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It pleases me that a company like Mabie Todd, so go-ahead in its day, carried a historical reference throughout its own long history.

4 thoughts on “Feathers And Pens

  1. It’s a pity that Mabie Todd didn’t illustrate their other “birds”.
    I’d have really liked to see a swallow or a jackdaw marking on their pens 🙂

    1. They did, but I didn’t have either to hand. The Jackdaw is the bottom of the British range – nice pens all the same, sometimes sharing the bright patterns of the Swan Visofil range. The Swallow was only produced by the American end of Mabie Todd, so far as I am aware. I’ve had the odd one over the years. They’re variable in quality.

      1. I have the whole aviary 😀 but my Swallow and Jackdaw examples down’t have any “bird” marking, just the names 😦

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