On Its Way

The end is in sight – or the beginning – depending on how you look at it. I now have a working version of my online store though there are a few wrinkles still to be ironed out. Nice clean interface with little to distract from the pens. The navigation appears logical and intuitive.

The site will go live quite soon now, loaded with pens for your perusal, delectation and purchase if they are to your taste. When I traded in eBay I aimed for moderate prices, a high turnover and happy customers and that remains my intention. As I haven’t sold since April, everything, including this blog, has ground to a halt, and I’m looking forward to getting going again. The prospect of bringing in new – and hopefully unusual – stock to restore, write about here and sell is an exciting one.

I’ll keep you posted. It won’t be long now!


How Not To…

What d’you think about that? That’s not a repair you see very often! The surprising thing is that the piece of rough cord was actually pretty tightly tied on there. Seems that the sac held ink. Sadly, the ink that was used had more of the characteristics of gloss paint, so cleaning the section, feed and nib is still ongoing.

This ‘n’ That…

My apologies for the continuing neglect of this blog. It’s unavoidable. As I work towards going retail, the day just doesn’t have enough hours. All I can say is that once that’s over, the blog will return to normal.

I’ve been looking through the queries that brought people to my blog. One querier wanted to know what the name of the person was who started Mentmore Pens. That one’s easy to answer: nobody knows! The longer answer is that the company seems to have begun in a couple of back garden sheds in 1919. By 1928 we know that the managing director was A. Gilbert and other directors were M. Pollack, P. Leaver, A. Leaver and Arthur Harris. Later, the company was managed by Arthur Andrews.*

Another person wanted to know how to polish a nib with jeweller’s rouge.  Jeweller’s rouge comes in solid, paste or powdered form or in impregnated cloths. I use the solid form. A 500g bar costs about £6.00 nowadays and it will last you all your life and your children can pass it down to your grandchildren. Chemically, it’s ferric oxide. It’s gentler than most metal polishes but it’s still a pretty effective abrasive, so don’t get too enthusiastic on two-tone nibs or it may eventually remove the plating. Liquids and pastes can dry between the tines of nibs and even get into the channels of the feeds, causing flow problems, hence the use of dry rouge or an impregnated cloth. There really is no technique. Apply rouge to cloth. Rub nib. Admire your reflection in the nib. Jeweller’s rouge gives gold a slightly reddish tint. If you don’t like that, a quick swirl in the ultrasonic cleaner will remove it.

*With thanks to Stephen Hull for this information, from his excellent The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975.

Disassembling A Mentmore Diploma

Looking through yesterday’s search terms I find “how to disassemble a Mentmore Autoflow”.  As it happens, I don’t have an Autoflow but I have a Mentmore Diploma which disassembles in exactly the same way.

Mentmore Autoflows and Diplomas are the epitome of the standard thirties/forties/fifties British pen. Once you’ve taken one of these apart, you’ll find that 75% of other British pens will come apart in the same way.

The section is a friction fit. I was able just to pull this one out with my fingers but mostly they’ll need a little dry heat to loosen them up. Don’t soak the section – it’s black hard rubber and it will fade. Soaking is mostly ineffective anyway.

Ensure you get all pieces of sac out. I use a dental pick to get inside the barrel. Check with an inspection light or torch. I use my trusty pocket knife to scrape the remnants of sac off the section nipple.

It isn’t always necessary to remove the nib and feed from the section. I was able to run water through the section and the nib is perfectly aligned, so I leave it alone.

In a similar way, you usually won’t need to remove the clip screw, but this one has faded to white, so I’ll want to polish it back to a more acceptable colour. The other reason for removing the clip screw is if the clip is bent. Again, no soaking! This is what your friend the heat gun (or hair dryer) is for. Clip screws can have long threads and are often gummed up with dried ink. I trickle a little water into the cap, drain it and clean of the excess ink with q-tips. If necessary, section pliers can be used on the clip screw. Once it’s apart I rinse off the rest of the ink in the cap and clean the threads in the cap and the screw. Q-tips and kitchen towels will do the job.

You’ll want the biggest sac you can put in the barrel without touching the sides; in this case a size 18 sac is correct. I use a pair of dividers with the points ground off as a sac spreader. Allow the shellac to dry and dust with talc or French chalk.

I polished the clip screw until it was dark brown. Taking it all the way back to black would be inappropriate on what is a quite well-worn pen. You might want to polish the nib at this point. Avoid liquid or paste polishes which can dry between the tines and in the section; I use jeweller’s rouge. Polish the plastic and metal trim.

Reassemble and test. That’s it!

Of course, they might have meant an Autoflow button-filler…

Disassembling A Mabie Todd Swan Eyedropper Filler

One of the many good things about having a WordPress blog is that I can see the search terms that people have used that have brought them to my blog. One that has been repeated in various forms of words is, “how to disassemble an old Mabie Todd Swan eyedropper”. In the hope that those in need of assistance will call again, here’s a how-to.

Many of you, I know, will regard disassembly of an eyedropper as one of the easier tasks, but it can be a puzzle for someone who hasn’t done it before. I’m using a Swan 1500 for illustration but the method remains the same for many earlier Swan eyedroppers, and also most ones made by other manufacturers.

One of the commonest problems on well-made pens like Swans is that it can be very hard to see where the pen opens. The join between barrel and section can be so fine that it’s virtually invisible. Use strong light and magnification if necessary. I’ve shown here with my crudely drawn black arrow where the faintly-visible join is on the 1500. It will be in a similar position on most eyedroppers.

Someone will correct me if they’ve found different examples, but all Swans and indeed all the other eyedroppers I’ve worked on are conventionally threaded. In other words, the section will unscrew from the barrel with an anti-clockwise turn. Expect the threaded part to be quite long Sometimes these are reluctant to move because they are stuck with old ink. Gentle dry heat will loosen them up; remember that these are black hard rubber pens – soaking is not advised.*

Assuming the need to disassemble further, this is one of the few occasion where using a knock-out block to remove the feed and nib would be wrong and could cause damage. Grip the feed from the rear of the section and pull it out. The nib will be left in place. Then simply pull out the nib from the front. Sometimes the feed will be stuck with dried ink. Carefully trickle water through the assembly, taking care not to soak the outside as this may cause fading.

For reassembly after you’ve reinserted the feed, you will note that the tail of the nib is narrowed. Look inside the nib end of the section;

there are slots to slide the nib into. Adjust the feed until it sits right on the nib and reinsert the silver wire into the back of the section. That’s it!

Some people apply silicone grease to the threads of eyedroppers to prevent leaking. It’s rare that this is actually required. These long, very finely cut threads are almost always ink-tight in my experience, and the application of unnecessary grease is likely to be a messy nuisance. By all means, if the pen actually leaks at the joint, use silicone grease but don’t do it by default.

*Opinions vary about soaking but in my experience water, whether hot or cold, is best kept away from the visible exterior of black hard rubber pens. Some rubber, and particularly rubber as old as the material in these eyedroppers, has often already deteriorated through oxidization, though it isn’t visible. Any contact with water will make it fade at once. Then you’ll have to rub the part down to return it to black and it probably won’t match the rest of the pen. You may even resort to one of the several potions and processes you’ll find on the internet, none of which I can recommend. Better to avoid the necessity in the first place.

An Early Swan Nib

Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

It’s an early No 3 Swan nib – quite how early I can’t say at the moment, though I expect research will turn up a ball-park date eventually. No breather hole. It’ll be interesting to see how well that works when I get a pen to fit it in. It’s also very flexible, expanding from fine to triple broad at a touch.

The nib turned up on its own in eBay a few months ago. Bidding was hot and fast at the end and I paid nearly £40.00 for it, and was glad to get it at that price. I just need the rest of the pen now…

Actually, in a way, I won’t be especially aggrieved if I never find a pen for it. It’s such a jewel on its own, wonderfully evocative of an early stage in fountain pen development. It’s an inch-long masterpiece.

A Late Blackbird

Strangely, though the last of the Swans were execrable pens, the late Blackbirds were nowhere near as bad.


This pen comes in the twist-filler or lever filler forms. Though there has been a decline in quality from earlier pens , it is still, to my mind, a quite admirable writing instrument which has survived the passage of the years in good shape.


The only real failing is the appearance of tiny spots of corrosion coming through the thin plating on the clip. Otherwise it’s pretty good. The patterned plastic is attractive, it hasn’t discoloured or distorted, the filling system works faultlessly and the pen has a good nib. Another sign of cost saving is the clip, which is now held by a stud at the top of the cap instead of the earlier clip which was directly inserted into the plastic of the cap. This can hardly be regarded as a very bad failing as Waterman, among others, used this style of clip for many years.


Different sources give slightly different dates for this pen. Some say 1950 – 55, others 1954 – 58. It’s only speculation on my part but I’d be inclined to go with the later dates. My thinking goes like this: this pen bears little resemblance to anything that had gone before in either the Blackbird or Swan lines. Mabie Todd was taken over and became Biro Swan in 1952. It would seem to me likely that such an extensively redesigned pen as this came from the new company. The 1954 – 58 dates would have this pen in production until fountain pen manufacturing ceased. As I know of no later Blackbird, that seems reasonable to me. However, if you know know better…


One of my tests of quality in a pen is how well it has survived. I ran some water through the section/nib assembly to clear out any old ink, popped in a new sac and the pen was ready to write. That’s not much to do to a fifty-odd-year-old pen, I’d say. I’d be perfectly happy with this pen as a daily user, both in terms of writing quality and aesthetics. It’s still a good looking pen.