Mabie Todd Swan 3172

The 3172 is among the least common of Swan’s 1950s pens. It’s a delightful colour and for once the description of the colour is accurate: pastel green.

Why did this pen not sell well? One must remember that the 50s was the decade of denial of colour – black suits or black morning coats with grey pinstriped trousers. Black pens of course. A man seen wearing pink in those days would have caused a riot and a pale green pen would have caused its owner to be viewed askance.

Enough with the 50s fashion, and on to the pen itself. It’s the same as all the other No. 1 nib torpedo pens apart from its delicate, pleasant colour. I’ve had one or two of these pastel green pens before and it seems that they hold their colour well, unlike the greys which can fade with a yellow tinge.

The pen has a firm Phillips nib. This is correct and may be either original or a replacement. Phillips of Oxford took over repair of Mabie Todd pens and ultimately received unassembled stock which they put together with their own-stamped nibs.

A lovely small pen, not suitable for the flex brigade but a very nice writer and of interest to the collector.

New Uploads

They call it ‘Black Friday’ and black Swans we’ve got
But there are some bright Swans to get while they’re hot!
Green marbled, blue speckled and bronze with some blue,
Perhaps there’s a pen that is just right for you!


On the subject of posting there are four questions: do you ever post? Do you never post? Do you sometimes post? If so, when do you choose to post or not?

I never post. I used to but I found it unwieldy with bigger pens. I gradually gave it up with smaller pens, too. If there is nowhere secure to set the cap I hold it in my other hand.

There are people with expensive new pens who do not post because it will mark the barrel. This is correct; it assuredly will. Part of the reason I don’t post is similar. Most of my own pens are vintage and several models are subject to cracking of the thin cap lip, which can arise from posting too forcefully. That isn’t the main reason for cap lip damage but it’s worth avoiding.

Another reason is balance. I have never written with a posted full-size Duofold, as an example, because it would be uncomfortably back heavy. Through time, I suppose I developed some form of muscle memory about pen balance and now I wouldn’t be comfortable posting even a small pen like a Swan 3160.

There are a few pens I am aware of that were designed to be posted. 1920s and 1930s cheap hard rubber pens were often threaded on the back of the barrel to accept the cap. Conway Stewart’s cheapest pen of the era also had threading on the back of the barrel. I believe it was a pen intended to be bought cheaply in quantity by employers, a forerunner of the Crystal Bic. If I had one I wouldn’t post those pens either. There may be other pens configured in this way of which I am unaware.

For years I have seen discussions on this subject with people posting opposing reasons for posting or not posting. They seem to me to be good reasons but neither are decisive. There’s no real deal-breaker in the world of posting. If you like to post, you post; if you don’t, you don’t. Or maybe you just say the hell with it all and buy a Pilot Capless.

The Mystery Conway Stewart

Thanks to all those who tried to guess which pen was illustrated. Chris J is the winner. He guessed that the pen was a Conway Stewart 205. Several people were so very near!

The pen is not illustrated in Stephen Hull’s book. I think most people were consulting the late Jonathan Donahaye’s wonderful listings but he only shows an earlier, flat-top version. The one place no-one thought to look is in my blog. A Conway Stewart search of the blog would have taken you right to it! I wrote about this excellent writer some years ago.

Congratulations to Chris J for his detective work!

Which Conway Stewart?

This is an old Conway Stewart and a good ‘un, part of my own collection of very good writers. A very sculptural section there!

A pen bearing this number was available from very early in the company’s production and changed a little over the years. This is the early thirties version. Conway Stewarts got more colourful after this but I don’t think they got better. This is a splendid pen.

It once had quite deep chasing but it has gone almost entirely from the barrel and is shallow on the cap. That’s hard rubber, as I said my last post.

Beautiful knurling on the top of the cap. The only pen I have with better knurling is my Ford. But anyway, what number Conway Stewart is this? If the correct answer comes from the UK I’ll send you a good (but not expensive) modern pen. If the correct guess comes from overseas you’ll have my profound gratitude and admiration for your knowledge of British pens (it’s the cost of the shipping)

Hard Rubber

Ebonite, hard rubber, whatever you want to call it, was the first material used for fountain pens. It is light and warm to the touch making it comfortable in the hand. Though none of the larger modern companies use hard rubber much if at all, Indian manufacturers use it creatively.

It is said by some that the main reason celluloid became so popular is because hard rubber is brittle. I don’t find that to be true. Red hard rubber and the various varieties of mottled hard rubber are more brittle than black hard rubber, but I’m not sure that any of them are more brittle than celluloid itself. Where the material is thin, as in the cap lip, hard rubber, celluloid or the plastic that Aerometric Parker Duofolds were made from, all have a tendency to crack. Those pens that have a tendency to mysteriously crack in thicker, unstressed areas are often celluloid.

No, I think the real reason celluloid caught on right away was because it could be made in so many colours, and with such depth of colour. Though some highly decorative pens were made in hard rubber like the Wahl Eversharp wood grains and the various Waterman ripples, there was a limit to the colours and patterns that could be produced. They tended to lose their shine quickly, and with the shine went the little depth they had once had. Celluloid is harder and retains its shine well. Chasing in celluloid does not wear as quickly as it does in hard rubber.

All the major companies made pens in black hard rubber and all faded quite quickly. The mystery is that there is a group of 1920s British pens in black hard rubber that never fade. Was there a cheaper version of black hard rubber that only incidentally had the property of holding its colour and shine which only became clear years later?

In the US Waterman and Wahl Eversharp persisted with hard rubber long after Parker and Sheaffer moved to celluloid, but eventually even they made the switch. There was a period when no gold-nib pen maker used hard rubber. Celluloid, casein and some other, less definable plastics ruled the roost. During World War Two, Mabie Todd returned to black hard rubber. No one knows why. Did they have unused stocks of the material that reduced manufacturing costs? It was clearly the case that the colour black was very popular in 40s and 50s Britain, and perhaps that made the return to black hard rubber easier. In any case, many pens were made of that material and those that have not faded too much are handsome and comfortable pens.

A Big Swan

The predecessor of this pen was the flat-topped wartime 2060. The change to a torpedo shape is purely aesthetic – same huge nib, same innards. Indeed, if this pen had a number it would also be 2060. The number guy was off work that day. He’d been off quite a lot. Hangovers. His superiors were keeping an eye on the situation.

It really is all about appearance. Both pens feel similar in the hand. They’re big with a lot of girth, very comfortable to use.

This was a bank manager’s pen. Not only did he refuse your loan application, he sneered at your little pen while doing so. They’re all small compared with this one. Unless you were the rare person that came in with the Swan with the No 8 nib. In which case he would definitely be intimidated into granting your loan.

Bad Sellers

Many of my pens come from eBay. It’s a good source and many of its former faults have been addressed. The one remaining fault, from my point of view, is not one that they can easily resolve: the bad seller. By that I don’t mean the seller with lots of negatives. They can be avoided. What annoys me is the sneaky seller who tries to sell broken pens.

Nearly half of the pens I bought last week have to be returned. One pen had an obvious, large, L-shaped crack in a black hard rubber cap lip. Not repairable. Not mentioned in the description nor shown in the photos. Then there was a group of two Swans from the same seller. The same type of cap crack in one and a cracked nib in the other. These were not hairlines or things you could miss. Strangely, neither damage was photographed though there was a photo of the good nib in the pen with the lip crack. That’s all the evidence I need that the seller knew about the damage but somehow hoped I would accept the pens!

Why do they send out such awful pens? They must know no one will accept these scrap pens. By time they get their pens back they have lost money, having had to pay return postage. Serve them right!

What can be done about it? I don’t have any answers. I could give them a negative but the transaction disappears as soon as a return is accepted. Probably there’s a way of hunting that down but that would be even more of my scarce time wasted. I could name and shame here and elsewhere but that wouldn’t be right, too excessive. I suppose all I can do is streamline my returns routine.

There is another associated problem. eBay has brought out its own delivery and return system, called Collect Plus. No one here accepts packages for that system. The nearest shop that does is 23 miles away. A 46 mile round trip for returns is out of the question.

Why is eBay bringing out this delivery system when it has not been properly put in place? Of course I know the answer – it is more money for them and less for poor old Royal Mail. It will doubtless be cheaper so sellers are buying into it. How long can our universal mail system last in the face of such competition?

The main problem for me is the time that it wastes. I already work longer every day than I ever did as an employee. These bad sellers are time robbers.

Fyne Poynt Pencil

I love mechanical pencils of all kinds, but especially Mabie Todd Fyne Poynts. It’s sad, but mechanical pencils don’t sell well; they’re an even more niche interest than fountain pens.

I love the variety of vintage pencils. There are ones to suit every pocket and taste, from the cheap ones that resemble wooden pencils but aren’t, all the way to very opulent pencils like this one.

This pencil was made throughout the 1920s. It’s intended for a watch chain or chatelaine, neither of which are in fashion now. I like the security of the stirrup fixing. The mechanism is the Mabie Todd propel/repel type that remained unchanged as long as these pencils were made. Why change what works so well?

This gold-filled pencil has the same sparkly pattern as the immaculate pen and pencil set that I wrote about recently. Almost a century old, this pencil shows hardly any wear.

Coming back to their comparative unpopularity, I do understand it, to some extent. Repairs, where they’re needed, are harder than in fountain pens in my opinion. At their best, they lay down an unchanging grey line. Many people are attracted to fountain pens by the endless variety of inks available. There are coloured leads that can be used in old mechanical pencils if you can find the right size, but it isn’t really comparable.

If you love mechanical pencils as I do, you do so on their own unique terms. You love their variety and ingenuity, their quality and their endurance. The term ‘small objects of desire’ applies very well here.


I think I may have used this title a few times before. I always have several pens in use at any one time. Right now I have my Swan 1060 with blue-black, my Swan SF230/61 filled with a brown ink (not sure which one!) and a cheap Jinhao filled with Noodlers Black Swan in Australian Roses. With regard to the latter: I’m not usually fond of red inks but this one gets me.

My Platinum 3776 is in the wrap along with a good Chinese pen called The Crocodile. It’s heavier than my Swans, though not too heavy. Also, there’s a slim 80s Pilot with an EF nib. All of those have one blue-black or another.

Sometimes a pen will run out in the middle of an article or letter. I grab the next pen and for a paragraph or two my writing is absolutely awful. Then it improves and soon it’s back to normal. It’s not the fault of the pen. It’s just my hand adjusting to a different pen.

Each pen lays down ink in its own way. You may think you are in control of the pen but it forces you to grip it in a certain way, angle it to suit the grind of the tip and so on. There are pens that make my writing the best it can be and others I can’t write with at all.

Though there are exceptions, most Conway Stewarts don’t suit my hand. I have one, an 85, that I will always keep because it was a gift from a dear friend. I did some work on it, changed the tip until I was more comfortable with it and I can use it now.

I spend a lot of time either at the computer desk or the workbench. I feel the need to get away from that rather formal way of working, and I do my drafts for these articles and any other written work with a notebook on my knee. The angle seems to suit me better than writing at a desk like I was still in school. For that I need hard-cover, spiral-back A5 plain notebooks. Tiger notebooks are perfect. I always have several in stock. I hope Amazon doesn’t stop supplying them as they do with so many things!