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!


About goodwriterspens
I restore fountain pens, and used to trade as redripple52 in eBay. I also have my own fountain pen sales website,

6 Responses to Clips

  1. Paul Stirling says:

    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.

    • 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.

      • Paul Stirling says:

        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.

      • Ok, I claim the Nobel prize: don’t buy pens with broken clips.

  2. Paul Stirling says:


  3. Pingback: Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – May 20, 2018 | Fountain Pen Quest

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