I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the Conway Stewart numbering system. I’m aware that this is a futile exercise; there’s neither sense nor logic to numbers they assigned to their pens. Other collectors have warned me that this will end in tears. I can’t let it go, though. I keep trying, in the hope that one day all will become clear.
Surely if two pens have almost the same number they must have a close relationship? I’m thinking of the 85 and 85L, two pens that the company created in the mid fifties to exploit the new range of colours and patterns they had developed. They come in black, too, and here they are:
At first glance they do appear quite similar. The 85L is a little longer and thereby gives the impression of being slimmer. One might be the big brother of the other, but almost instantly one notices the broader cap band of the 85L.
Then the eye drifts to the top of the cap and it becomes clear that they are entirely different. The 85 has a simple washer-clip held by a metal stud, whereas the 85L has a cowl over the clip, all held in place by a black plastic stud. In fact, in the medium cap band, cowl clip and black plastic stud, the 85L resembles the 84, not the 85!
There may be a sensible explanation. These pens – with the odd exception – share the same colour range. The 84 came first in 1952. The 85 was introduced in 1956, perhaps as a cheaper version of the 84, with its simpler design and narrow cap band. It only remained in production for a year, however, which suggests that sales may have been poorer than expected. Conway Stewart decided, it seems, that it was not a less expensive pen that the market required. Exactly the opposite: it was a larger, more expensive pen that was needed to fill that slot – hence the 85L.
So the 85 was a mistake, really, and the 85L is actually big brother to the 84.
Or that’s my story, anyway.