The RAF Cottesmore Swan SM1/57


What have we here?  It’s a small box, like a reduced version of the traditional wooden pencil-case.  Though the lid slides into its runner perfectly there’s no end-stop to prevent the it sliding out the other side, hence the elastic band.
Inside lurks a pen.  Even at a glance it’s clearly quite a beautiful one.
Here it is in all its glory, a Swan SM1/57.  The nib has been replaced or perhaps an unusual choice was made at the time of purchase.  The nib it has now (and it fits snugly) is a No 2 stub, gently oblique.


On the underside of the box lid is inscribed “RAF Cottesmore 1948.”  Cottesmore in what used to be the county of Rutland opened in 1938 as a training airfield.  During World War II it was employed as a US Airbase.  It returned to RAF use as a training aerodrome in 1945.  It had an illustrious career thereafter and is now in the hands of the army.  I can’t say what planes were being trained on there in 1948 but this pen clearly belonged to a trainee or a trainer of that period.  More probably a trainer, as these colourful pens appear to have gone out of production during WWII, when the company had to concentrate on making a limited range of pens.  This pen, while in excellent condition, is not pristine.  It has been used a lot and may well have accompanied its owner long after he left Cottesmore.  We can pinpoint it there in 1948, though, and we may be entitled to imagine that it was the possession of a World War II fighter or bomber pilot, now passing his skills on to the Cold War generation.  Of course I may be entirely wrong and it belonged to the orderly who cleaned the latrines.IMGP3660

He had good taste in pens, anyway.

Edited to add: John Brindle kindly emailed me to add the following information:  R.A.F. Cottesmore :  From 1948 to 1954 it became No. 16 Operational Training Unit, later renamed 204 Advanced Flying School, operating Mosquitoes and Oxfords.


And another edit.  This one from Paul Martin:

Hi Deb. RAF Cottesmore closed in the early 1970’s, being then manned only by a skelaton staff. I joined that small band of airman as  a young LAC in 1977, and was still stationed there when it reopened in 1979 as the Tri-National Training Establishment for the Tornado aircraft. Although those who know me  know I now live in Surrey, I still retain a home in Rutland (hence my ebay handle RutlandPenPeople)…. and can assure everyone that Rutland is very much still in existence, even if the RAF camp has now been over-run with pongo’s (thats RAF slang for the Army)


Another Candy Striped Kingswood


I’ve written about these hatched?  candy striped? Kingswoods before but they’re charming pens and always worth another look.  For anyone who has seen Valentines of the same period there can be no doubt who made the Kingswoods.  Strangely, though, while the Valentines tend to delaminate or crack if you give them a harsh look, the Kingswoods seem more robust.  Or at least that’s my experience.
This one began life the colour of its cap and a decomposing sac changed the barrel.  However, as faded pens go, this one is quite beautiful.  When you think of the muddy colour that faded jade is reduced to, this doesn’t seem too bad at all.

Eversharp Kingswoods are long overdue a re-evaluation.  They’re sturdy pens, often colourful, with great nibs.  The company’s British presence is obviously overshadowed by its American parent but Eversharp and Eversharp Kingswood pens were produced here for forty years and form a part of British fountain pen history.

A Ruined 3161


What, you may ask, is that poor thing?  It is, or once was, a Mabie Todd Swan 3161, smallest of the post-war streamlined Swans in black hard rubber.  It has no identification on the barrel and the surface of the barrel and cap is scored with longitudinal scratches.  What happened to this remnant of a pen?  Did someone hurl it into the wood-chipper?
What we have here is what a section of repairers regards as a justified response to the surface oxidisation of black hard rubber; abrade it until you reach a level that is still black.  In the process you remove the barrel imprints and, of course, you do not succeed in eradicating the oxidisation – it’s still there under the clip and around the brass barrel threads where it’s difficult to get at..  You’ve also left a ploughed-field surface.
But hold on, Deb, I hear you say (if you are an abrader of pens) this is an especially bad example, carried out by a mutt who didn’t know what he was doing.  If I (a much more skilled and sensitive pen-ruiner) were to do the job I wouldn’t continue rubbing away with the roughest grade of micromesh until the oxidised surface was gone.  I would judge it so that I would work from roughest to smoothest in many stages, removing the very last atoms of oxidisation with the finest sheet of micromesh, leaving a surface as smooth and black as the day the pen was made.  Of course the imprints would still be gone, and a new surface would be exposed to begin the process of oxidisation all over again.  How many times can you abrade a pen before you rub a hole in the barrel?

This vandalism needs to stop.  Most oxidisation is not unsightly and it can be improved by gentle polishing.  Even handling the pen improves it appearance over time.  The pen is much better in its original condition than peeled like this.  The supply of good quality old pens like this is nowhere near as strong as it was even a very few years ago.  What gives anyone the right to spoil one of the remaining pens in this way, to make it “look better” or, more likely, in the hope of making a few more bucks?  The retort that I regularly see is that the pen is mine and I can do with it as I please.  Legally true but morally malignant.  Anyone who believes that this sort of behaviour is defensible is no pen repairer and no friend of pens or the people who genuinely appreciate them.

The Dickinson Croxley


As you will see from my earlier speculations in this blog, it took a long while before I was able to get an overall picture of the Dickinson’s Croxley range of pens.  Indeed, it was only when Stephen Hull’s The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975 came out that the mystery was fully solved.  In a way, this substituted one mystery for another.  Why, one must ask, did Dickinson discontinue production of the Croxley after such a short time when the level of sales must have been gratifyingly high.  Considering that the company was in business for only a couple of years, the number of Croxleys around is phenomenal.
The earliest Croxley I have seen was a very plain pen with a smooth ball-ended clip and an unexceptional lever.  The next model is the one we’re all familiar with, with its angular stylised arrow-shaped clip and lever.  This model remained in production until the end of the company though the pen was constantly modified.  You’ll notice that the grey Croxley has a much shallower clip screw than the red one, which I believe to be earlier.  The length of these clip screws which also form the inner cap varies considerably too.  A streamlined pen and one with a silver cap were introduced in 1948.

Considering the huge number of Croxleys that had been sold, it is difficult to understand the decision to cease production but it was brought to an end in mid-1949.  It has been suggested that Dickinson chose to kill the Croxley off because it had a dated filling system and no replacement system was available.  The “dated” filling system doesn’t seem to have affected sales in the previous two years.  In any case, does any system that successfully fills a pen with ink ever become dated, except, perhaps, in the eyes of the advertising man who wants to sell you his latest gimcrack novelty?

A Twenties Wyvern No 60N

Wyvern, despite the great many pens they made in a variety of models, is poorly represented in the literature and on line.  Yes, Lambrou provides a potted history and Hull covers it in much more detail, but where does one go to find illustrations of the many different models?
This, for future reference, is a Wyvern 60N.  It closely resembles some other models of that mid-twenties period.  I’ve seen an unnamed button filler in this rich mottled hard rubber, differing in the filling system and the addition of medium bands at the top and lip of the cap.  Another has an inserted clip and no black clip screw.
The red and black hard rubber is exceptionally richly coloured and shows no sign of fading in its 90 or so years.  The pen is quite big.  At 13.7cm it’s slightly bigger than the Waterman 52.  The warranted nib is large too, around a No 4 size.  I don’t know what the “N” designation means.  It occurs to me that I don’t know what the more common “C” stands for either.  These No 60 pens first appeared in 1921 and continued to be issued with changes, some minor, others major, for the life of the company.

IMGP3395The toothed feed is typical of its time and does an admirable job of getting ink to the nib.
Though it fits perfectly and was once gold-plated to match the lever and cap rings, I’ve never seen this clip on any other Wyvern and I suspect that it may be a replacement.  In terms of quality, I think it has to be said that this is a better pen than any of the post-war ones I’ve handled.

The Starling Pen

Don Powell, who lives w-a-a-a-a-y over yonder in Oregon told me about this interesting pen that he had.  I say “had” because he has very kindly given it to me.  ‘Twas a very pleasant surprise when it arrived in the post yesterday.
It’s the English-made black chased hard rubber Starling pen.  The first thing I noticed about it was that the proportions – barrel length to cap – look a little unusual.  Second thing was how beautifully flush with the cap those slender cap rings are.  It looks very neat.  The third thing was the very sculpted section.  It’s clearly not one of those made-by-the-thousands cheap pens that mostly appear as advertising for non-fountain pen companies.  No, this is a very well made pen.  I can find nothing about it online or in any of my reference books.  My guess – and I emphasise that it is only a guess – is that the Starling was made by one of the many small companies that didn’t make it, not even to the extent of having their name noted somewhere.
Without going into too much detail, it has been suggested Elsewhere that this pen was part of the Mabie Todd range.  It was assigned to that maker, it seems, purely because Starling is a bird name.  So, for that matter are Eagle and Pelikan but those pens were not made by Mabie Todd any more than this one was.  Mabie Todd’s name is imprinted on all of the pens that form part of their range.  Those pens that they did make in Britain, the Swans, Blackbirds and Jackdaws have an unmistakable resemblance to each other.  The Starling bears no resemblance to those pens and, in fact, doesn’t look much like any other English pen of the period that I can think of.
It might have been called “The Starling” in emulation of Mabie Todd’s naming policy, in an attempt to cash in on that manufacturer’s popularity, though the fact that no effort was made to make the Starling look like one of those pens argues against this theory.  Equally likely is that this is another example of the association of pens with birds, which comes naturally after hundreds of years of writing with bird feathers.  Not starling ones, so far as I am aware, but the association is strong and was picked up by many manufacturers both in words and symbols.  The flight feathers of the arrow clips of Stephens, Croxley and Parker come to mind.

So this very attractive Starling (it writes well too) remains a mystery.  Unless, of course, you’re going to come along and tell me you have another and you know all about its manufacture!

The Pepys Pen


This fine old fellow arrived today.  As you might see (excuse hasty photos) it’s the Pepys Pen.  Clearly, this was a pen that belonged to none other than the great diarist Samuel Pepys, and it is remarked upon in an entry for 15 March 1662:

15th. With Sir G. Carteret and both the Sir Williams at Whitehall to wait on the Duke in his chamber, which we did about getting money for the Navy and other things. So back again to the office all the morning. Thence to the Exchange to hire a ship for the Maderas, but could get none. Then home to dinner, and Sir G. Carteret and I all the afternoon by ourselves upon business in the office till late at night. So to write letters and home to bed. My work made more pleasant and speedy by my new pen which has a reservoir of ink within, and needs not a dip in three pages.
No, no!  I jest.  That would be too great an anachronism to run, I’m afraid.  Rather, someone chose the name “Pepys” because the great man was known for writing.  It’s a tidy pen in nice, bright mottled hard rubber.  I can find no reference to it but there’s something familiar about it.  The lever with a recessed end and the nib that says no more than 14ct are both familiar from somewhere else.  It will come to me in time.