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.


17 thoughts on “A Macniven & Cameron Advertising Fob

  1. Deb
    Are you sure it is George IV, its hard to tell with the ring going through middle but it looks like it could be III to me.

    I seem to remember an article on McNiven and Cameron coins / medals in the WES journal a few years ago where they were dated by reference to advertisements. The article may have the answer.


    1. I think you’re right, Simon, though the portrait looks more like George IV with its pendulous jowls. Anyway, you now have to work out the connection between Mad King George and Macniven and Cameron.

  2. Well what an interesting item. I’m not sure I can contribute to any of the discussion on raison d’etre. But it shows that advertsing took place in manifold ways even then. Absolutely fascinating. That a company like Macniven and Cameron can have so many links and potential links to people and places in the use of branding, gives so much more shade and depth than something apparently simple like Parker for instance.

  3. I tend to agree with Simon Deborah, the third mark is too straight to be a V, and the image is identical to several portraits of George III.

  4. Now I am home I have looked up my journals. Page 50 in Number 88 has an excellent, almost numismatic, article by Ivor Stilitz that talks comprehensively about these Imitation Spade Guineas. M&C issued nine, this example is the “standard” and dates to the 1880s and 90s. ISGs were issued as gaming counters and stage money as well as advertising tokens. Sainsburys were the other big issuer. It is well worth getting hold of the article if you can. No 88 is still available from the Librarian.

    Oh, and yes, the article confirms they are GIII.

    1. Simon, can I ask what the journals are that you refer to and how I would get a copy? Although only a relatively new pen collector, I’m particularly interested in Macniven and Cameron | Waverley and indeed this delightful advertising token.
      Thank you, Martin. (martinthebrewhouse – above)

  5. Hello Deb

    I do volunteer work in an old peoples home and have been showing them my pens from you, bearing in mind these grand people are in their late eighties into nineties, mentioned to me a little ditty about pens ” It comes as a boon and a blessing to men The Owl, The Pickwick and the Waverley pen” I,m sure you will have heard it before but It was new to me just shows how you learn something everday.

    1. I think that’s great, getting it from someone who remembers it from the original advertising! I and many other pen fanciers know that little poem but only because we’ve seen it online or in a book.

  6. I have one of the fobs which has a date stamp of 1770. It’s in good condition. Could anyone put a value on a commemorative piece like this?
    Thank you.

      1. 1st Fleet to Australia is the only thing that comes to mind for me, as that is where I am and live?
        Also the head is similar to Captain Cook as I have seen on other coins and images?

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