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The Swan Metal Pocket

In the years before fixed clips came along, there were various ideas to make pens portable. That most of them sold so well makes it clear that people wanted to bring their pens with them when they left home, usually to be used at work.

The Swan Metal Pocket was one of the most successful of these innovations. It was sturdily made from pressed steel and bears the Swan logo on the part that would appear outside the pocket, so acting as an advertisement too. That the Conway Stewart version was so similar suggests that they were both made by the same company contracted to produce them.

Though they are anything but ephemeral, being durable in the extreme, to a collector they would count as ephemera. They could, of course, still be used for their original purpose but a word of caution is required here. Many have succumbed to rust internally and will scratch a pen. It is possible to restore them to use with emery cloth or wire wool

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9 thoughts on “The Swan Metal Pocket

  1. Paul Stirling says:

    I doubt many collectors would now use this as it was intended – even without rust it might easily mark a pen – quite possibly you’re right Deborah about both Swan and C.S. designs coming from the same maker. The Swan version, which I have, seems to be forever on ebay, so must have been made in spades, though I’m ignorant of the common-ness or otherwise of the C.S. version. The Swan pocket clip appears not to show any reference to a Registration No., so presumably it wasn’t thought worthwhile Registering the design, which again might point to the same manufacturer – I don’t have a C.S. example so no idea if theirs carries a Reg. No.

    In his book on C.S., Steve Hull suggests that such things date c. 1908 to mid 1930s (and possibly Swan followed a similar date line), so would appear pocket clips were running at the same time as accommodation clips.
    Mabie Todd produced an non-pierced example of the latter which they called ‘The Clipper’, and which lacks a Reg. No., and at about the same time (or perhaps a tad later), Swan made a fretted example called simply a ‘Swan Clip’ which carries Rd. No. 676026 – which dates to 1920 (probably April of that year). Some accommodation clips relating to this design carry the Swan logo, others don’t.
    There are other fretted Swan designs – un-Registered – less basic and with gilding – very attractive – and which you bought probably depended on whether your pen had assayed furniture or a humble steel nib and without cap rings.
    I’m unsure as to why pocket clips were considered worth stocking when accommodation clips – on the face of it – seemed to fulfil the pocket clipping function.

    sorry this is a tad over-long – trim if you wish:-)

    • Very interesting, Paul. I don’t have a Conway Stewart example either so I can’t help you there.

      Being in the business of restoration, I’m not particularly fond of either the accommodation clip or the Metal Pocket. Perhaps the pocket is less damaging historically. Very damaging now, of course, if it, too, is not fully restored. Accommodation clips are hideous things which often cannot be removed because of the damage this would cause to the cap. Very often, by this late date, they have lost their gilding and the steel ones have rusted.

      Once in a blue moon, I will be asked by a customer to supply an accommodation clip for a clipless pen. I do so, but with some trenchant advice, and I leave the fitting of the clip to the customer.

  2. It so happens I have recently been photographing the great variety of Swan clips and pockets of this period for Steve Hull’s forthcoming MT book, and I can give you a few interesting facts from reading the patents and Steve’s research.

    The typical pen pocket (as in Deb’s picture) was protected by patents filed in 1905 & 1906, rather than using a Registered Design. The inventor was Cecil Bristow, a well known figure in the pen industry who was at the time working for Mabie Todd. Paul queries why a full pen pocket would be preferable to an accommodation clip – the claim in the patent is that the metal pocket would provide additional mechanical protection for the whole pen. The same patents also specifically cover the less common dual versions of the pocket.

    As Conway Stewart used exactly the same design, there are two possibilities to consider. It could either have been made for them under licence, or (and I think this is more likely) they could simply have waited until the original patents expired. The period of protection at that time was 14 years, so it may be that all the Conway Stewart versions date later than 1920. This in itself could explain why so many more Swan pockets are apparently found compared to the Conway Stewart version, though the Conway Stewart pockets are themselves fairly common.

    One of the most interesting facts from Steve’s research on the Swan pen pocket is that it continued to be offered for sale until 1951!

  3. Paul Stirling says:

    am bursting with enthusiasm and can hardly wait for said book – am sure it’s going to prove indispensable and possibly one of the best pen books ever.

    Hope Andy doesn’t object to my adding a small comment to his very informative and interesting post above, which is to clarify the difference between the purpose of Reg. Nos. and Patents.
    Believe I’m correct in saying that the former provides protection for design and the latter protects function. Regarding the period in question, protection of Registered Designs was for a period of five years which could be extended for further periods of similar length – so definitely less time than offered for patents.

    • Thanks for adding that Paul, you are right, and I think that’s exactly the point – they were protecting something that had an innovative function rather than tweaking the design of an existing component.

      There is an interesting difference between patents and registered designs for researchers as well. Most patents after about 1894 are freely available, while most design registration details are not online and have to be copied manually at National Archives. There are two Board of Trade ledgers to be copied, one of which holds details of the design in the form of an illustration, and the other details of the person or company lodging the registration – generally a researcher will want both. So the cost of getting details of a design registration is (from memory) about £8.40 for the page check and about another £16 for an A3 copy, digitally downloaded. So the total cost of retrieving copies of the both pages from the registers is around £50 per registered number! No wonder that authors need to recoup outlay by selling books…

  4. Paul Stirling says:

    In the light of Andy’s comments regarding the cost of extracting information, professionally, from The National Archive records, the following might be of interest.
    Due to my research into Registered Designs, unrelated to f.ps., I’ve had a members ticket for TNA, Kew, for several years, and have always found them very helpful. Access, by members, to their ‘ledgers’ is straightforward provided a Reg. No. (and date) is known, and pre-ordering both relevant books is now a simple matter of an on line request – the volumes take less than an hour to appear, and this service is gratis to members – photography of designs and their owners, from the books, is allowed.
    It might be of interest for us to see – for example – the original factory drawing showing the image for the Reg. No. mentioned above, together with the BoT ledger showing the owner of this Reg. Design. Nothing staggeringly new of course, since most folk have probably seen these accommodation clips in the flesh, but possibly of use to have the image etc. on record.
    Of course, it may well be that Steve Hull has already acquired this information from Kew, to include in his book, so if it’s thought not worth pursuing at the moment, we can wait and buy his book, but the offer is there ………….. and I don’t charge anything.

    • Thanks, I’ll pass your information on to Steve if he asks me to retrieve any more registered design numbers – or you can offer your services directly via his e-mail on the englishpenbooks.co.uk website.

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