Mabie Todd Jackdaw

In Britain, Mabie Todd had a quite straightforward hierarchy of pens: Swan, Blackbird and Jackdaw.  There might be subsets like Swan Leverless and Swan Visofil within that and even off-the-wall bizarre individual models like the splendid Jackdaw Toledo but, in general, the order held true.  There wasn’t a huge qualitative difference between them, though a generation of pen-fanciers has been misled into thinking that the Jackdaw was worse than it is by Steinberg’s* assertion that it is a “tin or gold-plated nib pen”.  I’ve seen a lot of Jackdaws and they’ve all been gold nib pens.

I suppose the major difference between the Swan and the Blackbird is that the latter more often has chrome plating than gold on the trim.  The nibs have a shorter tail and the material from which they are made is a fraction thinner.  Other than that, in terms of quality, there are no other significant differences that I can think of.

When you come down to Jackdaws, the difference becomes a little more pronounced.  I think the gold used in the nibs is thinner still with the result that many of those that we see today have bent nibs.  Of course, there is another possible explanation for that, which is that they were school pens and therefore probably handled a little more roughly than the Blackbirds and Swans owned by adults.  Strangely, the clips on Jackdaws are very often corroded and pitted whereas the levers are usually in good order and have retained their chrome plating.
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One respect in which the Jackdaws are often more attractive than their more expensive stablemates is in the celluloid.  Several of those I have owned have been very colourful, as is this present example.
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I’m not sure what this pattern is.  The pen has no identification number and the descriptions of several of these 1930s patterns are somewhat similar.  I can read through about 15 of them before my eyes glaze over.  In any case, I assume that these very bright and attractive patterns were assigned to Jackdaws because they would be attractive to younger people.  I’m not sure they’re correct, mind you.  That may just be another example of the condescending nonsense that adults come up with when they design for the young.
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There aren’t very many Jackdaws around today.  That may be because they had a tough classroom life.  It may also be because they were not priced at the correct level to encourage the mass of parents to buy them when there were probably many cheaper yet serviceable pens around.  Be that as it may, I think we can be grateful that at least some of these bright and cheerful pens are still around.

*Steinberg, Jonathan: Fountain Pens, Eagle Editions, 2002

Mabie Todd Swan L205/62

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In all the years and many hundreds of Swans that have passed through my hands this is undoubtedly the best one so far!  It is a Leverless L205/62 which is Wine And Silver, further described as red, greenish silver and gold.  It truly is an outstanding pattern, a wine-dark sea (to quote Homer) of red with islands of silver floating therein and the odd unexpected splash of gold.
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There’s not a lot more to say about it.  The pen was made in about 1927.  It has a number 2 Eternal nib.  Other than that, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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The Swan Plug Filler.

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Here’s one you don’t see often – a plug filler Swan!  This was originally a Mabie Todd and Bard design and it was continued on after the company became Mabie Todd in 1907.  This pen is stamped “Mabie Todd & Co” on the barrel.  As the feed is stamped MTB that suggests that it was made very soon after the change in the company name, when earlier parts were still being used up.  Well more than 100 years old, anyway, and looking like new.
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This is an eyedropper filler but instead of unscrewing the section to fill the pen, the plug is withdrawn to allow filling with a very slender eyedropper.  This method does not seem to have caught on as there aren’t many pens of this type around.  Perhaps it became unreliable as the plug wore with much use or it may be that it was less expensive to revert to the screw-in section.
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This must be the longest twisted silver wire that I have ever seen!  I have no doubt that it did the job of improving ink flow just as well but these became much shorter as time went on.
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It is remarkable that the black hard rubber has retained its original darkness and shine so well for over a hundred years.  Is this the earliest appearance of the gold overfeed in Swans?

Many thanks to Paul Leclercq for sight of this splendid pen and permission to write about it.

Platignum Regal

I recently had reason to agree with Paul Stempel that not all Platignums are bad.  Some are particularly nice.
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This is a Platignum Regal dating to about 1965.  It’s a very traditional pen – screw cap, lever fill,  “jewels” on each end.  Inside it has Platignum’s equivalent of Parkers pliglass sac – in other words, one that goes on forever.
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This is a school pen, built to a low price and yet it has survived all these years in very good condition.  The plastic takes a good shine when rubbed with a cloth.  The metalwork has retained all of its chrome plating.
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The steel nib looks at first glance like Platignum’s usual offering but it’s a bit better than that.  It doesn’t have the folded tips; this one has good tipping material.
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The result is that it writes very nicely, on the fine side of the medium, a size of nib I particularly like.

If what you appreciate about the pen is its writing ability, then this is as good a pen as any Swan or Onoto.  If, on the other hand, you expect your pen to look and feel like quality, perhaps the Platignum Regal falls a little below their standard.

I think I’ll be hanging onto this one for a while to write with myself.

Three Everyday Old Pens

Some inexpensive old pens are featured today.  Two of these pens are quite uncommon, not because they sold in small quantity but probably because people disposed of them rather than carefully putting them away, as they would have done with Swans, Onotos and Conway Stewarts.  Though they don’t appear so often they are probably a better representation of what people used than the more expensive pens.
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It’s not always the most expensive pens that are the prettiest.  This Platignum looks quite modern but probably dates back to the 1930s.  Though some of the later ones appear with gold nibs, originally Mentmore designed the Platignum to be the least expensive pen on the market with a good steel nib.  This is a good solid button filler.  Strangely enough, it has been fitted with a Burnham nib at some point.  I’ll hang on to it until I get a proper Platignum nib of the right date.
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This Penplas is a very basic pen.  It’s a lever filler with a folded-tip nib.  There is very little more that one can say about it.  Penplas only existed for a few years in the late 40s.

The Duragold was made by Perry’s of Birmingham, a company with a long history of making dip pen nibs.  I don’t think they made many fountain pens but a later scion of the family went on to make the very successful Osmiroids.
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These pens have little value but they should not be forgotten.  Hundreds of thousands of people wrote with simple, inexpensive pens like these.

Conway Stewart 226

I have always found the middle period of Conway Stewart’s production to be the most interesting.  Admittedly, the early eyedropper fillers and Duros are exciting but they are unlikely ever to be seen in the flesh by the average buyer.  The period from 1930, on the other hand, to about 1948 sees the production of a huge number of models in some of the most delightful plastics that Conway Stewart – or any other company – put on offer.
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A good example is the 226, which Jonathan Donahaye records as being produced between 1933 and 1946.  At 10 shillings and sixpence it was two shillings cheaper than the more common 286.  The what makes the 226 stand out is the patterns that it came in – marbled sky blue/slate blue/gold, blue rock-face and this one which Jonathan calls marbled burnished copper/gold.
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As a slightly cheaper version it has no cap bands which allows for an uninterrupted stretch of this glorious pattern.  These highly colourful pens are not especially common and are quite sought after by collectors.

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