Black Is Black.

From the 1930s to the late 1950s, pen manufacturers produced pens in a stunning range of colours and patterns that has never since been equalled. There were marbled patterns in all the colours of the rainbow, candy-stripes, herringbones, lapis lazuli, jade, snake-skin and cracked ice, to name but a few. So which of those glorious colour-schemes was the most popular? None of them. In Britain, at least up until the introduction of self-coloured injection-moulded plastic in the sixties, black was king.

Why should it be that black pens were vastly more popular with pen buyers than any other colour? It wasn’t price. Coloured pens and black pens cost the same. To a large degree, I think, it was what people were accustomed to. Before celluloid and casein became commonly used, pens were made from vulcanised rubber, and that mostly came in black. Yes, there were red hard rubber pens and the various versions of mottled hard rubber. There were overlays in gold and silver too, but these were the exceptions. Most pens were black, and it was accepted that black was the colour for fountain pens in the same way as refrigerators were white or later, desk-top computers were beige. Then again, I think, there was the implication that if you were a person to be taken seriously, you would use a black pen. This intensified in the post-World War II period, when men (and it mostly was men) avoided colours in their dress and accoutrements. Suits were black. Shirts were white. Any deviation from that pattern reflected badly on the wearer. Even cars were black.

Things have changed today. If we had the full nineteen-fifties range of the original Conway Stewart company available to us now, we’d all be buying cracked ice, tiger’s eye and red herringbone. Instead, the majority of Conway Stewarts that appear on eBay are black. They’re beautifully designed and excellent writers, but we may feel justified in wishing that the buying patterns of their original owners had been different.


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