Unruly art: pen ruling

In April 2013 the library received a donation from Mr Dave Jeffrey of South London, who has spent his working life mastering some terribly complicated machines for pen ruling. Pen ruling machines were designed to draw – rather than print – continuous inked lines in a range of colours and linear patterns.

Pen ruling1

Pen ruling works by having a long bank of static nibs, sometimes just a few millimetres apart, drawing continuous lines on a moving roll of paper. Cogs and eccentric mechanisms also allow nibs to be lifted and lowered automatically to create shorts gaps, breaks and dotted lines, while wavy and more complex lines could also be created with special attachments.

Pen ruling 2

Dave’s donation (pictured above) includes rolls of brass shim, from which he would have cut the individual nibs used in the ruling process, thick woollen cords, which acted as wicks to carry the ink to each nib, and all the technical paraphernalia required to rule the most complex account books, diaries and legal forms.

The practice of pen ruling is now virtually obsolete, having been largely replaced by lithographic printing. Dave Jeffrey is one of the last of the expert proponents of this challenging and complex printing art and we are delighted to be able to include his working tools in our collection at St Bride.

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