen body and wipe towards the tip of the nib. Ideally, instead of holding the pen stationary and moving the cloth, you will hold the cloth stationary and move the nib across it. Both of these techniques will minimize the chances of you accidentally dropping the pen that you’re working on. As an added precaution, be sure to work over a soft surface like carpet in case you do drop your pen. You can also work on specific trouble spots by polishing in very small circles. You’ll want to be more careful near the very tip of the nib so you don’t damage it.
I’ve found that spending anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes on a nib can make it look completely different! Take a look at the nib below. There was a little discoloration near the tip of the nib. This is pretty common for older gold nibs. With a little work, the discoloration was removed and the nib was shining like new.Here are another two nibs that were looking a little dull. Again, by spending less than a minute polishing each nib, they were gleaming! In some extreme cases, you can hardly tell that the nib started out gold. This Waterman nib looked horrible before I polished it. It had years of tarnish and I wasn’t sure it was going to clean up at all. While it took a little more work than the other nibs I’ve shown you, it still only took about 2 minutes to make it look like a completely different nib!
A Few Notes
I’ve mentioned gold nibs this entire time. Will this work to remove rust from steel nibs? Unfortunately, it won’t. These polishing cloths only work to remove tarnish. If you have an old steel nib that is rusted or has other discolorations, this technique won’t work to clean it up. It also won’t completely remove all wear on a nib. If you look closely at that nib that was heavily tarnished, there are still a few darker spots that I couldn’t remove where I’m afraid the actual nib was cosmetically damaged. It’s possible they could be polished out, but I wasn’t able to with a polishing cloth.
Another step that I would recommend is to clean and wash your nib after polishing it. Silver polishing cloths work because they have a very fine polishing compound embedded in them. While it may not be bad to get this into your ink when you fill your pen, it’s always best to not take any chances and clean your pen before filling it. As you can see in the last photos, you’ll also end up with some fibers from the cloth on your pen, so by washing it off, you will remove any small fibers that might be sticking to your pen.
So that’s it! If you have any vintage pens with gold nibs that could use a polish, give this method a try. You’ll be amazed at how quick and easy it is. BONUS: this cloth also works on some vintage pen trim, although for heavy polishing you’ll probably want to use a polishing compound like Simichrome.
Disclaimer: Any time you are working on a pen, do not attempt anything that is outside of your comfort or skill level. If you are unsure whether or not your pen may be damaged, it is best to have a professional do the repair.
Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who recently moved back to Denver after spending 3 years in San Francisco. I’ve been using and collecting fountain pens for over 20 years. I got my first one in college when I got bored taking notes with ballpoints and pencils. Since then I’ve bought and sold hundreds of pens, but have consistency in my love of Esterbrooks.