I have kindly been given sight of historical material relating to Mabie Todd. (thank you Paul L!) It includes correspondence between the company and Mr R Ridgill Trout, a publisher who wished to produce a history of writing materials. Whether that history was ever produced I know not, but his company produced other materials and is reasonably well-known.
The correspondence, typed and dated 1938 is in the very stilted formalese of the time. It is so remote from how people speak that I suspect one had to decide what one wanted to say and then translate it into the language of business correspondence. In any case, Mabie Todd were keen to help and provided a very detailed history of the company’s pen production and its moves and expansions. They also included a company brochure entitled, “At the Sign of the Swan, Your Pen and Ink” by SPB Mais. Though he died in 1975 – not so very long ago – he is completely forgotten today despite having written over two hundred books on all sorts of subjects. His writing style is pleasant, informal and humorous, very much of its time.
The brochure covers the making of Swan ink in Liverpool, the production of gold nibs, how the barrels and caps were made and it ends with a description of Sunderland House, which the company had recently acquired and made its headquarters. In hindsight we know that Sunderland House was doomed to be demolished by German bombs in a few years. It is sad that the illustrations of its elegant rooms are of spaces soon to cease to exist.
I knew already how the various parts of fountain pens were made but Mais’s account is so well done and so detailed that it is almost as if one is there.
These are precious documents, wherein the company gives an account of itself at the very height of its prosperity. We know the wonderful, high-quality pens that were being produced in the mid-thirties and the company’s pride in its product is justifiable. They had been making splendid pens for many years and had every reason to expect it to continue. History records that, in the longer term, it was not to be, due first to enemy action, then the overpowering success of the ballpoint. It’s nice to dwell on these earlier, more optimistic times.