As you may be aware from my earlier ramblings, well-worn pens and pens that have personalisations and other engravings hold an especial fascination for me. They’re more interesting – though obviously less valuable – than the pristine New Old Stock examples that occasionally turn up. Though those worn pens don’t have a history we can recount, they’ve clearly seen a lot of use and haven’t spent the bulk of the twentieth century in the back of a drawer.
This black hard rubber Conway Stewart 356 has a wonderful soft shine from much handling. The 356 came out in 1932 and at three shillings and ninepence was probably the company’s cheapest full-size pen at the time. It was produced in some delightful colours but the company which bought this one settled for chased hard rubber.
Judging by the tiny shield on the lever, this is one of the earliest ones. The chasing is shallower than it once was but it’s still there. The pen has no clip, and it doesn’t look like it ever had one – Conway Stewart made quite a feature of the “with or without clip” prices, and even of the fact that their clips could be easily removed.
It’s clear that it was a company pen because the faint imprint “Stationery Dept.” can be seen in this enhanced photo (Thank you, Photoshop). I suppose it was available for everyone to fill out their stationery requisitions – a far cry from today’s attitudes, where it’s believed that lending your pen to someone else will irretrievably damage it. Of course, everyone knew how to write with a fountain pen back then, unlike today. Perhaps the clip was left off to make it less likely that someone would slip it into their pocket.
When it arrived on my bench it bore a modern plated nib. Worse still, when I opened it up, I found that the peg that the sac is attached to had been sawed off! I’m not sure why, or how the previous owner had thought the pen was going to work. Because the 356 is quite a slender pen with a concave section, it took quite a bit of hunting among the spares before I was able to return it to its original condition. But here it is, ready to write again. Perhaps it isn’t the most valuable pen I’ve worked on this week, but it’s a treasure all the same.