Of all the common pens, the Unique is the least written about. In my various reference books, it is never accorded more than a passing mention. There may be lots of information on the brand on the Web, but try Googling “Unique Pen” and check through the five million or so results that you get. Few of them refer to the actual Unique pen. “Unique” must be one of the most overused words in the English language. One it might it say it was uniquely overused, were “iconic” and “surreal” not equally hurled around without regard to their meaning. It is rare indeed, in discussing fountain pens, for the writer to mean “Being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else”; it usually implies “I think this pen is quite nice” or “I bought this barely operable piece of Chinese crap and I badly need your approval”.
All that having been said, the problem remains that though there are plenty of Unique pens out there, without any hint of a company history it’s hard to get a true picture of what was going on. There have been periods when Uniques were plentiful and clearly somewhat popular and others where they are very uncommon indeed.
Unfortunately I don’t have photos of all the pens I wish to discuss, but the most recent Uniques will be quite familiar to most people. They don’t have a strong collector or user following and I think they’re probably a little under-appreciated. They’re actually quite good pens, or at least those ones that have survived well are.
I have heard it said that they were made at Newhaven, first by Valentine and later under Parker ownership, and it is likely that there was never a Unique manufacturing plant. The late forties pens, slightly streamlined, with a curved stepped clip and a slightly tapered clip screw, closely resemble the Kingswoods of the period and they were certainly made at Newhaven. The clip is identical, I believe. The main difference is that the Uniques have either warranted nibs (often bearing a unicorn image), or nibs marked “Unique” rather than the excellent Eversharp nib of the Kingswood. That these pens continued to be made into the early fifties is shown by the fact that Unique Juniors in this style were presented as commemorative pens for the 1953 coronation.
Their later pen, and probably their last one, is the commonly seen fully streamlined pen that bears more than a passing resemblance to Conway Stewarts and Burnhams of the time. Made in a range of attractive marbled patterns, these pens were successful, if one can judge by the numbers of them that still appear. Probably aimed at the student market, they were made from thin, wrapped celluloid sheet, a common practice which produced a less satisfyingly solid pen than those machined from the rod.
The earlier model than either of these pens, produced during the thirties and early forties, is a conventional, straight-sided pen, quite similar to a lever-fill Mentmore. These pens don’t turn up often. Either they haven’t survived well or they weren’t particularly popular in those years.
That’s not the whole Unique story, though. They’ve been around quite a long time, and in the twenties and thirties were producing higher quality pens than we see later.
This Unique No46 appears to date to the nineteen-twenties and is a pocket or purse pen. This one – the only example I have seen – has had a hard life and is in fairly poor condition, but that does not disguise the quality of the design or the machining.
This No51 is probably a little later, and is a thoroughly superb pen of the highest quality. The nib, which is stamped “Unique 14ct” is very flexible, and this pen is joy to use.
I realise that this is a very patchy and incomplete account of a quite major company. I have held back from writing about Unique because of the lack of information. However, it’s a subject I can always return to, and this brand is an especial interest of mine.