Like many another pen topic, Conway Stewart is too large a subject to be covered in one post, but it’s always a pleasure to write about this company which produced perhaps a more varied range of colourful pens than any other.
Despite being among the most written about of British pen manufacturers, many mysteries remain, none more impenetrable than their numbering system. I have heard several speculative explanations but none seems to hold up. Except my one, which is as follows: In the immediately post-war period, one of the company’s most prestigious pens was the Duro-nibbed 55, with its narrow-medium-narrow cap bands. The 388 is a smaller version of the 55, following the same pattern. What connection could there be between these numbers? Well, you see, you must subtract 55 from 388, which gives you 333. The 333 is a simple 1930s Scribe, so we’ll ignore that but if you multiply the numbers together, ie 3x3x3, you get 27, which is another prestigious pen of a slightly later period…
Are we onto something here? Is this the solution to Conway Stewart numbering?
No. It’s not. But it makes as much sense as some of the others.
Their business model – which worked well most of the time – is another mystery. Most pen manufacturers limited their range to a few models at any one time, but Conway Stewart, both before and after World War II, had a tremendous array of different models. That must have been a costly business. Though some nibs, clips, levers and sections would have been interchangeable between a few models, there must have been a huge number of different parts to be made in total. Each model had its colour range. Some patterns were used by several models, some were unique to one. That’s a lot of celluloid rod stock!
For most of their history, Conway Stewart was a successful company. It was a well-respected brand, the pricing was right and their pens were well-presented in cards of the various models in all those patterns we search for now – cracked ice, herringbone, tiger’s eye, autumn leaves, blue rock face – in the best stationers and newsagents. Though the gold plating may have worn a little now, these pens survive in their thousands, a testimony to their popularity and good quality.