Stephens Leverfil No 76 in Dusty Rose and Black Marble

Stephens had a comparatively short but very productive period as a seller of gold-nibbed fountain pens. Beginning in 1935 with their stud fillers, this period in their much longer history was pretty well over by 1955. Though details of their later history when they were involved with Jif-Waterman are confusing, the earlier chronology of the company is, in general terms, quite well known.

 

For instance, this beautiful Leverfil No 76 was introduced in the autumn of 1941, a period when Stephens used some very lovely patterns of celluloid that seem to have been unique to them.

 

Though at seven shillings and sixpence it was their second cheapest pen it is well made with admirable attention to detail, such as the nib that was made specially for this pen.

 

What remains a puzzle, to me at least, is the variety of clips that Stephens used over a short period, apparently without much consistency. There’s this clip with “Stephens” stamped into it, a similar ball-ended clip in either gold or chrome plating without the lettering, and sometimes an arrow clip appears.

The greater mystery that has yet to be resolved is the extent to which Stephens own employees were active in the production of these pens. It is possible, though unlikely, that they were entirely made under contract by some other company, with Langs being the most obvious choice. The early stud fillers were made to a Langs patent and bore a striking resemblance to that company’s other output. The component parts of these wartime lever fillers also resemble other Langs pens. It may well be that parts were manufactured by Langs and the final assembly was carried out by Stephens. Stephen Hull mention (in Stephen Hull: The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975) that when their head office was bombed in December 1940, work continued at their main factory at Highbury. Prior to that, customer repairs seem to have been done at the head office, so it is fair to assume that the main factory may have been devoted to assembly if not complete manufacture of the pens.

My thanks to Stephen Hull for the factual information quoted above. The speculation is my own.

A Brace of Wahls

Recently somebody was selling off their collection of overlay and metal bodied pens and I bought a few of them. These are the shorter Wahl Gold-Filled pens, measuring 10.8cm (41/2 inches). They were made between 1920 and 1929, the height of the Art Deco period, and these are often called Wahl Art Deco Pens. That’s odd, in a way, because there’s no individual feature of these pens that relates to the Art Deco Style. They’re restrained and symmetrical. The machined decoration on one – the Greek Key Pattern – is entirely classical in origin and the other, the Diamond Wave Pattern, is without any obvious influence. The overall effect, though, with the shapely clips and the tiny, decorative levers, is, perhaps, slightly Art Deco Mild, as it were, and the fact that the patterning is machined rather than hand-engraved as it would have been in an earlier era, adds to this.

 

These are quite practical pens. Capped, they’re no longer short at 14.8cm, which is an average size for a pen. Both have the excellent Wahl 3 nib. The Diamond Wave patterned one is semi-flexible, but the Greek Key pattern is fully flexible. Both are a delight to write with. There’s a little loss of plating where the pens have been posted, but at 80 – 90 years old they’re as pretty and useful as when they were made.

How Are The Mighty Fallen!

This no-number pen was made by Conway Stewart in its years of decline. I can’t find an image of it in my usual sources, but there’s a fibre-tipped pen in Steve Hull’s Conway Stewart book that bears a close resemblance. The defining feature seems to be the raised, lined ring near the cap lip and the fibre-tipped pen has something similar. That would place its manufacture at 1972. This pen’s design is decidedly seventies, in the sense that form triumphs over function, as it did in so many objects made in that decade. The raised, lined ring might make some sense if the cap was screw-on, in that it would give the user additional grip. However, this is a slip cap. It doesn’t have a clutch, but the section and barrel meet in such a way that one protrudes fractionally at the top, the other at the bottom. This forms a sort of ridge which the cap clicks over. It’s cheap and effective but quite offensively inelegant.

 

This shoddiness is pervasive. That the pen is made in the particularly unfortunate green that Conway Stewart favoured in those years is neither here nor there, but the very evident seams and flashing left by the injection moulding process indicates that quality control was not high on the company’s priorities. The fixed clip is at an angle, not because it has been bent but because that’s how it was inserted. The process of clip insertion has caused rippling in the thin plastic of the cap. Once known as “the pen with the wonderful nib” Conway Stewart Has now become the pen with the cheap, after-market, folded-tip, white metal Flowline nib, and that’s truly a sad comment on how far the company had fallen.

 

The filler parts have been lost at some time from this Pressmatic filler and, to crown it all, the pen has begun to warp, giving a slightly banana-shaped front-to-back profile. It would, actually, be possible to restore this pen. I expect I have the metal parts of a Pressmatic filler in the spares box and the pen could probably be straightened without much difficulty, but why bother? Who, in their right mind, would want this pen?

The Pen Box

It’s amazing how the pens mount up if you stop selling but continue to restore…

The Bayard 2000

I don’t often buy French pens* but I couldn’t resist this boxed Bayard 2000. It’s a beautiful pen and it’s in wonderful condition for its sixty years. With its torpedo shape, narrow/medium/narrow cap rings and inserted clip, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Swans of the same date. I don’t think there was any particular reason for that. So far as I’m aware there was no relationship between the companies – that’s just where design was at the time, and in fact Bayard had been making this shape of pen for some time by 1950.

 

Though its origins lie deeper, Bayard actually began production in 1922. Their logo was a knight with a fountain pen for a lance and a nib for a shield. Their motto was sans reproche which I’ll translate as “beyond reproach” or “irreproachable” until someone with better idiomatic French than me (most people) comes along and puts me right. They made consistently high-quality pens until the mid-fifties, when competition from the increasingly successful ballpoint pen began to seriously erode sales and, like so many other manufacturers they tried various cost-saving exercises that affected the quality of their pens. The company closed in 1965.

 

Among the last few high-quality pens Bayard made, then, the 2000 is an excellent pen by any standard. The gold plating remains very good on this example and a rub with a soft cloth soon restored the plastic’s original shine. It’s nicely balanced and sits well in the hand. Like many 18ct nibs this one has noticeable “give”. It’s not particularly flexible – though there is a little understated line variation – but it’s soft, making writing with it a very pleasant experience.

 

 

*This is not to cast aspersions on French pens. There are many superb French pens and I wish I could pursue them all, but the truth is that you can spread yourself too thin. There are so many British pens I have yet to write about, and many I’ll want to say more about. Also, unlike American and Canadian pens which have always been common here, European pens’ penetration of the British market was very slight.

Conway Stewart Universal 479 “Bottle Green”

This is the second exceptionally colourful Universal 479 I’ve picked up in a few days. I believe this is the pattern Jonathan Donahaye called “bottle green”. It isn’t really the green of a bottle, but it is a very strong, vivid colour.

Before anyone suggest that because this is a bright colour it must be casein, let’s lay that one to rest. Yes, casein takes some wonderfully rich colours and displays them in often rather different patterns from celluloid, but celluloid comes in some pretty wild colours too. In fact, the surprising thing is that the colour capability of celluloid was so seldom exploited to the full. Generally, before World War II the bright, strong colours were mostly confined to the Dinkie range and were often in casein. Perhaps it was thought that the users of full-size pens were more conservative in their tastes, and would prefer the more sober patterns that predominate among surviving celluloid pens.

 

The 479s were something of an exception in this respect, having the brightest celluloid patterns in the pre-war Conway Stewart range. Perhaps this is, as Donahaye suggests, because these pens were often used for promotional purposes and it might have been thought they should be eye-catching.

Sales

As it turned out, Sunday’s sale of pens turned out not to be as disastrous as the previous two weeks. Not good, but not disastrous. A large part of the reason for that was because I went through all my sales items with them and demanded that they be made fully visible in the default listing as I’d paid for. They didn’t quite manage it – a few pens went for their opening bid or not much more – a superb Leverless 4261 for £24.00 and a BHR Waterman 52 for £26.00! Good bargains for the lucky buyers but not sustainable for me.

I’m going to take a holiday from sales while I get some costings for a retail site and wait to see if eBay returns to normality. They’re not very communicative, which doesn’t help. I have a backlog of pens to be restored so that should keep me out of trouble. The weather has improved after a cold and miserable spring so I might just take advantage of that for a while.