The Slippery Slope: The Onoto K2 And The Conway Stewart 150

These pens have something in common: they were made by companies in decline. Their dates of production are different, the Onoto being launched in 1955 and the Conway Stewart some eight years later, but the position that their respective companies found themselves in were quite similar. Sales were falling inexorably. Costs needed to be cut in a desperate attempt to regain market share and both companies also made an attempt to turn out a product that was more in tune with the the times.

In introducing the K series of pens, De La Rue threw the baby out with the bathwater. Whatever this K2 may be, it’s not an Onoto, that elegant pen with its plunger filling system. It’s something quite different. That said, despite some faults the K series are good pens. Their piston filling system is generally in excellent working condition today without any servicing. The gold plating is very good, the clutch still closes the pen firmly, the ink-view area of the barrel is still clear and it writes well. These pens were a limited success, but it wasn’t enough to save the company. De La Rue, after all, was not entirely dependent on pen production and they pulled the plug when the profit and loss statement said it was time.

The Conway Stewart 150, I would maintain, is still a respectable pen but it contains the seeds of decline. At first glance it’s little different from its illustrious forerunners of the fifties, but when you handle it you feel the difference. The pen feels a little slippery, a little waxy. Gone are the glowing celluloids and caseins; this is injection moulded plastic. No doubt it was the right decision from a cost point of view, but self-coloured pens don’t have quite the attraction of the patterns that made Conway Stewart what it was. There’s no lever. Now you have to screw off the barrel to find a metal squeezy device, the Conway Stewart Pressac filler. This, like the shape of the pen, is an attempt to emulate the Newhaven Parkers, but this isn’t like Parker’s Aerometric filler. It’s an older technology and you can squeeze away all you want, you’ll never fill the sac. Unlike the Parker, this system has no breather tube. It’s just a squeeze-filler like the Macniven & Camerons of 45 years earlier. In other respects it’s not too bad. The gold plating is, perhaps, not as good as the Onoto’s but that was always how it was. The nib is conspicuously small, but it’s still gold. On my example, the softness of the plastic has allowed a groove to develop around the cap where the clip was allowed to spin. However, it’s still quite a sound pen that would give good service.

Onoto at least got a clean, relatively quick death. The coup de grace was administered in 1958. Conway Stewart staggered on, turning out poorer and poorer pens until it ground to a halt in 1976.

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