I’ve bought a few John Bull pens over the years and more often than not they’ve been a disappointment. The celluloid ones that I would guess are from the late thirties are good pens but the earlier black chased hard rubber ones seem flimsy to me and often the parts fit together ungraciously. So when I saw this pen and pencil set I debated with myself a little. At length I concluded that as they were clearly later and the price was good anyway, I might as well take a chance.
I’m glad I did. Though they’re not really exceptional in any way, they make a good set. The pencil works, the pen writes with a deal of line variation and the condition of both is good. The box is a smidgen tattered but it’s all there and the colours are quite dramatic!
If you do a web search on “John Bull Fountain Pen” you’ll find several conflicting opinions as to who made the John Bull pens. In every case, so far as I can see, opinion is all they are, without a shred of evidence one way or the other. The late and estimable Jonathan Donahaye, whose opinion I would usually implicitly accept, listed a John Bull pen that he believed may have been made by Conway Stewart. There are some resemblances but resemblance is no proof of provenance. Any of the pen manufacturers of the day could make a pen in any style, and a superficial resemblance to the the popular Conway Stewart would be a good way to sell pens. Wyvern and even Mabie Todd have been suggested – nay, asserted – to be the makers of John Bulls, as have De La Rue, with perhaps a shade more credibility.
This pen has more than a hint of the De La Rue about it. But there I go, falling into the same trap. Resemblance is no proof of provenance. I could say, in complete accuracy, that there are stylistic resemblances to some some lesser De La Rues, and the quality is comparable with that of the non-Onoto De La Rues. It’s the same fallacious logic as has misled others, though, and it won’t do. We need a lot more than that to confidently say who made the John Bulls. Sight of an old contract would be nice, or maybe an order…