In Britain, Mabie Todd had a quite straightforward hierarchy of pens: Swan, Blackbird and Jackdaw. There might be subsets like Swan Leverless and Swan Visofil within that and even off-the-wall bizarre individual models like the splendid Jackdaw Toledo but, in general, the order held true. There wasn’t a huge qualitative difference between them, though a generation of pen-fanciers has been misled into thinking that the Jackdaw was worse than it is by Steinberg’s* assertion that it is a “tin or gold-plated nib pen”. I’ve seen a lot of Jackdaws and they’ve all been gold nib pens.
I suppose the major difference between the Swan and the Blackbird is that the latter more often has chrome plating than gold on the trim. The nibs have a shorter tail and the material from which they are made is a fraction thinner. Other than that, in terms of quality, there are no other significant differences that I can think of.
When you come down to Jackdaws, the difference becomes a little more pronounced. I think the gold used in the nibs is thinner still with the result that many of those that we see today have bent nibs. Of course, there is another possible explanation for that, which is that they were school pens and therefore probably handled a little more roughly than the Blackbirds and Swans owned by adults. Strangely, the clips on Jackdaws are very often corroded and pitted whereas the levers are usually in good order and have retained their chrome plating.
One respect in which the Jackdaws are often more attractive than their more expensive stablemates is in the celluloid. Several of those I have owned have been very colourful, as is this present example.
I’m not sure what this pattern is. The pen has no identification number and the descriptions of several of these 1930s patterns are somewhat similar. I can read through about 15 of them before my eyes glaze over. In any case, I assume that these very bright and attractive patterns were assigned to Jackdaws because they would be attractive to younger people. I’m not sure they’re correct, mind you. That may just be another example of the condescending nonsense that adults come up with when they design for the young.
There aren’t very many Jackdaws around today. That may be because they had a tough classroom life. It may also be because they were not priced at the correct level to encourage the mass of parents to buy them when there were probably many cheaper yet serviceable pens around. Be that as it may, I think we can be grateful that at least some of these bright and cheerful pens are still around.
*Steinberg, Jonathan: Fountain Pens, Eagle Editions, 2002