The Mabie Todd Swan 3230

Grey is an unfortunate colour for fountain pens. It discolours, almost always. The pre-war celluloid grey/black marbles didn’t show the yellowing quite so much, and even when it did, the marbling reduced the unpleasantness of the effect. In the post-war period there was a fashion for self-coloured pens. Quite a few manufacturers, including Mabie Todd, Parker and Wyvern had self-coloured model ranges in the late forties and early fifties. All included grey as one of their colours, and all dropped it quite quickly and reduced the range to the burgundies, blues, greens and blacks that retained their original colours. Small wonder, because the self-coloured greys invariably discoloured, often very badly.

This is a Swan 3230, made between 1947 and 1950. Mabie Todd was still a maker of very high quality pens in this period, though I think the gold plating on these pens is thinner than it would have been fifteen or twenty years earlier, and there has been some plating loss on this example. It’s a well-made pen, though, comfortable and well-balanced in the hand – a real writer’s pen. The stubbish nib is a medium oblique. The pen is, of course, discoloured, with an obvious difference between the cap and the barrel. It’s by no means the worst I’ve seen – these pens can become a hideous muddy yellow.

Though it confers no obvious benefit, Mabie Todd went to the added expense of threading the sections of these pens, rather than making them a press fit. The brass threads and the two cap rings place this pen in the middle of the price range. As always with Swans, it’s an easy repair and it’s the work of a matter of minutes to return the pen to working condition. I pop in a silicon sac to prevent further discolouration. When tested, the nib is decidedly flexible. It’s a real pleasure to write with.

Like black pens, grey pens are often cannibalised to provide spares for more colourful pens that will sell for a higher price. That’s something I try to avoid. True, if a pen is extremely discoloured to the point where it looks repulsive, I’ll strip it for spares but otherwise I’ll repair it. After all, they’re not making any more 60-year-old Swans, and these pens are splendid writers. I’m not in the business of reducing the numbers available. Yes, it may sell for rather less than a more a colourful one but I didn’t pay much for it and it didn’t take a lot of my time to put it right. It’s not going to have collectors fighting over it, but someone who wants a thoroughly excellent writer and doesn’t care too much about its appearance will treasure this pen.


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