The Ty-Phoo Tea Pen

Someday, someone will write a history of the promotions of British tea companies – if someone hasn’t done it already, that is. Collectable cards of all kinds, die-cast car models, The Tetley Tea Folk, tea towels, ornaments – all sorts of things have been offered as inducements to choose one brand of tea rather than another. Perhaps tea companies feel that their products don’t stand out enough in their own right or maybe it’s that there are so many brands in the field. In any case, it’s an odd phenomenon, and it gave us the Ty-Phoo Tea pen, one of the more interesting good quality pens of the twenties and thirties.

The first one (so far as I can tell) was a black chased hard rubber lever filler with a threaded end to the barrel for posting the cap. This is the basic promotional pen of the time, adequately well made with a warranted 14ct nib, but it doesn’t stand out, and the threaded barrel end is almost a diagnostic sign for an economy pen. No-one appears to know who turned out these pens, ready to be stamped with the advertiser’s name. Not many of this first version of the Ty-Phoo pen survive. They’re actually pretty durable, so it’s reasonable to assume that this first promotion wasn’t all that successful and there were never very many of the BCHR Ty-Phoo pens.

Having had a re-think, Ty-Phoo ordered a much better pen, the mottled hard rubber one we are more familiar with.

Though the trim is, I suspect, gold-tone rather than gold, in other respects this is a very high quality pen indeed. The design is good, the wood-grain MHR is pleasing to the eye, the machining and finish are first class and they have good warranted nibs. An altogether better pen than the first offering. Some claim that this pen was made by Conway Stewart, others suggest Wyvern as the manufacturer. I have to say that it doesn’t look like Conway Stewart work to me. Their associated pens always resemble their own output, and this pen is very different. Wyvern seems more possible, but the truth is that the manufacturer is unknown. Maybe I should say manufacturers, because there are minor differences between examples of this pen – different clips, slightly different sections and some boxes are blue, while most are orange.

Offered for two shillings and seven pence together with proofs of purchase of the tea, the market value of the pen was said to be eight shillings and sixpence. A real bargain, the offer was taken up with enthusiasm, as can be seen by the number of these pens still around after all these years.

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