I’ve been puzzling over the date of this pen today. I believe that it’s not the first metal-capped pen that Mabie Todd issued under the Swan name. There was one of 1948 to 1952 that had the clip inserted through the cap. That seems to me to be an earlier design than this one. My guess is that it’s somewhere in the period 1954 to 1958. It’s a better pen than the Warwicks and Oxfords that were made right at the end. This pen is capable of repair which is more than can be said for those others.
I have a great many Mabie Todd adverts but unfortunately none of them is later than the nineteen forties. My various reference books are helpful to a degree but they don’t go quite far enough back either. Best guess is all I can do.
It’s a handsome pen, perhaps a little on the smaller side at 12.8 cm capped. The cap is gold plated and nicely patterned. The clip is held in place by what appears to have been a screw which has been later buffed down. The black plastic barrel takes a moderate shine. The cap is screw-on and still fits quite well. Even at this late date, the section is made from black hard rubber. The nib is a number one and by comparison it is smaller than the traditional number ones. The section screws in. I did a quick writing sample and I wasn’t too pleased with the result. The nib will need some work before I pass the pen on. It’s quite flexible but doesn’t lay a line reliably unflexed.
The metal cap really took off in the late forties and fifties, perhaps because of the popularity of the Parker 51. This is a nice example with its subtle pattern. It’s an excellent pen by any standards and writes very well but in handling and using it there is a suspicion in the back of the mind that this isn’t quite up to the mark that Mabie Todd had established for the Swan pen. If it were in the output of almost any other manufacturer one would say it was a very good pen indeed. As a Swan, however, it’s not as good as earlier pens and, sad to say, there was very much worse to come.
This, to my mind, is a pen made by a company marking time while they decide how to go forward. Some pen makers, like Montblanc for instance, went upmarket which was a good decision as they are still around today, producing far fewer pens for a vastly higher selling price. Others, like Conway Stewart, tried to continue by reducing the unit cost and hence the quality. They bit the dust fairly rapidly. Still others, like the Mentmore company, aimed for a specific sector of the market which gave them a few more profitable years.
In the end, of course, production of Mabie Todd pens ceased in 1958. The decision to do so was made by the Bic company who probably did not have any great commitment to the long and admirable history of the Swan fountain pen. They had a good product – probably the best of its kind – in their ballpoint pen. That was where profitability lay and it would be foolish to expect a company with responsibility to their shareholders to do anything other than pursue their most profitable line. It is sad, though, that such a splendid writing instrument as the Swan pen ceased to be made.
A few years ago, someone turned out a series of cheap Chinese pens and called them Swans. It was a disgrace to traduce such an eminent name in this way. Thankfully, nobody liked the pens and they appear to be no longer to be sold. Trying for commercial success on the back of an earlier company’s fine name is very poor practice. Personally, I would rather have the cheapest Conway Stewart Scribe than even the most expensive so-called “Conway Stewart” that was made by a company with no connection to the original output which tried to claim continuity with the old company. I suppose it’s too much to expect ethics in business these days.