Which Conway Stewart?
February 2, 2014 Leave a comment
Thank you for the suggestions. Keep ’em coming!
One question that perplexes me that would likely be within your realm of expertise regards the pens by Conway Stewart. I wonder just what is the REAL difference between the various models? I understand that like car manufacturers, the pen company is pressure-bound to come up with ever newer “improved” models in order to maintain their competitive position within the industry. But what REALLY is the difference between a #27 and a #28? Is it just a slight variation of length of the barrel or the cap? Is there a double cap band instead of a triple band? Is the lever a bit lower or higher on the barrel? For me, these are not really differences. There ought to be something more SIGNIFICANT to qualify as a GENUINE difference between the various models. But is this really the case. I am not restricting my question to just the models 27 and 28, of course. I am referring to all the various models over the years in this one company. I would grant that going from hard rubber to celluloid to casein represent significant changes in the pens – or going from lever filler to button filler to piston filler or clip to ring-top but is there anything else ? The same question would apply to the other companies as well…
Stuart (scratching my head across the pond)
This is a matter of perception, really. If you compare one pen of the same period with another, the differences do appear contrived and trivial, but the short answer to your question is that the difference between the No 27 and the No 28 is the price point that they are produced to meet. We may think of Conway Stewart’s product as being this pen or that; they would have seen the entire range as their product. It was their aim to provide pens that would suit the taste and pocket of everyone and they chose to do that (as did many other manufacturers) by producing pens of different size and trim with a range of nibs. Within the grasp of the financially hard-pressed parent buying for a school pupil were the No15s and 16s, small with no cap band and a small nib, whereas at the other end of the income scale were the more opulent Nos 27, 58, 60, and 100 with much more gold trim, larger size and big Duro or No 5 nibs. Between these extremes are a host of pens separated from each other only by a few shillings, if that. However much you could afford to spend, there was a pen of the size, colour and trim that you wanted.
I have used post-war pens to explain this point, but exactly the same pattern emerges in the study of nineteen-thirties Conway Stewarts. The company made a price differentiation on the basis of appearance and size, not how they wrote. They were not alone in that, of course. Most producers did pretty much the same. Though Conway Stewart, like other British pen companies, didn’t make innovation a selling point they did innovate from time to time. Though they produced excellent piston fillers and stud fillers in the pre-war period and the Speedy Phil after the war, it was always the traditional lever filler that made up the vast bulk of their output. You can only differentiate one lever filler from another so far. That lies with the customer rather than the manufacturer, to a great degree. The British pen-buying public distrusted innovation for its own sake, and preferred to stick with the tried-and-trusted lever filler or button filler. Neither Conway Stewart’s Speedy Phil nor, in an earlier period, Swan’s Visofil sold in anything like the numbers that had been anticipated. Hence the policy of creating what was essentially one pen and dressing it up in slightly different clothing to suit different requirements.
Immensely successful though they were, Conway Stewart didn’t capture all the economic groups that they aimed at. At the very top, whether of the professions, the forces or industry, Swans and Onotos were chosen rather than Conway Stewart 60s and 100s, hence the comparative scarcity of these more opulent models.
Today, collectors and users alike can be grateful for the number of different models Conway Stewart produced. There’s still something for everyone and we all have our favourites, despite the fact that they’re all pretty much the same pen.