Rosemary – That’s For Remembrance

If you go to my search box, up there on the right hand side, and enter ‘Rosemary’ or ‘National Security’ as a search term, you’ll find some exceptionally beautiful pens, jade and lapis lazuli among them.  Those pens pose some interesting questions.

In a sense we know quite a lot about them.  They were manufactured on behalf of British Carbon Papers by Henry Stark, Son, and Hamilton and possibly Conway Stewart.  We know that ‘Rosemary, that’s for remembrance’ which appears on the pens and the boxes is a Shakespearean quote from Ophelia’s speech in Hamlet.  ‘National Security’ appears to be self-explanatory.  And yet knowing, those things, there seems to be a deeper mystery.  No one seems to know very much about British Carbon Papers, which must have been a company of significant size in the 1920s and 1930s, by time it could have these high quality pens made.  It would be wonderful to know who in the company was tasked with the creation of these pens.

It would also be enlightening to know who decided on the names of the pens and what the thinking was behind them.  After all, ‘Rosemary, that’s for remembrance’ and ‘National Security’ are quite unusual names for pens.  It is said, with what authority I know not, that Rosemary is in remembrance of the fallen in World War I.  I certainly wouldn’t dispute that.  It seems highly likely.  Why did the person responsible hold remembrance in such importance that he/she named a range of pens after it?  Were family members of the directorship of British Carbon Papers casualties of World War I?

And then ‘National Security’.  Isn’t that a rather odd thing to call a pen?  Wracking such brains as I have, I can’t think of another British pen that’s called after a concept, especially a concept that has nothing to do with writing.  Again, no one could sensibly suggest that national security isn’t important and, in a sense, it does tie up with the theme of remembrance in that the war was an extension of national security.  Those thousands of soldiers gave their lives to keep Britain secure.

We’ll never know with certainty but there seems to be a story there.  Someone in British Carbon Papers was still grieving a family loss when they sent out the order for the company’s pens, and they also wanted to emphasise the need for military readiness.  Of course, we know now how right they were, and that another conflict of immense proportions was only a few years away.

Finding Stock

Years ago, I used to make a regular round of the local junk shops, charity shops and car boot sales, picking up quite a few pens as I went. Over time it became less and less rewarding. Perhaps most of the pens were going to eBay or maybe there weren’t many pens left around here. I gave it up in the end. It was no longer a productive way to use my time. If I happened to be passing a junk shop I’d stroll in and look around but without much hope. The pickings were very slim.

There was a car boot sale/street fair kind of thing near here last week and I broke the habit of years by going to it. These things depress me. There is the detritus of people’s lives all around, orphaned ornaments and rejected table lamps. There were some fountain pens, to my surprise, but most were not good ones and they were all incredibly overpriced. Perhaps the best thing there was a Parker Slimfold for which the seller wanted a mere £80. The rest were the dregs of pendom, Platignums, Queensways, the later and less useful Osmiroids. Nothing under £50!

I assume that these sellers have taken a cursory glance at retail sites and Buy-It-Now listings on eBay and decided that the top prices they found there applied to their junk. They are probably unaware that a large proportion of the overpriced rubbish on those sites doesn’t sell either.

I may be wrong – and I hope I am – but it’s my belief that the good stuff, the Onotos, Swans and Conway Stewarts are gone from here now. Whatever quality pens remain are in the hands of people who have become more savvy in the ways of today’s world and, quite correctly, choose not to consign good pens to car boot sales, but sell them in a more profitable way.

I’m not looking to rip people off or make sumgai bargains. I’m just looking for a good, interesting stock. I have my sources and I keep going but it’s not as easy as it once was to turn up the rare and quirky pens that I can write about.

Die, Photobucket, Die!

For many years – ten, at least – I have been contributing to pen discussion boards.  Often, the subject required a photo of the pen under discussion and I hotlinked the picture from my Photobucket account.  It was a matter of pride to me that while some other people’s photos might disappear and leave a blank space, mine were still there years later.  I have a paid account and I was confident that it would remain secure for years to come.

Without any warning (though Photobucket say they emailed members) all the photos belonging to those who have free accounts were deleted and replaced by an image indicating that the photos would be restored if a premium account was taken out.  The premium account costs $400.00  a year.  Oh, excuse me.  $399.99.

I would imagine that a very high proportion of those who had free accounts will not be able or willing to pay such a huge sum.  That means, of course, that those links will remain broken.  The precious archives of all the fountain pen discussion boards will be so damaged as to be useless.  Of course all the other hobby groups and blogs like LiveJournal and Dreamwidth will be affected, too.

Even those of us who have paid Photobucket accounts will eventually lose all our links, too, unless we pay the blackmail.  I, for one, couldn’t justify paying more than £300.00 per annum.  We have about 18 months grace, after which all the links will go.  I won’t use my account anymore.  There’s no point in making photo links which will die in December next year.

Of course there are many other photo embedding services.  I have signed up with who seem to be one of the best.  I could download all my photos from Photobucket but that’s not the point.  I archive all my pictures anyway.  It’s not those photos that are important, it’s the links.  There’s no way to re-establish them.

We know that nothing lasts forever.  One day even massive companies like Google and Amazon will have had their day.  If you don’t believe that, think back to how dominant Yahoo once was, and that recently it was sold off like a second-hand car.  But Photobucket’s change of terms of service was done with no warning and no explanation.  It wasn’t necessary and it was immensely destructive.  Instead of ending up with, perhaps, thousands of customers paying $400.00 they could have had millions paying a more sensible fee.  The CEO of Photobucket has made himself the Gengis Khan of the web.

Now that this has happened, who else can we trust?  Might not other photo hosting companies and cloud storage providers decide that blackmail is a good business model?  The only way to avoid that is if Photobucket crashes and burns.  I certainly hope they do.

Thankfully, the photos in this blog are safe.  WordPress provides its own photo hosting so I didn’t use Photobucket here.  Unless, of course, WordPress have a sudden bright idea…

An Unbranded Lever Filler


IMGP4042There is a language to the design of pens and with experience you can read it. Straight sided barrel and cap, bought-in lever, threading at the end of the barrel to take a posted cap: all this adds up to a recognisable type of pen. Nobody knows who made them. It might have been Mentmore, Wyvern, Langs or just about anyone else. It might even have been a pen manufacturing company whose name never occurs in any context. These pens were cheaply mass produced as giveaways or inducements to buy for commercial companies that had nothing else to do with fountain pens. Often they were given away by newspapers in return for postage and the mastheads of a week’s worth of daily papers.


This one is a bit strange, though. It was made for FW Parris and Sons, which is a large hardware store in Nagambie, Victoria, Australia. So the story is that this pen was made in Britain for an Australian company and somehow found its way back to the UK again. That’s a lot of travelling. People didn’t fly to Australia when this pen was made in the 1920s, so there probably were two ocean liner voyages.


As I said, these pens were produced to a low price, in large quantity. The quality is good nonetheless. The cap and barrel fit together well and the black hard rubber is as fresh, and the chasing as sharp, as the day it was made. Perhaps that’s an indication that the pen wasn’t used much but it has survived the intervening near-century in better condition than many much more expensive and prestigious pens.


The nib is warranted but it’s a reasonable size, comparable with a Swan No2.


I suppose this pen is roughly the equivalent of some of today’s law-cost Asian pens, some of which are rebadged for commercial companies in a similar way. I doubt that the modern equivalent will look as good 90-odd years from now.

More Pens For Sale!

I will arise and go now, and go some pens to see
And a small handful buy there, if some are right for me.

With apologies to Yeats, I invite you to have a browse through my sales site, where more items have been added in nearly all categories.

A Mechanical Pencil

It amazes me that pencils like this one are so little valued. This one arrived as part of a large lot of pens and the seller didn’t even bother to mention it in the list. It’s not silver. It’s steel or an alloy, what we call white metal for convenience. It’s six-sided and two engraved patterns alternate around it. The rather decorative nozzle suggests that it has some age – Victorian or early 20th century – I can’t say with any certainty not being very well informed on pencils.

It has two attributes that one would think would make it collectable: it’s useful and it’s attractive. The blue glass jewel really sets it off.

These little pencils must have been very convenient and much used in the days before the ballpoint changed everything. You didn’t have to fill it with ink or sharpen it. It was just there, ready for whenever you had to take a note.

At present, mechanical pencils are only really appreciated if they are silver or made by one of the most valued manufacturers, like Sampson Mordan or Yard O Led. Though these ones do sell, they don’t make high prices compared with fountain pens. It seems to me that mechanical pencils could be an area of collection that wouldn’t be too expensive.

Stylos, Newsletters, Sections and Things


That Ormiston & glass stylo and its box are very interesting. Old pens are historical artefacts but sometimes they don’t give much away. Through experience I can often establish a rough date for a fountain pen just on its appearance but I’m less familiar with stylos. I don’t know what style changes they went through. I know that they remained popular at least until World War II and Churchill’s everyday writer was a stylo.

When you get a box, though, and especially a wonderfully illustrated box like this, there is more information to be had. I’m not sufficiently well up on aeronautical history or the history of dress to be precisely accurate, but it says to me that it’s before 1920.

On another note, I had been thinking about issuing a newsletter to customers through a facility on the sales website. However, it isn’t straightforward and there would be a number of hurdles to overcome including learning quite a bit of HTML. To be honest, I’d just as soon have root canal treatment. Also, it has no capability of showing images which is quite limiting.

Apparently there is another program I could use which would access my customer list and use templates to avoid the necessity of learning HTML but it seems the cost rather a lot for what could only be an occasional newsletter.

Another restorer and I were discussing the phenomenon of extremely tight sections/feeds. Once you’ve drifted out the feed and nib and cleaned everything up and you go to put it all back together, what was there before just won’t go back! This problem never seems to afflict Swans but isn’t uncommon in Conway Stewarts and Mentmores. Some Langs pens can be affected in that way too. Almost invariably the offending sections and feeds are hard rubber, which isn’t subject to either shrinkage or expansion. Perhaps the feeds and nibs were fitted with a mighty hydraulic press!

Of course these difficulties are always resolved. My friend Mr Heat encourages these recalcitrant parts to cooperate.