Conway Stewart 388 Oblique
August 2, 2013 2 Comments
I can’t believe that after all this time I still haven’t written about the Conway Stewart 388, but I just searched the blog and I’ve only mentioned it in the passing where it related to other pens. Judging by the number of survivals, it must have been one of Conway Stewart’s most popular pens of all time, though its very long period of production, from 1939 to 1955 must help with that. With its narrow/medium/narrow cap rings and only slightly streamlined shape it looks like a cut-down Conway Stewart 55. Actually, it’s the other way round. The 55 is a much later pen inspired by the smaller pen’s popular design. It worked, Both pens were big sellers.
This initially plain looking 388 is, in fact, rather special. The nib is a firm medium oblique. Admittedly, such a small nib is unlikely to produce much in the way of dramatic line variation but if you’re one of those people (like me) who hold the pen in a rotated position, this is the pen for you. It will work with you in producing improved hand-writing.
Compared with Swan or De La Rue, Conway Stewart produced few special nibs but when they did produce one they spared no effort. This high-shouldered nib tapers beautifully to a narrow, slanted stub. It looks like a piece of jewelry rather than the practical instrument it is.
The 388 remained in the catalogues until 1955, long after its quite straight-sided style had been replaced by the post-war fully streamlined Conway Stewarts. Perhaps in that year its sales finally began to tail away, because it went out of production and was replaced by the 36, which inherited its cap band arrangement and CS 5N nib. A pleasant enough pen, the 36 somehow lacked the appeal of its predecessor despite the addition of a unique striped pattern, and judging by the number of survivals, it sold a little less well.
Edit: Andy Russell kindly provided an illuminating comment on this post which changes the chronology and hence the interpretation. It makes such a significant change that rather than leave it as a comment which many might miss, I post it here as an edit.
“Hi Deb, as you know I’m not one to let a misconception about CS history pass unchallenged…..!
This is one of the areas where Jonathan’s history turns out to be wrong. Surprisingly, the 388 wasn’t actually first produced until after the 58! The 58 was first advertised in the trade press in 1949, the 388 was never mentioned at all until early 1952. This would most likely mean it was first produced in late 1951, probably as a replacement for the 55, and as something more akin to the size of the 58 for those who still preferred a more traditional, straight sided pen.
There is certainly no mention of the 388 in pre-war price lists (up to 1940), the closest model then would have been the 380. CS production was limited throughout the war and for a good few years afterwards, and the 388 doesn’t appear on any of the ‘restricted’ price lists up to 1948. The final date of production of 1955 is about right, though – it still appears on the list for December 1954 but not in December 1956. So, rather than being one of the CS models with a long lifetime, it actually had quite a brief existence! I suspect the low price was the main reason for its appeal – at 22/- in 1952 it compared very favourably with the more modern 58 at 31/6 and the 28 at 25/8.
The lineage of the 55 is rather clearer. The original model of this design was the pre-war 35 (itself a cut down version of the massive Duro 26). This was replaced with the 45 during the war years, a very similar model but with a reduced level of trim (single cap band) because of material shortages. After the war, the 45 was in turn replaced with the 55, with the original cap band configuration being reintroduced, though both models appear to have co-existed for a brief time in 1946. The 55 seems to have disappeared from the listings c. 1950, at about the same time as the introduction of the 58 which was obviously intended to be the clear ‘top of the range’ at that time.