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‘His Nibs’ pen shop is written into history

Philip Poole's Drury Lane store, which provided the tools for writers, artists and illustrators, is set to be celebrated at the Cartoon Museum

07 February, 2020 — By The Xtra Diary

Philip Poole in his shop

IT was said Philip Poole’s shop stocked more than 5,000 different types of fountain pen nibs, and held several million of them at his Drury Lane premises.

And now the man who provided the tools to hundreds of writers and, perhaps more importantly, artists and illustrators is set to be celebrated with an exhibition at the Cartoon Museum.

His first shop, opened in 1933, called His Nibs, was marked by soaring metal filing cabinets, which reached from floor to ceiling, all packed with carefully labelled stock.

It is said he owned the largest collection of pen nibs in the world and was internationally renowned for his unparalleled nib knowledge and talent for sourcing the rarest of pens.

Mr Poole’s store did not just contain newly forged nibs to transfer ink to paper. He had a stock of historic ones too. They included Victorian ones that would feature images of the great and good – the Queen, Charles Dickens, Napoleon – all visages meant to inspire the aspiring scribbler.

Mr Poole saw how the ball-point was killing off fountain pens, so he spent a lot of time in the 1950s and 1960s buying up as many as he could so he held stock of original vintage tools for those who wanted them.

In an interview with The New York Times, published in the 1990s, he revealed that the majority of his stock was sold to calligraphers, cartoonists and composers.

A tribute by artist and writer Alfredo Grondono White

“Dip pens may seem old-fashioned, but some people prefer the flexibility of a nib which is more accurate and controllable,’’ he said.

Mr Poole, who died in 1999, also repaired fountain pens and had a loyal customer base from around the world.

The show will include previously unseen letters written to Mr Poole from cartoonists such as Ralph Steadman, who was a loyal and valued customer as well as a good friend.

Curator Emma Stirling-Middleton tells Diary that the collection is “…a love letter to the often-overlooked tools of the trade as well as providing a unique snapshot of the international cartoonist community, from Serbia to Scotland, New York to Brazil, in the late 20th century.

“I stumbled across this collection of personal letters in our archive and was immediately taken by their intricacy and character.” she says.

“Once I started talking with cartoonists about Philip and his shop, I realised how very special these letters were.

“Every artist I have spoken to since has their own personal story about Philip. I wonder how many cartoons and comics of the 20th century were created using a nib purchased from Mr Poole?”

Other highlights will include pieces form his own collection, on loan from the Museum of Writing, and interviews with cartoonists and comic artists about the materials and processes they use to make their work.

“This collection is a real hidden gem,” says Cartoon Museum director Joe Sullivan. “In 2020 Philip’s business represents an artisanal integrity and personal connection which is so often lacking in the modern world. These letters remind us how important it is to slow down and engage with the people and objects around us.”

The show is to run from Tuesday, February 18 till Sunday, June 28 at The Cartoon Museum, 63 Wells Street, Fitzrovia W1A 3AE

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