A National Security Stud-Filler


I’ve told the story of National Security (so far as I can) in several previous entries.  This pretty stud filler probably dates to the thirties and has the look of a Langs pen.  I picked up this one because of the brown/black marbled pattern.  More than any of the other colours, this modest pattern evokes those years for me.  Every manufacturer had a brown/black pen and they seem to have been unfailingly popular.
National Security were a maverick company, probably thoroughly unpopular with the other manufacturers.  Those were days when protectionism was gospel with rigidly imposed price fixing  making for an unnaturally level playing field for all brands.  That only really works if everyone joins in, and doubtless much pressure was brought to bear on National Security, but they persisted in offering  discounted deals to retailers.  No doubt such sanctions as could be applied were used against National Security – it’s notable that no advertisements from them appeared in the trade press* – but they carried on in their own independent way and appear to have thrived.
Nowadays, of course,  National Security would be behaving in conformity with the present economic orthodoxy and the attempts of the rest of the pen industry would be declared illegal.  Who was right and who was wrong?  From today’s perspective Conway Stewart, De La Rue, Mabie Todd and the rest were restricting trade, an unforgivable sin.  However, if you have an empire that you wish to milk to the last drop and economic stability is your top priority, protectionism might appear  to be the answer to your prayers.  It’s also worth remembering that laissez-faire liberalisation of the financial markets left the developed world tottering on the brink a few short years ago.

*Stephen Hull: The English Fountain Pen Industry 1875 – 1975 p161.


Thank You All

Many thanks to all of you for your kind words, good wishes and prayers.  They are quite a tonic in themselves.

I’m sure I’ll be able to turn out a blog article from time to time on my better days, so it won’t be entirely stagnant in here.


Not long after I began this blog I was diagnosed with a couple of quite serious health issues.  Various treatments have been applied in an effort to stabilise me but they haven’t been entirely successful, though I’m well aware I would no longer be here without them.  This year has been especially difficult and, as I’m sure you will have noticed, I’ve been getting less and less done in this blog and on the sales site.  I haven’t lost interest or run out of things to say.  It’s just that most days such energy as I have is devoted to keeping going.  I saw a consultant yesterday who gives me hope that something may yet be done to improve the situation I am in.

My assistant says she would take over but when she’s finished hunting birds and mice and had a nap or several, there’s not enough left of the day to get anything done.


A Macniven & Cameron Advertising Fob


This little disc has been in my desk drawer for years.  I’ve always had an interest in all things Macniven & Cameron and I must have snapped it up either from eBay or a junk shop.  It’s a watch fob, I suppose, and it appears to commemorate George IV.  It certainly wasn’t made  during his lifetime, or even as a mark of his passing.  Though the origins of the firm lie sixty years earlier it was not called Macniven & Cameron until 1840, by which time King George had been dead for a decade.

Why would Macniven & Cameron wish to associate themselves with Britain’s most unpopular monarch?  The answer lies in George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822.  Sir Walter Scott managed the occasion and turned it into a pageant of tartan and misty Celticism.  We may regret its effects a little now, but in its day it was welcomed as it made Scotland the fashionable place to visit.  As a result George may have been remembered a touch more fondly in Scotland than he was in the rest of Great Britain.  Scott, of course, is the author of the Waverley Novels after which the famous nib is named.  It’s worth adding that with their headquarters in Edinburgh’s Blair Street Macniven & Cameron overlooked the district of Waverley or were perhaps a part of it.
On the back there is a list of pens: Waverley, Nile, Pickwick, Owl and Hindoo.  These names relate to dip nibs – then called “pens”- rather than the later fountain pens which reused some of these names.  Waverely we have already discussed, what of the Nile nib?  After the expulsion of the French from Egypt and their replacement by the British at the end of the eighteenth century, all things Egyptian became fashionable for the first half of the nineteenth century.  Doubtless this nib was first manufactured during that period and the name was chosen as a favourable association in the public’s mind.  It may also suggest that the nib was suitable for use by the colonial civil service in Egypt.

Pickwick takes us back to literary allusions; this time to the Dickens novel which was published in 1836.  The Owl has a couple of possibilities.  The owl is seen as wise because of its association with Athena, goddess of wisdom*.  Perhaps one would write wisely with an Owl nib.  On the other hand, it may be another literary association, this time with Lear’s The Owl and The Pussycat of 1871, though that seems a little late.

“Hindoo” is, of course, an archaic spelling of Hindu which may even be regarded a derogatory nowadays but was probably without such a value in the nineteenth century when this nib was made.  It’s probably nothing more or less than an attempt to break into the immense Indian Civil Service market.  It was doubtless successful.

Does any of that help us to date the object?  Not really.  There’s too much ambiguity.  If the Owl nib related to Lear’s poem the fob could not have been made before 1871 but the Athena explanation gives no guide.  I suspect that it may be quite late, but still within the period when sales of dip nibs formed the majority of the company’s balance sheet.  How about the centenary of George IV’s ascension to the throne, which would been 1920?  Your guess is as good as mine.

*My husband kept a pet owl when he was a boy.  He assures me that an owl is dumber than a log.