Pens For Ladies

It isn’t often that Bic, that colossus that bestrides the ball-pen market, gets the spirit of the times radically wrong, but I think they managed it here rather well!

It’s good to see sarcasm used so effectively as a cutting-edged weapon. I think Bic may quietly withdraw “Bic For Her” quite soon.

In casting an eye back over historical periods, it’s generally regarded as essential to avoid the anachronistic temptation to apply one’s modern beliefs and biases to yesteryear. On the other hand, that’s no fun so we’ll just ignore that principle for the moment.

The earliest commonly-produced “Pen For Her” was the chatelaine, and it was probably the least objectionable of the pens produced especially for women. Edwardian women’s wear for the middle and upper classes didn’t have pockets, so a pen that hung around the neck was practical. Of course many were decorative, though at that period many men’s pens were too, so it can’t be said that women were singled out as being especially attracted to pretty baubles, in that time at least. In fact, in recognising that the head of a medium or large household was a manager who ran the house with a pen rather than a skillet or a mop (we have people for that, dear), it may even have gone so far as to suggest that some women, at least, were not empty-headed ornaments, but were capable and competent within their carefully delineated sphere. Most, though not all, chatelaine pens were not tiny. They were slender as were all pens in that time, but as people were making the transition from the dip pen to the fountain pen, they were used to writing with slender instruments. As eyedropper-fillers they held a good charge of ink. Chatelaine pens, it could be said, didn’t demean their user or label them in a derogatory way.

Things were about to change…

Take, as one example among many, the Lady Duofold of the late 1920s and 1930s. It’s the same size as the Duofold Junior, which was intended as a school pen. Is this intended to imply, perhaps, that the average woman has hands like those of a school child? A little observation would have shown that this is not so, but never mind. What’s the effect of shortening a pen? It holds less ink. Are we to understand that unlike her businessman mate who needed a big pen to write reams every day, the little woman only wrote the odd shopping list or note to her giggly friends and didn’t need a pen with much capacity?

By contrast, we might discuss the gender message of the Pen For Men or the Waterman Man Pen but we won’t because that inevitably gets phallic and rude, and this is a family blog.

The last hugely successful pen made mostly for women was the Conway Stewart Dinkie 550, sold between 1952 and 1962. Though I believe you could buy one on its own, these were usually sold in a presentation case with a matching pencil. They were usually bought as presents, and the fact that they were not all that well appreciated by their (usually female) recipients is illustrated by the perfect, unused condition that they appear in on eBay today in their hundreds. I have small hands and I can’t write with a Dinkie 550. It’s just too small and fiddly. Dinkies are, in fact, delicate, beautiful and useless, and perhaps that’s what the ladies of the fifties took their beaus to be saying about them, as they slung the pretty presentation case in the drawer, never to be looked at again.

Get the message, Bic. We women don’t want to go down that road again.



If I’m not bald today it’s because I sprained my wrist and couldn’t tear my hair out in handfuls. Trying to get this online shop put together has been one of the worst experiences of my life. I kept being presented with supposedly finished versions of the website and being encouraged to sign off on them. Far from being finished, there would be pages and pages of juvenile errors on each occasion. Errors that I had previously pointed out and was told had been corrected, hadn’t been. I’m not talking about intensely nested complexities; just links that went where they shouldn’t go or went nowhere at all, thumbnail graphics that were a disproportionate disgrace and automated emails that were gibberish.

All last week the storm was gathering and it burst on the Friday. I was reduced to demanding a full refund and making threatening legal noises. At that point, I would have cancelled and begun again with some other company with something approaching equanimity, because there seemed to be no end in sight, and there never could be, as the guy wouldn’t check his work and there’s no quality control. I wouldn’t have allowed them to keep a penny of my money, though, and I would have willingly spent three times as much in legal fees and court expenses to ensure that. I give good spite.

I suspect that a large part of the company’s problem is that they dispensed with the services of their good developers and replaced them with cheap labour, judging by the critters I’m dealing with, cranky, short on English and not over-burdened with talent. Be that as it may, last week’s email drama seems to have worked, though the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we’ll have to see whether they come up with anything edible. The first developer has been replaced with a more senior one and strict supervision is being applied. Of course they could tell me anything. I’m not there to see what actually happens. Anyway, they’ve got a week and then I’ll be sending out for guns and lawyers, to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson.

I’m still not naming the company responsible. They insist on displaying their name on web sites they have created so, amusingly, they will name themselves if the project is completed. If it has to be cancelled there will be naming and shaming. You betcha!

By the way I did sprain my wrist. There were some mighty weeds growing in the hard-to-access area behind the shed. I got a bit gung-ho and went in there with a machete. And sprained my wrist. My hand and arm swelled alarmingly and the GP feared it might be more than a simple sprain, so I was sent on the 140-mile round trip to Accident & Emergency. Turned it’s just a sprain, so I have to try to do everything with my left hand as I’m wearing one of those aesthetically appealing splints on my right.

I’d have been OK if I hadn’t imagined that the stems of the weeds were the developer’s neck…

Mabie Todd Swan Gold-Filled Ringtop

Eric, do you recognise this pen?

It’s what’s often called a ladies’ pen, but it would have been equally at home on a watch chain or in a waistcoat pocket. It’s gold-filled. All the gold and gold-filled overlay pens were made in New York at this time, as were the nibs, so this pen is an American Mabie Todd Swan through and through.

If this pen were British-made (in which case it couldn’t be gold-filled, of course!) I would date it to 1920 to 1925 or thereabouts. Not before 1920 as British Swan had no lever-fillers until then, and certainly not much later, given the early style of the pen. As this pen was made for the British market, it may well conform to those dates, but I can’t be sure as my ignorance of American Mabie Todd pens is both wide and deep. They may have introduced lever-fillers earlier, for instance.

I’ve handled several of these small pens over the years and this one differs in only one respect: the condition. Though there are very slight scuff marks where the pen has been posted or capped, there’s no base metal showing through anywhere. That’s quite remarkable for a gold-filled pen of this age. I can only assume that it was little used and then stored carefully away somewhere. It certainly hasn’t been left to roll about in a drawer.

There’s no doubt that pens like this were made to be admired and to impress. It’s a bit of pocket jewellery – bling with class! That’s not all it is though. It has a superb very flexible nib with a slightly crimped upturn at the end of the nib – not an uncommon feature on those New York nibs.

It’s a delight and I could write with it all day, except that time is short and less enjoyable matters are pressing. Hence the poor photos, for which I apologise, but maybe it’s enough to see what I’m talking about.

Frustration, Anger And Increasingly Homicidal Ideation

I find myself repeatedly apologising for the lack of activity in this blog, but there’s a good – or rather bad – reason for it. The creation of my retail website drags on and interminably on, involving me in a mountain of unnecessary work.

When I decided to move to online retail, I did my research, as one does. I wanted the best, almost regardless of cost. It’s costing me £1000.00 bar a handful of change. I wouldn’t mind that. I budgeted for the investment. What I do mind is that far from living up to their contract it appears that the company – or at least the developer I got dumped on me – will never finish the job.

It’s not that I’m being picky and insisting on the green being changed to blue, or that word be centred rather than left-aligned. I haven’t made a single style objection – I haven’t had time to even think of that, buried as I am in errors and incompetence.

Four times now, I have been presented with a link to a supposedly finished website. On each occasion it has had major flaws like broken links, links that go to the wrong place and thoroughly incompetent graphics handling. Clearly, the developer does not check his work and is severely limited in his skills. I suspect that he may not really be a developer in the true sense of the word. Time and again, I have to pore over the site, taking copious notes and thereby wasting time I can ill afford. On one occasion I submitted a closely written four-page document composed entirely of egregious faults.

I’m not naming names at this point. This weekend I finally blew my stack and ignoring the “developer”, I emailed the salesman who sold me the package, demanding that the situation be reviewed by senior management. I’ve had a positive response this morning. So, as I say, I’m not naming the culprits at this stage, but if I don’t get a 100% perfect site in quick order I most certainly will, everywhere and anywhere that I can.

Of course, the developers have a link to this blog…

Mabie Todd Swan 4261

I did a pile of pen fixin’ today, I’m pleased to say, and among those restored was this Mabie Todd Swan 4261. It dates to around 1950 and it’s a black hard rubber Leverless. Though it’s not a large pen with its No 2 nib, it has three-band trim and was probably fairly high in the price range. It has few of the surface scratches that a well-used pen develops and the gold plating is in excellent condition. When I took it apart I found this:

Original Swan sacs don’t appear all that often. I find Conway Stewart ones all the time, the original ones being pale brown and the replacements black. I suspect that Swan didn’t issue sacs to their repair agents but just left them to fit standard stock.

Given its pristine condition this pen might be well unused shop stock. There’s no box, it doesn’t have a price label or chalk marks but it’s more likely than not that that’s what it is. I didn’t buy it as New Old Stock, nor could I advertise it in that way, but it’s nice to have an essentially new sixty-year-old pen.

Mabie Todd Blackbird 5244

Excuse the quality of the photography today. For one thing I’m not using my usual camera but a little Canon PowerShot SX100 which doesn’t really have the capabilities of my Fuji which has gone to Orkney with my husband today. For another, I’m only snatching a few minutes from a day of restoration and I didn’t want to take the time to set up the light-box. As a result, the only photo that does justice to the colours of this very beautiful pen is the one that shows the barrel imprint.

It’s a Mabie Todd Blackbird 5244, the 44 indicating that this pen is made from rose marbled celluloid. It’s a late thirties example and it has survived in remarkable condition. Mabie Todd priced Blackbirds cheaper than Swans but they didn’t make their savings on build quality, just on a general reduction of trim.

There’s no cap ring, the clip and lever are chrome plated and the Blackbird nib is made from slightly thinner material than Swan nibs were. Also, the top of the cap is left blank, where a similar Swan would have borne the logo there. That said, this is a splendid pen that compares well with the top of the range output of many other manufacturers. The celluloid is glorious and the pen writes well with appreciable flexibility.

Not all in the garden is rosy, however. I bought this pen unrestored but the previous owner had pulled the section to remove the old sac. In doing so, he savaged the section with very sharp pliers. I can often get rid of pliers marks if they’re not too bad, but in this case the jaws had been sunk into the section, then wrenched around it, leaving very deep scores. Neither heat nor abrasives can get rid of something like that. Luckily, I had a correct section in the Mabie Todd spares tin but that’s not really the point.

If you’re not going to fix the pen, leave it alone. Removing the old sac isn’t doing the buyer a great favour, especially if you’re going to destroy the section in the process. If you are going to fix the pen, throw your pliers away unless they’re padded pliers intended for pen repair. The supply of old pens is large but it isn’t infinite. Cannibalizing pens for replacement parts isn’t a sustainable practice in the long term. Let’s stop destroying perfectly good parts needlessly.