An Unbranded MHR Pen

I see the occasional modern unbranded pen but they’re not common. Back in the 1920s and 30s it was another matter. There was a proliferation of unbranded pens, many of which have survived. Some unbranded pens were used for promotion or advertising and usually bear some indication of their purpose, like the famous Typhoo Tea pens. Others were undoubtedly just sold, like branded pens. How did one go about buying such a pen?

Buyer enters a stationery shop.

“I’d like to buy a fountain pen please.”

“Certainly, madam,” replies the shop assistant, “would you like a Swan, Conway Stewart or maybe a De La Rue Onoto?” After a slight pause, with a discernible sneer, “or perhaps a Platignum?”

“Don’t bother me with all that,” she replied, “I’m in a hurry. Just give me a pen!”

So the shop assistant offers a mottled hard rubber pen with no maker’s name. She grabs it, hands over the paltry sum required and dashes off to write whatever it was she so urgently had to write.

Some of these pens were probably churned out by well known pen manufacturers like Mentmore or Wyvern when trade was slack. Others may have been made by companies we’ve never heard of who did nothing else but make unbranded pens. Whether in black chased hard rubber or mottled red and black hard rubber, they have a consistent appearance. Made from two tubes, the wider forming the cap, they are about as simple as a lever-fill pen can be. The nibs are always warranted when they are gold but sometimes they have steel nibs, plated or otherwise.

This one is a handsome specimen. The milled clip screw hints vaguely at the Duofold. That’s the one attempt at style. The lollipop clip with its cloverleaf or shamrock imprint is a common bought-in item. The nib is warranted 14 carat and of a reasonable size. The pen’s glory is in the rich reds and blacks of the hard rubber, the colours as strong and intense as the day it was made. The clip was once gilded but the gold has gone almost entirely, leaving a faint memory in the crease before the ball end. This pen would probably date to the late 20s.

I’m fond of these unpretentious pens. They were practical when made and, with a little attention, they remain practical now. These pens were not bought to show off the owner’s wealth or taste, just to do a necessary job. They were the pens that completed decades of sales or purchase ledgers, which kept families in touch with emigrated children or were carried in a soldier’s pack to write home from the outposts of Empire.

In this case, the pen has survived to show off colours more eye-catching and handsome than that of many a much more expensive pen.


5 thoughts on “An Unbranded MHR Pen

  1. The nib and lever suggest that it was a Lang’s product, but as with everything we tend to impute what we know and not what we don’t know! The nib could easily be a replacement or supplied to a smaller producer while the lever was also used by Conway’s for their third party pens and probably by others too.

  2. another fairly well known example under this ‘unattributed’ heading, is the set of f.p. plus pro. pencil that was given away by the British newspaper the Daily Herald, some time in the early to mid 1930s. Believe they were all in a woodgrain/mottled red and black hard rubber or ebonite material – in fact very attractive – even down to the same colour feed. My f.p. has simply a Warranted nib, and both the pen and pencil are in v.g. condition.
    Unfortunately, I threw my box away before realizing such things were important, though not sure there was any printed data on the box, but have since read that there’s a notion that these sets were made by Wyvern.

    Am sure Peter may know more, but the set is well made for kit that was given away free in response to just an ordinary request, and no money changing hands.

  3. I can’t add much except 27 or 9A Floral Street comes to mind. I think the Daily Herald was at one time owned by Odhams Press who also owned the John Bull magazine and by extension their pen business which was also based there. Mentmore along with Wyvern would be strong candidates for producing such pens.

    I have little knowledge of Wyvern, so probably wouldn’t recognise one made for a third party even if it bit me!

    1. They don’t look like Mentmores or Wyverns but that’s neither here nor there. They seem built to as simple as possible (and hence as cheap as possible) a pen design. Those same companies would be building some recognisable style into their branded pens so it isn’t surprising that they don’t look like these unbranded pens. I think Mentmore and Wyvern are likely.

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