1910 Mabie Todd Ladies’ Swan

It was the proud boast of Mabie Todd & Co. in 1910 that a Swan pen was “a gift which will last a lifetime.”

It has certainly proved to be the case with this Ladies’ “Swan” pen. The black hard rubber is still black and there’s little wear on the rolled gold. The chased pattern is crisp and fresh and the cap fits as firmly as when it was new. At 102 years old this pen is good for another century at least.


The design on the trim is called the Snail Pattern, I believe, and it was popular for overlays on pens. This is, of course, an eyedropper filler with an over-and-under feed. The bow-shaped brooch by which the pen would be pinned to its owner’s blouse is an after-market add-on which didn’t have quite as good plating.


There are various ready reckoners that you can use to compare prices of earlier years with today. It doesn’t do to place too much trust in them. Not everything rises in price at the same rate and these tables are by necessity a compromise. Nonetheless, they can give us some guidance in comparing the cost in 1910 and today. According to one, a 1910 pound is worth £67.99 today, and a shilling then is worth £3.40 now, so you could buy our 1910 guinea pen for £71.39 today. That’s hogwash, of course. A pen of this quality and trim would cost a lot more today, but that’s partly because we no longer have the economies of scale that existed when fountain pens were the primary writing instrument.


I’m going to pin this fine pen to my blouse, attach a bunch of keys to my waist and be La Chatelaine – for tonight, at least.


W. H. Smith’s “The Strand” Fountain Pen.

W. H. Smith and Sons, Stationers, sold their own-brand pens over a very long period. Still do, I believe. With no pen production facility of their own they contracted out manufacture such companies as Conway Stewart and Langs.


This “The Strand” pen was a Langs product. Despite the name, intended to evoke the large mansions and town-houses of the City of Westminster*, The Strand was a lower-cost pen than Smith’s Seal Pen. That said, it’s as handsome and well made as any of Lang’s output with its chased finish and tear-drop clip, the only evidence of its lesser value being the comparatively small warranted nib. I say comparatively because this isn’t a tiny nib like those found in some Wyverns of this period. It’s just a bit smaller than the nib you’d find in, say, a Summit 125.


This was a wartime pen, one of three, along with the Savoy and the Regent, that Lang Pen Co. Ltd. were licensed by the government to make. At the same time Curzons Ltd. (virtually Langs by another name) was licensed to make two Summit models. Though there doubtless was some shortage of materials, manufacturing capacity was in even shorter supply, and most pen companies were being restricted to economical models that were efficient to turn out, so that the rest of their factory space and equipment could be devoted to the manufacture and assembly of such things as aircraft instruments, engine parts and munitions.


My Strand pen is well-worn, to the point where the chasing has disappeared in parts. That’s a sign of a good pen that found constant employment for many years. Though it may have no great following among collectors, the Strand is a worthy pen with an honourable history.


*Both the Savoy Hotel and the Savoy Theatre are in The Strand, and the district of Savoy abuts it. Regent’s Park is at no great distance. Langs knew which side their bread was buttered on, and London references would sell pens for this Liverpudlian firm.

The Cursed Polishing Wheel And Other Stories

Though I would never use one myself, I am sure that a polishing wheel, even in the field of fountain pen restoration, may be a useful tool in the hands of someone who can apply it judiciously and with restraint. Sadly, polishing wheels rarely fall into such hands; they’re usually employed by maniacs who, teeth and eyes gleaming madly, polish precious pens into shiny nubs.


This was once a Swan Self-Filler, most likely an SF2, before it was polished within an inch of its life. There is the barest ghost of the chasing and a very faint memory of the barrel imprint, but it’s shiny. Very characterless and very shiny.

I suppose it’s unlikely that the people who do these things read my blog, or even read at all, but if there’s any chance of penetrating the density of bone that surrounds the pea-sized object they call a brain, let me say this, “Step away from the polisher! Do it now!”

In all seriousness, old pens are a finite resource, scarcer already, perhaps, than we might think. Treat them with respect. They are fine instruments and an important part of humanity’s history.


Here’s me doing descriptions for next week’s pen sales. Except, of course, that I’m not in the photograph because I’m the one taking it, but you get what I mean. I don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel any more often than is forced upon me, so I save all pen descriptions. A Waterman W2 is a Waterman W2 whether I prepared it for sale a year ago or today (though the variation in sizes of some quite modern pens almost gives the lie to that statement) so I reuse the the file with minor modifications to allow for colour, condition, nib type and so on. Despite having sold many hundreds of pens, though, there are some weeks when at least half the descriptions have to be written from scratch. This is such a week. It’s more of a chore but it’s more interesting too. It’s an indication of the unending variety of old pens out there.

The Sheaffer Whateveritscalled

My attempt to learn to write better without the benefit of flex is quite successful. I – my own most acerbic critic – am quite pleased with how things have gone. I enjoy the application of greater precision in writing than was my wont. It’s really most satisfying to develop a not at all objectionable hand without flourishes.

It took longer than I expected, mostly because I had to find a pen I could work with well. I explored the extremes, from a tiny Tuckaway to a Sheaffer Lifetime Oversize, but in the end I settled on this pen:


I don’t even know what to call it, though I suspect it has some mundane title like Sheaffer Cartridge Pen. It’s a mixture of the expensive and the cheap. It has a white dot, which suggests quality – or used to, but the clip that white dot is on has lost most of its gold plating.


The nib, too, is gold, and it’s very good. Smooth, but not in that greasy way many modern pens are, with their great globs of tipping material. This nib doesn’t have feedback, exactly, but it gives a feeling of precision. I knew that I was getting somewhere when this pen began to fall to my hand like one of my old Swans, and I started to look forward to the prospect of writing with it.

A Nineteen-Twenties De La Rue Pen

I’m afraid my photographs don’t really do justice to this stunning pen. I’ve lightened them a little to show the chasing better.


Going by its style, it dates to the early nineteen-twenties but in terms of condition it could have been made yesterday. I have nothing to compare this with as I’m not really familiar with non-Onoto De La Rue pens of this quite early date. All I can say is that this is a very, very high quality pen. The machining is so good it’s invisible, the fit of the parts is superb, the chasing is deep-cut and beautiful and the design is pleasing. Later De La Rue pens can be inconsistent; some are excellent, others can be surprisingly average, but they got off to a good start with this one.


Nib stamps are interesting. The best, I think, are on Sheaffers – deeply imprinted, clear and artistically laid out. Swans are good too. Conway Stewarts have nice cursive writing but they’re stamped quite shallow, and old ones can be very faint. De La Rues, including Onotos, often have a messy and indistinct stamp.


Don’t judge the nib by the stamp, however. De La Rue nibs are superb, among the very best you’ll ever find.

It’s when you find a pristine black chased hard rubber pen like this that the difference between the real thing and re-blacked pens leaps out at you. There are no painted-over dings and scratches here, nor is the surface roughened by soaking in bleach. A BCHR pen that is like new is a very special thing and it can’t be replicated by chicanery.

Some Thoughts I Thunk.

It has been a busy week for me with hardly a day at home, hence the paucity of posts. Nonetheless, there have been a few interesting things, some, at least, of which I hope to write about in the coming days. There’s a very early Fattorini piston filler – you don’t come across one of them every day! A delightful Wahl metal-bodied pen found its way to my bench and so did a 1920s De La Rue pen, as fresh as the day it was made, with chasing so sharp it would cut you.

In eBay this very day there’s a 1940s/50s English Waterman button-filler. Yes, that’s right. A Waterman button-filler! Such things are rarely seen. I had a mind to buy it but I think it’s going beyond my reach. Bear in mind that I at least have to get my money back to carry on, and the rarest of rare pens aren’t always the ones to make the money, especially when they’re rare enough that most people don’t know they exist. It’s the scarce-but-sought-after pens that make squillions.

Despite having been around for a few decades, there are signs that our hobby has yet to get beyond its mewling and puking infancy. There was a thread about the meaning of the word “vintage” with reference to pens in FPN this week. The standard of debate was such that I fear it will be a generation or two yet before our hobby is able to develop universally-agreed standards, and it will remain all the poorer for that. It is true that the worst elements of earlier years have been driven out, mainly by eBay’s presence establishing prices that reflect value a little better than those prevalent before it was around, but we still have a long way to go. A glance at the more mature hobbies like veteran and vintage motor-cars, numismatics and philately show where we might be some day.

The Redipen No 2

I bought this pen more from curiosity than anything else. It was announced by the seller to be “A very rare Redipen no. 2 by Brown & Bigelow”.

Brown and Bigelow are a publishing company in the USA. They produce all sorts of promotional products, including pens. They’ve been around a long time and they may well have turned out promotional fountain pens at the time that this pen was made. However, so far as I’m aware, they had no presence in Britain and it was clear, even from the photographs, that this was a British pen. At first glance you might have taken it to be a Summit or a Stephens. It looks to me like a pen made by Langs.


When the pen arrived, sure enough:


It’s a stretch, but I suppose that there is a slender chance that Brown & Bigelow did make this pen, or have it made for them, but the most telling fact against that is that their name isn’t on it and nor is anyone else’s. It’s not a promotional pen and that’s the only kind that Brown & Bigelow produce. No, I think some other, British, company made this pen. It isn’t entirely unique. A little judicious searching turned up a Redipen 44 that had been sold on eBay some time ago, and other Redipens mentioned in the sales lists of auction houses.

So who made the Redipen?