Tuppence’s Diary

Here we are, sorting through the mail. That’s my Dad, helping me. I love my Dad, as you can tell and this is why:

A few years ago before I had the op, I had a small family. Now I’m a small cat and they all grew into enormous brutes. My owner decided to keep one and being so much bigger she took to bullying me. Me, her mother! She even lies across my owner’s window to stop me coming in! I began looking around for somewhere else and got this job with Goodwriters.

My daughter still bullied me whenever she could. She also killed birds. My Dad was most displeased. One day he chased her out of the garden and she hid under a bush. He had a spray bottle for his plants and he seized it and gave her a good soaking. She was most indignant. She ran away and doesn’t come into our garden any more. How I laughed! And how I love my Dad!

Back to the pens…

Waterman #10

What’s the story with this enormous Waterman?

I don’t really follow Watermans any more but I would like to know about this pen. That price seems rather inflated to me.

Edit to add: I’ve heard quite a bit about this pen and the seller now. I withdraw my remark about the price being inflated. This pen really is worth something in that price range!


I refilled the printer this morning, loading around 100 sheets of A4 paper into the tray. In the course of the day I’ll be writing in three notebooks which serve different purposes. Getting pens ready for despatch will require some form-filling. It’s all paper.

We love our pens and ink has become a very popular subject of discussion on the pen boards but paper is the poor relation, much less discussed but equally essential. People do discuss the best modern papers but I don’t know much about them. I use old paper from the mid-twentieth century or earlier, a time when all writing paper was fountain-pen friendly.

I freely confess that I love paper. It’s an obsession with me, not far behind fountain pens themselves. Like many other things, it was the Chinese who invented paper. and it took a long time for that technology to reach the West. On this side of the world such writing as was being done was on vellum and parchment, expensive materials that were the result of a long and costly preparation process. Books were treasures, about as far from modern cheap paperbacks as it is possible to imagine. Literacy was low and so was the requirement for written materials. Supply and demand were in balance. That was about to change.

Those prepared animal skins were an excellent material to write on. I’ll have more to say about them another time but it’s important to realise that it wasn’t writing that drove their replacement by paper. Acts of Parliament were still written on parchment until 2017 when it was finally replaced with archival paper. Vellum and parchment were impossible to completely standardise, making them unsuitable for printing. That’s where the increased demand for paper came from. Paper had been around, supplied by Italian paper-makers, since the 13th century but it’s use was relatively low until the 15th century arrival of printing. High-quality, water-marked paper was soon being used by printers in huge quantity.

Scribes gradually fell into line, using this good paper for letters, diaries, notes and draft copies. In some respects paper wasn’t quite so good as vellum for handwriting; for instance you couldn’t properly delete an error, just cross it out, whereas with a sharp knife the scribe could completely remove a mistake from vellum as if it had never happened.

Price ensured that paper won the day and wonderful papers have been produced. Some was even made to resemble parchment. I have a diminishing supply of that lovely textured paper, best written on with a medium or broad nib because of its coarse but satisfying surface.

It’s not so long ago that paper was comparatively expensive and it was used carefully. In letters, people often wrote one way then turned the paper sideways and wrote across the first writing. Now if I make a mistake on written or printed paper the sheet goes for recycling without a second thought. We are wealthy in paper!

A Colourful Swan L92

These little pens don’t appear often so I was glad to snatch this one even though it isn’t perfect. The slight discolouration at the nib end of the barrel suggests that red ink was used. Also it may have been a ring-top though there’s no ring assembly there now.

Those things aside the tiny pen is a wonder. It was made around 1929/30 when pen manufacturers had mastered the use of celluloid and were exploring its possibilities. This pen is designated L92 which calls up ‘lavender with jade, coral and black rings’. I would have expected a stronger hue from lavender but as the image in Stephen Hull’s The Swan Pen is identical in colour it isn’t the result of fading. That’s just how it is.

The moiré effect is so strong that it suggests a texture. It’s only when you pick it up that you realise that it’s completely smooth. The coral and black bands really stand out. This is a small, Dinkie-sized pen. It posts well which helps but it remains at the outer edge of what is practical. The pen dates from a time when it was assumed that women desired tiny things. Goodness knows why!

The surprising thing is that this wee pen sports a No 2 nib. It doesn’t look as if it is a shoe-horned in replacement for an original No 1. I have no reason to think that it is not original. These multi-coloured pens – there’s quite a range of them – are unique to Mabie Todd in this style. I’ve seen nothing like them from other pen makers.

Stephen Hull: The Swan Pen

A White Swan

Of course I should have taken these photos against a black or coloured background. I’ll learn some day…

Though they’re not very common I pick up these Art Deco Swans from time to time, usually in black. I’ve never had one of these white ones before. The contrast between the white body and the black ends and section makes a striking pen. Stephen Hull, in his The Swan Pen, says that these pens were intended to be gifts for bridesmaids and nurses. Lovely gifts they would have been too and I’m sure they were much appreciated.

These Art Deco pens were made on the brink of war. They appear not to have been huge sellers, surprisingly considering their elegant design. Though this pen is in generally good condition there is some loss of gold plating on the lever, indicating extensive use.

Though its comparative rarity makes this pen a collector’s item the splendid, very flexible nib deserves use.

A Glorious Montblanc Safety

The modern Montblanc is not to my taste for various reasons and in any case I wouldn’t spend that much on a current pen. I’m told that they are good writers but so is the Lanbitou I’m using to draft this article. It cost three quid. Of course that’s a rather shallow argument – the Lanbitou doesn’t have the quality of a Montblanc and it may not be as durable. That said, if I want superior quality I just need to use my vintage Swans or Onotos – the highest quality at a tiny fraction of the price of a modern Montblanc.

I promise not to rant on interminably about modern Montblancs. Just two other things I would mention: associating pens with dead artists and authors seems a spurious piece of marketing. In truth they had nothing to do with the pens. Secondly, drawing attention to yourself by flashing an expensive pen seems a bit jejune. But maybe that’s just me.

It was not always so. A few years ago I used to buy forties and fifties Montblancs to restore. Wonderful pens with outstanding nibs. They’ve gone a little beyond my budget now but I’m glad they’ve reached their proper level and are suitably appreciated.

Long before that Montblanc made many safety pens. The well-known White Top of 1912 and the famous Rouge et Noir of the same period are highly collectable – if you can find one!

In the twenties this beauty came along, another much-sought-after collector’s pen, photographed here with a fine Swan.

As well as being treasured by collectors these pens are perfectly practical writers. I’m told this one is somewhat stubbish. I love the nib – a real work of art.

Such Montblancs as these are expensive too, but worth every penny!

With thanks to Hans Gilliams for his excellent photographs.

Tuppence says

It’s very windy here today – 40mph gusts that would blow little me away so I’m staying indoors. Dad did the bare necessities outside and they’ve both been working on pens since. Seven restored so far and another two in progress. Me, I’ve been sitting around radiating waves of adorableness and sometimes going for a nap because it’s hard work being as totes adorbs as me.

A Swan Safety Propelling Pen

This safety pen is a real rarity. It does appear in Stephen Hull’s excellent Swan book but I’ve never come across one for sale. It’s such a well-made stylish pen that I’m surprised that there are not more of them around.

Safety pens certainly had a select market for a time and apart from the very popular Watermans and Swans such manufacturers as Whytwarth turned out their own versions.

These pens were mostly made during the years when the alternative was an eyedropper filler. Safety pens, with their retractable mechanism and the little door which sealed the ink in the barrel were very much more complicated than an eyedropper filler and this was, of course, reflected in the price.

So what was the attraction of these more expensive pens? It’s hard to put oneself in the mindset of the pen buyer of more than a century ago but probably the main draw was the portability of the safety pen.

They were advertised as being impossible to leak, a big selling point in those days of ink-in-the-barrel pens. With the quantity of ink held even in those slender pens, a leak would have been a very expensive disaster, ruining a shirt, or even worse, a jacket.

Judging by the number of clipless pens we find from that period, most pens remained on a desk but there would have been numerous situations where it would have been beneficial to produce a pen from a jacket to sign a document or take an essential note. The safety pen might pay for its additional cost by obviating the need for one eyedropper pen at home an another at the office.

Whatever the reasons for their popularity, we are fortunate to have inherited these cleverly-designed pens. They’re just as practical today as they were in the Edwardian period. There has even been a small fashion for modern pen manufacturers to produce safety pens. Perhaps the necessity for them has gone away as we have so many other designs of pens that are safe to carry but the mechanism is as admirable as ever.

Thanks to Rob Parsons for the excellent photographs.

The Kids of Illinois

I’m told that children in Illinois are required only to be able to write their own name. I assume that this is because even such things as note-taking in class will be done by keyboard, probably on a smart phone. I can’t imagine keying one of those tiny keyboards fast enough to keep up. However, there have been so many changes in the last hundred years that it is not altogether surprising that the practical necessity for handwriting is no longer required if things can be done another way. Will everyone else fall in line with Illinois and will education be damaged by the inability to write?

It will be sad if cursive handwriting disappears from the everyday world and it remains only as a hobby. I think it’s wonderful that we can form letters at high speed and remain legible. How will this pan out? Watch this space!

Thanks to Hans Gilliams.