I never clip a pen to shirt or jacket so what is the clip for? For me, in use, it has the benefit of keeping the pen from rolling off the table. Otherwise, it’s a means of advertising the manufacturer and many have been the brilliant designs devised.

The earliest fountain pens did not have clips. The pen was desk furniture and there was little thought of carrying it on one’s person. Indeed it would not have been wise to carry some of the early eyedroppers; fine writing instruments on the desk but an accident waiting to happen when attached to clothing.

First came accommodation clips. Most of those available “over-the-counter” were quite clumsy things, brass or white metal plated with gold or chrome. Ones made by pen makers were better: Mabie Todd’s “Clipper” is light, elegant and bears a durable finish. All accommodation clips have their problems, though. They tend to overbalance posted pens and their finish is often not durable, spoiling the effect of the restored pen. Tightly fitting clips on hard rubber pens, in place for a century, can be tricky to remove. When caps are fragile the clip has to remain in place.

Some manufacturers, Mabie Todd and Conway Stewart come to mind, made “pockets.” When new these were a good solution but after decades in drawers many have rusted inside and will scratch the surface of a pen. They should not be used unless the interior has been polished clean.

If you happened to be writing in public – as people do with their laptops today – that provided the manufacturer with an opportunity to advertise that it was his pen that you were using. Whichever brand that was there had to be some means of identifying the pen. Simply engraving “Parker” or “Conway Stewart” on a pen was something but not much. Someone wishing to know which pen you used had to get close enough to read the script. Parker, like half a dozen others, chose the image of the arrow. It qualifies as a good signifier for a fountain pen in a variety of ways. The feather is common to the quill and the arrow. The fountain pen and the arrow have some similarity in shape; both are long in comparison with their breadth and both have a sharp business end.

The Chinese saw the benefit of the readily-identifiable pocket clip and made use of it but not in the most honest of ways. The Hero 616 appears to have been intended to be passed off as a Parker 51. The Wing Sung Vacumatic clearly isn’t a Parker 51 – the ink view window makes that obvious but the wish to be associated with Parker through the clip remains. The Chinese seem lacking in imagination. Apart from Lamy, the only pen they copy is Parker. There are many other famous old pens with recognisable clips that they could copy!


13 thoughts on “Clips

  1. thanks Deb – very interesting. I’d suggest that for men, the clip – whether accommodation or integral – was seen as essential, post mid 1920s, since white collar workers wore suits almost without exception, and the f.p. was as much a part of male accoutrement as a watch or comb, and the f.p. fitted neatly in the inside breast pocket.
    Despite being old fashioned, I haven’t carried a comb, wallet or f.p. for many decades, and most males appear now not to wear suits – and ‘writing’ is, as you say now on a laptop.

    Whilst on the subject of clips, and no doubt like many collectors of, I have the proverbial problem of occasionally needing to remove the stub of a clip that has broken close to the socket near the top of the clip. Does anyone have a solution for removal of the stub, without causing too much damage to the cap? – Swan/M.T. pens in particular come to mind.

    1. You make a good point about traditional male use of pens.

      In most cases you have to take the inner cap out. That needs a puller, though some adventurous people use other things – a tap, for instance. Some clips have a “key” which holds the clip in place inside the cap. Usually you can get the broken stub out without any damage. It would help if we had an additional limb with fingers small enough to work inside a pen cap. In fact, a small assistant who could just walk inside the cap with his little toolkit – well, that would make it all too easy.

      1. Thanks Deb. Unfortunately – though it’s not true for later Swan clips that are fixed terminally with a conventional clip screw and which can be undone – regrettably, clip anchors for most models from the 30s and 40s, can’t be reached internally (inside the cap).
        I did cut a Swan BHR cap open (lengthwise) some while back to show how that rectangular opening into which the clip is held, is in fact inaccessible via the mouth of the cap – the terminal end of the cap on most models is solid BHR or celluloid – how they made that hole for the clip I’ve no idea.

        The majority of these clips on pens from this era are a tight push-fit. With some there is a saw tooth design where teeth bite into the plastic as they enter, giving a firm grip – other clips have a split design in the metal, and as the clip enters the cap, via twin holes, the two separate ‘splits’ are pushed outward by the twin holes, again making for a firm grip. You can’t fault the designers in their efforts in using simplicity in making a clip that stays put – it’s just that 70 – 80 years down the line, if a clip breaks off close to the cap, it’s difficult to remove the bit that gets left behind.
        This problem doesn’t afflict the Calligraph, York, etc., and most of the leverless pens which have a gilt ‘Swan’ logo covering a clip screw – those models prefixed with an ‘L’ designation – though I’m not sure about the Visofil pens – I don’t have one, yet.

        I’ve not yet found a satisfactory method of resolving this problem – most ideas that come readily to mind are too intrusive and cause damage to the cap material ………. so The Nobel prize for ingeniousness to whomsoever can come up with a solution.

        Probably of no interest, but if you wanted to see a Swan cap cut lengthwise – let me know:-):-)
        Apologies that this is overly long – as always.

  2. You may like to know that there’s a roaring trade in Chinese copies of brands other than Parker and Lamy – just off the top of my head, there are a lot of TWSBI clones, and then the Wing Sung 626 looks like it came right out of Fort Madison, Iowa (by way of a time machine).

    Speaking of clip copying, I have a number of mid-century Japanese pens with arrow clips and suspiciously Parker-like cap jewels. And I even lucked into an uncannily accurate Eversharp Skyline copy only distinguishable by the different branding – and the Japanese eyedropper mechanism in lieu of a lever. Copies are a lot of fun to collect!

  3. Hi Brian – interesting comments, and really worthwhile when collecting to know a copy from the real thing – provided you only pay a ‘copy’ price:-) Possibly more of a problem when buying from on line auction sites, and – I was going to say – more an issue affecting high end pens perhaps? – but really not sure. It’s possibly my method of buying, but not sure that I’ve ever ended up with a fake of anything – though I stand to be corrected.
    I’ve rather sloped off these days from buying better Parker’s on line, and stick to British mostly, and buy mainly from antiques fairs, bric-a-brac outlets and my charity shops where I can handle the pens ………… perhaps ignorance is bliss.
    Sorry to seem thick, but I don’t even know what TWSBI sands for – but I do have a Lamy prop. pencil and ball point, and the quality appears excellent, though I never use them;-)

    Wrong to make assumptions of course, but are all fakes originating from the far east?

    1. TWSBI: A brand of fountain pens from Taiwan. They burst onto the scene almost a decade ago with affordable piston- and vacuum- fillers when these were quite uncommon outside of the luxury brands.

      Fakes otherwise than from the Far East: Off the top of my head there’s the pile of litigation surrounding the Sheaffer Balance and its many imitators, and the dispute between different branches of the Waterman family. I’m sure there must be more but it’s really not my area of expertise!

  4. thanks for the reply – my collecting is limited, generally, to older British pens with the occasional Parker and Sheaffer, if they’re cheap – less expensive models are sometimes quite common. It does seem that plagiarism affects pens from the last 20 years and presumably the higher end models, rather than pre WW II material – and assume it’s the 1990s Balance to which you refer, rather than the 1930s model of the same name.
    I must have been leading too sheltered a life, and wasn’t aware of the Sheaffer or Waterman disputes. Collecting older pens seems to avoid the copying problems, but brings other issues – such as physical damage sometimes not seen until I get home:-( – though it helps that I don’t write.

    The U.K. doesn’t have a current pen manufacturing industry of any note – Newhaven closed a long time back, and the other pre WW II names are no longer, so really we have nothing that might be copied, so maybe we’re lucky.
    I notice the TWSBI appellation appearing frequently, so assume the quality is acceptable in relation to the price, and it’s difficult to fault a product if price and quality give value for money, though perhaps we come back to the issues giving some irritation to President T, whereby home production is put at a disadvantage in the absence of level playing fields.

    This morning’s acquisitions from the market were a nice Newhaven P51 in burgundy – must be the most common colour – a short Jotter (115 mm – is that short for a Jotter?) minus its clip, and a Newhaven aero Duofold, once green and for some reason now discoloured to blue – good for spares though. Newhaven aero 51s can still be seen not uncommonly – it’s those with aluminium jewels I can’t find;-)
    Seem to remember I have seen 51 look-a-likes with hooded nibs – they have a pair of wide flats that run down the top of the section – but no idea where they originated.

    1. I had one TWSBI which seemed OK – about the same quality as the Wing Sungs I pick up from time to time. The one I had was fine though I didn’t keep it long. I see on the discussion boards that some TWSBIs have problems with leaking and cracking.

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