The Last Blackbird

The declining days of the once-proud Mabie Todd company were especially sad. Their fortunes did not revive in the post-war period and the company was taken over by the Biro Pen company in 1952. From then on it was known as Biro Swan and Mabie Todd was gone for good. Investment in the fountain pen arm of the company was low and little that was new was produced. As demand fell, so did production standards and quality control. Biro stopped production of fountain pens in 1958.

The main product in the later years was the Calligraph. At first a lever filler, it later used an improved Leverless filling system. A turn-button on the end of the barrel caused a cam to rotate, depressing an ordinary pressure bar. The end of the pressure bar located into a slot in the threaded section. This was an efficient system, but could be something of a swine to reassemble when re-saccing. This system has caused yours truly to (on occasion) utter words and phrases not usually heard in polite company.

I was aware that, towards the latter end, there was a further development of this system employed in Blackbirds, so I grabbed this pen when it appeared, not – I hasten to add – because I admired its quality, but so that I could take it to bits. It’s not that bad, actually, except for the clip which has rusted. Otherwise, the manufacturing quality is good.

The turn-button is now concealed beneath a blind cap, and it’s knurled aluminium. Quite smart, in fact. Is that an improvement? Probably not. It means you have an extra step to go through in filling your pen.

The pressure bar is now fitted with a cap, which aids in locating it securely into the mechanism. It helps to make reassembly rather easier and I achieved it without any oaths or imprecations, so that’s definitely an improvement!

There wasn’t much I could do with the clip, other than rub it down. The high-shouldered nib is actually quite good. The plastic is attractive, and it looks very like the plastics used on the continent. I suspect the building of this pen was contracted out to a German or Belgian firm, as happened with some other British fountain pen manufacturers. The barrel is imprinted “Blackbird – A Swan Product England” which is probably only partly true.

Taking it all in all, it’s not a bad pen. It hasn’t got the quality of a pre-war Swan, or even a 1940s one, but the machining is good and the plastic hasn’t distorted. The means of securing the clip with a metal stud is a step down from the usual inserted clips, but it’s the method Waterman used with success for years. If this Blackbird was the last of its kind – and I suspect that it is – it isn’t nearly as poorly made as, say, the last Conway Stewarts.

2 thoughts on “The Last Blackbird

  1. I have one of these on my “work bench” right now. It isn’t as nice as older Blackbirds but the nib is surprisingly nice for a pen this late.
    Do you need a necked sac with this kind of Blackbird or you could use a straight one?

  2. Yes, that’s how I felt about it too. I’ve had some very late Swans that were decidedly sad pens indeed. This one’s quite useable and it’s a good-looking pen apart from the rusty clip. A straight sac is what you need. Essentially it’s just another button filler apart from the clever bits at the end of the pen. Keeping the pressure bar in place in the slot in the threads as you screw the assembly in is the most fiddly bit, but it’s easier than on the late Calligraphs.


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