I have many fountain pen books. Several are really coffee-table books: photographs with a short paragraph of text. Those are perhaps marginally useful for identification purposes or to give a vague outline of fountain pen history, but no more.
Beautifully bound, illustrated and presented though it is, Stephen Hull’s The Swan Book is no coffee-table book but a repository of years of research and familiarity with Mabie Todd pens. It does not only cover Swans but also Blackbirds and Jackdaws, ephemera and shop window displays.
Mabie Todd in England was a large, valuable and complex company. Brief biographies of the most senior people involved are part of the story and this gives an idea of how the company developed under changing management.
Since I first became enamoured of British fountain pens, Swans have been central to my interest. I gathered as many Swan advertisements as I could which helped a little with dating but I remained unsure of the issue dates of many pens. This book solves that problem. It moves through the decades presenting the pens as they came along. That chronological progression makes the story easy to follow and it helps to find the pen you want. Indexing a book about fountain pens will almost always be difficult because, as in this book and the Conway Stewart one, the pens are identified by numbers rather than names. Again, the chronological order of the book makes consultation easy. The book is both an engrossing narrative and a reference work – one I use almost daily.
All our much-loved pens are here: the eyedroppers, self fillers, Leverless pens and Visofils to name but a few. They are beautifully illustrated by excellent photographs. It’s wonderful to see them all gathered together in one place, almost – but not quite – as good as having them all.
As we all know, the popularity of fountain pens has gone through a steep and deep decline. They have gone from being the primary writing instrument to a niche interest. This book enables the reader to live in the glory days of one of the best fountain pens ever produced: the Swan.
The Swan Book is central to the story of the fountain pen. It gives unmatched access to historical and technical detail. It is, perhaps, Stephen Hull’s masterwork, a splendid addition to his previous volumes. My advice is – buy this book! It’s a wonderful read and the most useful reference in my library.