Swan 3250, Revisited

I’ve written about the Swan 3250 before but it’s worthy of further consideration. It’s part of that post-war series of pens that were fitted with brass threads. Soon after, that feature was dropped.

The colour is very dark. I have seen, in eBay listings, the pen described as black or chocolate brown. It is actually burgundy but it needs a strong light to really appreciate it. The plastic that the 3250 is made from appears to be especially hard and durable. The barrel imprint is invariably fresh and clear.

Strangely, there seem to be two versions of the 3250 – or perhaps three, if one includes the Calligraph. This pen, as the number would indicate has a No 2 nib. It also has two cap rings. But I have seen several – too many to be an error – with a No 3 nib and three cap rings, still bearing the number 3250 on the barrel. It’s just another of Mabie Todd’s numbering puzzles.

Mabie Todd’s major failing lies in the gold plating which wears easily. This example is pretty good; there is even plating on the ball end of the clip. The lever is slightly humped, and there is brassing at the high point.

These nibs are often flexible to some degree and this one is no exception. It gives appreciable line variation. The 3250 is a sound pen and one in good condition, as many of them are, will compete well with many much more expensive modern pens. It has a better nib than any modern pen, it looks good and is robust enough to outlast many present-day pens

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Parker Victory Mark IV

I grow ever more aware of the quality of the Newhaven Parkers, especially in their early years. They are a pleasure to work on and a pleasure to write with. Of all their products I admire the Victory Mark IV most, not only the best of the Victory series, but the best of the Duofold group of pens of the forties, fifties and sixties.

The Victory Mark IV has it all. It has the classic tapered shape, the beautiful understated clip and the shallow pointed clip screw, the slightly proud paired cap bands, a long well-shaped blind cap and the sculptured aluminium button. It is more than just the sum of these parts; it all fits together in a splendidly harmonious whole.

The clip is somewhat of the style of the one that adorned the Challenger some years earlier. It is a simple elongated and truncated triangle with the word “Parker” contained within subtly inscribed lines. It’s an altogether more elegant clip than the overworked arrow clip, a cliche that many manufacturers had employed.

This pen was only made in solid colours: black, grey, dark green and burgundy. I think that was a wise choice. The shape would not work so well in marbled colours.

This pen was only in production for four years, from 1948 to 1952. The next, and final, version of the Victory was fully subsumed within the Duofold range and was identical to the Junior. To my mind, the button filling system is more satisfying and elegant, in the engineering sense, than the Aerometric, and the aluminium button brought the system into the space age.

Gold Nibs

I have a number of good pens without nibs, brands for which I don’t have spares. Some were given to me and others arrived in a batch that I bought. I am tempted to say that the batch were the result of stripping out the nibs for their gold value but I don’t know that with certainty.

What to do with them? If I try to hang onto these pens until correct nibs happen to become available they may sit here forever. What I have done with several is to fit them with either suitable (but not correct) gold or steel nibs and I will offer them for sale at a very low price, making sure that potential buyers are made aware that the nibs are not original. It’s a poor solution but the only one I have.

Nibs are a rare resource. Cracked nibs – everyday ones – cannot be economically repaired. More worrying is the constant sacrifice of valuable pens for the paltry few pounds that the gold of the nib will fetch. There has been much discussion of this over the years but it still continues because we are preaching to the choir. We are not reaching the people who actually do this, the house clearance people or gold traders. They see the gleam of the nib which is all that interests them, unaware or uncaring that the whole pen is worth a lot more.

A Tant and a Kumar

Rob Parsons has kindly provided me with photographs and details of these two pens. The first is a Tant (on the left), a pen I have heard of but not seen. It’s a rather odd-looking lever filler. The step down from the barrel to the section is abrupt and severe. I suspect that it might be quite uncomfortable in use. The nib is gold plated steel.

Tant, according to Stephen Hull’s book* was primarily a manufacturer of parts pens for other firms. Tant began production in the early years of the twentieth century and survived until the late thirties. They do not appear to have made many pens under their own name. This pen appears to be a real rarity.

The other pen, a Kumar eyedropper, is rather a puzzle. I can find no record of a Kumar pen but the word is Indian, being a Hindu or Buddhist title and a forename and surname in South Asia. It is the most common surname in Uttar Pradesh. I would suggest, with no more evidence than that, that this is an Indian pen, despite being quite British-looking.

A crack in the cap has been repaired and the ornament attached to the cap seems to be later, not original. It is an elegant pen. The nib is a replacement, a steel Nova nib, so that doesn’t help in identifying it.

*The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 to 1975.

The Conway Stewart Dinkie 540

There are many small pens: the various vintage pocket and ring top pens, modern Kaweco Sports, the various Japanese long-shorts and, I suppose, a host more. These pens have normal sized nibs, it is just the barrel and cap that is reduced. Then there are tiny pens: the Waterman Smallest Pen in the World, which I assume was just made to show that it could be done, the Peter Pan fountain pens and some Wyvern and Wahl Eversharp very small sets. These are pens that are proportionate in every respect, with very small nibs. The most famous and best of these is the Conway Stewart Dinkie.

I’ve tended, generally, to avoid them. The most modern ones are not worth much and some of the older ones are worth a great deal! I didn’t find them particularly easy to sell unless they were really outstanding. I’m a dealer not a collector and they didn’t really work for me. Of course, I’m interested in all fountain pens and the Dinkies began to appeal to me more. They get you in the end.

I remember a discussion that took place on the Fountain Pen Board some years ago, when someone said that Dinkies were for collecting rather than writing. They were too small to write with. Andy Russell replied to that saying (excuse me if I paraphrase, Andy, as I can no longer find the discussion) that of course they were for writing with, they were a huge seller and people didn’t buy them to look at. That of course is completely right. Some of the finest calligraphy ever written was done with birds’ feathers for goodness sake! I have seen a builder with hands like bear’s paws scribble a page of text with a stub of pencil less than an inch long. The notion that a pen has to be large enough to double as a weapon in a tight corner is an entirely modern one.

To the pen in hand: this is a Dinkie 540 from the 1940s. It’s a splendid little pen, like a Conway Stewart 286 in miniature. The colour is variously described as red moire or dark pink moire. Dusty pink would work for me. I filled this pen and wrote with it. It’s a delightful stubbish semi-flexible medium. Now, I am arthritic and I confess it is a little slender for someone with my affliction but I wrote a page of text with it without any difficulty. It’s exactly the same diameter as the wooden pencil I have in my jar, so those people who find a Dinkie too small to write with, can’t write with a pencil either. This is evidently a physical disability.

I’m not going to attempt to go over the history of the Dinkie – it has already been done splendidly by Andy Russell. Suffice it to say that if I were a collector, I could find no better field of collection than these wonderful, jewel-like and yet practical pens.

Hero 1588

Chinese pens have a number of things going for them. They are often ridiculously cheap and the quality has improved immeasurably compared with a decade ago. I bought several and was quite impressed with what I got for the most part. For one reason or another they didn’t really suit me and I sold them on. All except one, this Hero 1588.

It’s an entirely metal pen but it is light so I’m fairly sure the barrel and cap are made of some aluminium alloy, rather than the usual brass. The section/hood assembly is steel and therefore a little heavier but it doesn’t unduly unbalance the pen.

I don’t usually like metal sections and I’m not fond of sections that are shaped to indicate where your fingers should go. I don’t really care for hooded nibs either so why do I like this pen so much that it is the only Chinese pen remaining? First, despite being shiny metal the section is not slippery because of its sculpted shape. I’ll forgive the pen its hooded nib because the nib is so good. It’s a firm extra-fine. The ink delivery is completely reliable – no hard starting or skipping. It suits my hand so well that this £3 pen is one of my favourites, a better all-round performer than some pens I have that cost fifty times more.

Metal hooded nibs seem to be an exclusively Chinese thing. At least, I haven’t seen one on any European or Japanese pen though I confess my knowledge of modern pens is hardly comprehensive. Beyond that the pen is rather ordinary, traditional even. It’s flattopped and very gently tapered. It has an arrow-clip which strongly resembles that on recent Parker models, though I am unaware of any Parker that looks like this pen. The only thing that draws the eye is the robin’s egg blue of the cap and barrel.

Considering that a few years ago many Chinese pens were encrusted with decorations that appealed to their taste much more than ours, they have come a long way. They have learned from Parker, whose pens they often emulate, but also from Japanese pens like the various Pilots which several Chinese pens resemble. Above all their nib technology has been transformed, if this little pen is anything to go by.

Parker “17” Lady

This is the Parker “17” Lady. I don’t know why we have to have quotes around the 17 but Parker put them there so it seems we do. Like the rest of the 17 range, this pen is a descendant of the Aerometric Duofold, differing mainly in the hooded nib. It’s quite a small pen at 12 cm capped, and it is slender and light. This is because we ladies have tiny little hands that can’t hold anything as huge and heavy as a Parker Junior. I don’t think that pen makers condescend to us in quite this way today – at least I hope they don’t, other than Bic, with their (widely mocked) sparkly pink offering. However, until recently it was assumed that we needed tiny pens.

Having got that out of the way the Lady is a pretty decent pen. The 14 carat gold Parker nib is made to the usual high standards and the Aerometric filling system is, as always, designed to last, if not forever, for a very long time. The sprung barrel ring ensures that the pen closes firmly. This example has retained its box and guarantee, which suggests that it wasn’t used all that much. It is in pretty pristine condition.

As it is quite late, I will have a tiny snack and a tiny cup of tea and get off to my tiny bed.