A No-Number Nineteen-Twenties Swan

I often come across Swan pens with no model number.  Was the model number intentionally left off or was it an oversight?  If the latter, there seems to have been a lot of oversights and it was an omission that could easily have been returned by inspectors for rectification.  It’s just another Mabie Todd puzzle, like so many more.  Sometimes it’s absolutely clear what they are – if it’s streamlined, dark blue and has a No 1 nib, it’s a 3120 – but other times it’s harder or impossible to discern what model a pen is.
Take this nineteen-twenties beauty that came my way the other day.  It’s barrel-stamped as a Self Filler but there’s no number on the barrel end.  Never has been, either, as it’s not at all worn.  It’s a very long pen at 14cm capped and an outstanding 17.5cm posted!  It’s slightly more slender than, say, an SF230 but it isn’t very slender.  It’s reminiscent of the Swan Minor range, though I seem to remember an SM2 as being shorter and having a machined pattern, whereas this has none.  Whatever it is, it’s a gorgeous pen and it feels good in the hand despite its length.


The handsome No 2 nib is semi-flexible and a pleasure to write with.  In a recent email conversation, my correspondent and I concluded that semi-flexible is the way to go.  You want some line variation but a full and easily induced flex is just too much for everyday writing.


In conclusion, though this pen has points of resemblance to several other pens of its time, I haven’t seen another quite like it  It’s quite special.



Mabie Todd Swan 3230

It was in the early nineteen-fifties that the uniform grey pens were popular.  Almost every pen manufacturer made a grey pen.  It was a sign of the (very slightly) changing times.  It was a reserved, dignified colour but it wasn’t black.  For a few short years, in fact, grey was the new black.  Then many of these lovely grey pens began to show an unpleasant yellow discolouration.  Though it didn’t affect every pen, it was indiscriminate – Swans, Parkers, Wyverns – all were likely to suffer this malaise.  By the late fifties the grey pen had gone, never to return except for Conway Stewart which turned out a few in the seventies with the same sad results.  If it was decaying sacs that caused the discolouring, one would have thought it would have affected every pen but it didn’t.  Was it a widely – but not universally – used ink?  I don’t know, but it varied from slight patches of barely discernible yellowing to whole pens that took on a pale, ghastly corpse-like hue.  Not nice.
This Swan 3230 is one of the few that didn’t succumb to the yellow plague.  Good thing too, because it’s a superb pen.  The gold plating has lasted well throughout and the plastic has readily taken a shine. 


It’s my impression  – I may be wrong – that the grey plastic is harder than the other colours Swan used at this time, and doesn’t take scratches so easily.


It has had the nib replaced, with a No 3 rather than the No 2 it originally had.  I’m happy to leave it where it is though.  It fits and writes well and it’s a rather nice broad, rarest of all the nib types back in the day.

The unpopularity of the grey pen remains today.  A grey Parker Victory, for instance, will always go for a few pounds less than an otherwise identical black one, and this bias persists across manufacturers.  If you want a bargain on a first rate Swan, wait until a grey one appears in ebay  But watch out for the dreaded yellow lurgy!


Musing On The Pen Boards

I gave up on Fountain Pen Network after the last round of deletions and suspensions so I have no idea how things are going there.  I cannot find it in me to care, either.  However, I see many of the more knowledgeable and interesting former habitués commenting on other boards now.  Indeed, this diaspora of FPN refugees seems to have reinvigorated some of the other boards.  I have high hopes of better things to come on FPB and FPG.

Talking of FPB and FPG, it is amusing to see David Isaacson, the calm, eminently reasonable and even-handed mod of FPB playing the part of an irritating thirteen year old troll in FPG.  My assistant thinks it’s a total hoot!
For myself, I can take it or leave it…

Mabie Todd Swan SF8

The postie arrived with her usual burden of pens this morning.
This one looks interesting – you don’t often see a Swan repair box.
Pretty big, isn’t ?
That’s a Swan No 8 nib, only the second I’ve ever seen.  It will be a real pleasure to bring this one back to working condition.

Some Interesting Old Pens

I’m having a very busy day, pen-testing and making writing samples.


Thankfully my assistant is helping, as you can see.

There are a few interesting pens for sale in ebay today.  There’s an eyedropper filler called “The Efficient” which the seller suggests might have been made by De La Rue but my guess would be Burge, Warren and Ridgley.  There’s also a solidly well made pen called “The Golden Cockerel” which might be by the same maker.  Finally there’s a pen described by the seller as a “Rare BHR Travelling Eyedropper”.  He suggest that it might have been made by Mabie Todd but I don’t see anything to support that.  Another Burge, Warren and Ridgley?

So a good day for rare old pens.  I’d be after these myself but this week’s purchasing budget has been committed.  So it goes.

Feathers And Pens

Etymologically, a pen is just a feather, neither more nor less.  That’s not altogether surprising when you consider that for thirteen centuries the feather or quill was the main writing instrument.  Goose, swan, turkey and even eagle feathers were used.  The large wing feathers; the pinion and two or three big feathers adjacent were the only ones suitable.  Thus began an association between writing instruments and birds that persists to this day.

Mabie Todd, of course, were the manufacturers who made most use of this association, with their Swans, Blackbirds, Jackdaws and Swallows.  Other pen-makers like Parker, Stephens and Croxley came at it from another angle, using an arrow with its flight feathers as a pocket clip.
Mabie Todd’s Swan, especially, features large in their advertising, from detailed painted swans to drawings made with an evocative line or two.  In truth, though, the various swans impressed onto the barrels of their pens aren’t very swan-like.  They’re a bit chunky and short in the neck.  A long-established ebay seller whose first language is probably not English consistently refers to the barrel imprint swan as “The Swan Duck”.  Not an elegant description, perhaps, but an accurate one!
By contrast the blackbird logo is very well observed.  The blackbird is in upward flight, that moment of startled evasion when the blackbird hurtles noisily from the lawn to the safety of the hedge.  Looking at the blackbird on the barrel you can almost hear it.

Even forgetting the association with the quill which was in the distant past even at the time the first Swans were produced, the notion of flight well suits the subject, where a well-made pen glides over the paper and the concepts fly from the mind to the words on the page.  Flights of fancy, whether poesy or prose, figure in the metaphor that the Swan pen evokes.

It pleases me that a company like Mabie Todd, so go-ahead in its day, carried a historical reference throughout its own long history.

A Celluloid Waterman 52


Waterman updated its long-running 52 in 1934.  It was shortened slightly and the ends of the cap and barrel became a little tapered.  Most importantly, it was now made from celluloid and the trim was redesigned.

These pens were not lathed from rod stock but made from wrapped celluloid sheet and some show signs of delaminating.  Most are stocky, sturdy pens like their hard rubber predecessor and of course they retain the wonderful Ideal nib.

Care should be taken in disassembling these pens as some of them have a two-part feed which can be damaged by injudicious use of the knock-out block.  Not all celluloid 52s have these redesigned feeds.  Perhaps they were tried and withdrawn.
This example was made in Canada.  Back in the bad old protectionist days (considering how well globalisation has worked out they might not have been as bad as all that!) the larger US companies found ways to overcome the tariffs imposed on imports of their pens in Britain.  Parker and Waterman established factories in Canada and Sheaffer did the same in Australia, as these Commonwealth countries had free trade with Britain.  Interestingly for us, some of these factories developed a degree of independence and made models unique to them.

This red and grey marbled celluloid was popular and was used in several other Waterman models of the time.  Despite its face-lift and new material, the 52 began to look dated when compared with pens designed in the thirties.  As demand for it dropped, the pen disappeared from the Waterman catalogues.  Celluloid 52s are far less common than the hard rubber ones.  The 52 appeared in so many different forms that it makes an ideal subject for collecting and it is, of course, the writer’s pen par excellence.