The Conway Stewart Dinkie 540

There are many small pens: the various vintage pocket and ring top pens, modern Kaweco Sports, the various Japanese long-shorts and, I suppose, a host more. These pens have normal sized nibs, it is just the barrel and cap that is reduced. Then there are tiny pens: the Waterman Smallest Pen in the World, which I assume was just made to show that it could be done, the Peter Pan fountain pens and some Wyvern and Wahl Eversharp very small sets. These are pens that are proportionate in every respect, with very small nibs. The most famous and best of these is the Conway Stewart Dinkie.

I’ve tended, generally, to avoid them. The most modern ones are not worth much and some of the older ones are worth a great deal! I didn’t find them particularly easy to sell unless they were really outstanding. I’m a dealer not a collector and they didn’t really work for me. Of course, I’m interested in all fountain pens and the Dinkies began to appeal to me more. They get you in the end.

I remember a discussion that took place on the Fountain Pen Board some years ago, when someone said that Dinkies were for collecting rather than writing. They were too small to write with. Andy Russell replied to that saying (excuse me if I paraphrase, Andy, as I can no longer find the discussion) that of course they were for writing with, they were a huge seller and people didn’t buy them to look at. That of course is completely right. Some of the finest calligraphy ever written was done with birds’ feathers for goodness sake! I have seen a builder with hands like bear’s paws scribble a page of text with a stub of pencil less than an inch long. The notion that a pen has to be large enough to double as a weapon in a tight corner is an entirely modern one.

To the pen in hand: this is a Dinkie 540 from the 1940s. It’s a splendid little pen, like a Conway Stewart 286 in miniature. The colour is variously described as red moire or dark pink moire. Dusty pink would work for me. I filled this pen and wrote with it. It’s a delightful stubbish semi-flexible medium. Now, I am arthritic and I confess it is a little slender for someone with my affliction but I wrote a page of text with it without any difficulty. It’s exactly the same diameter as the wooden pencil I have in my jar, so those people who find a Dinkie too small to write with, can’t write with a pencil either. This is evidently a physical disability.

I’m not going to attempt to go over the history of the Dinkie – it has already been done splendidly by Andy Russell. Suffice it to say that if I were a collector, I could find no better field of collection than these wonderful, jewel-like and yet practical pens.


7 thoughts on “The Conway Stewart Dinkie 540

  1. As Deb says, Dinkies would never have sold in such great numbers if they were not practical writing instruments. However, also at play was the concept that things could be ‘too good or too precious to use’, and such items could often be shut away in drawer, looked at occasionally, only to be gradually forgotten until rediscovered by later generations.

    This seems to be more true of Dinkies than possibly any other fountain pen. I have always been a sucker for ‘mint and boxed’, but even I was surprised how many such examples of Dinkie pens and sets from the 1920s and 1930s I had amassed over the years when collating my collection for the book.

  2. I can understand the “too good or too precious” comment Andy in respect of some vintage or antique items – I remember the event, posted somewhere, concerning a 1936 Rupert Annual (the first year of the annual), which was bought for a daughter as a Christmas present that year. The mother showed the book to the girl on Christmas morning, but fearing her daughter might crayon or mark the book or damage the d/j, promptly took it back and for the next fifty years it lived in the wardrobe, untouched. Shortly after that the daughter found the book and it made thousands at auction. But that example is truly exceptional – most childrens book are used and loved, and in the process bite the dust.
    In my ignorance I’d have thought were bought to be used – other than those given as gifts later in life, where the recipient is either old or lacks interest in using the pen, when they then remain mint and boxed. Can we be sure that all those early boxed sets didn’t remain mint because their owners found them too short for writing:-):-)
    I’m not being too serious of course, though unsure as to which market segment they were aimed at originally – unless there was a passion for diminutive pens form the point of view of novelty or curiosity value.
    I have a g.f. Italian Aurora that’s the same length as my late ’20s black chased C.S. 540 (the shortest of my few Dinkies), and when I hold these pens the rear end tries to slip betwixt thumb and index digit, though of course if you posted the pen that problem ceases. To be honest, I wouldn’t use this particular Dinkie anyway – if I dropped the pen it might slip between the floorboards:-) It was a gift, and must surely have some value.

    As a chatelaine pen the size does of course make sense, but I’m tempted to wonder if there may have been another reason they sold in numbers. Love the marbled colours by the way.
    But this is to overlook the vastly different meaning that had prior to the mid C20 – everybody had at least one and variety was the order of the day, fortunately for us, now. Pens were such an important part of everyday life – the equivalent perhaps of the smart phone.

    Would you be embarrassed to tell us your present tally? :-):-)

    1. Not at all embarrassed!

      At the last count it was around 300 individual Dinkies (all different and from all eras, 1920s to 1970s) and 110 Dinkie-based sets, but the numbers are now diminishing as I’ve started to sell off the collection to help fund my retirement.

    1. Quantity means nothing without quality. I’m afraid you’ll need to read through the preface to my book if you want to know how and why I got into collecting Dinkies in particular!

  3. When I was little in the 1950s I bought a mottled maroon Dinkie from the Paper Bag Shop in Retford and loved it dearly right through school. Now at 77 I went looking for it among my family stuff. It was bunged up so I soaked it in water and I know you will appreciate the devastation! So I went looking online and found all this interest!
    I have to replace it! Now really interested in the history so will also look for your book. Thank you so much for the information.

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