Cheap British Pens

My last post, you may remember, was about the colourful 30s/40s Platignums. It is impossible now to know why they were chosen by their first owners but it can be confidently said that now they are not being bought for their writing qualities!

1920s and early 30s Platignums are thin on the ground nowadays. They were almost the equivalent of today’s throwaway ballpoints. Of those that survive by far the best are the hard rubber models which are not subject to the shrinkage which affects the celluloid ones.

Most Platignums I see are post war, and with one or two exceptions are generally worthless due to poor quality plastic and nibs. The exceptions are a 1960s 14 carat nib model which is less subject to shrinking than most others and a Waterman-licensed version of the X-Pen. The rest aren’t worth much, with caps that no longer fit properly, missing cap rings and barrel distortion. Platignum made an attempt at the school and calligraphy market, and the steel nibs produced for that purpose are acceptable. The nib unit thread fits only Platignum pens.

The market for calligraphy was dominated by Osmiroid. Their nibs are excellent, still sought after by calligraphers to this day. Though the pens supplied for use with the nibs have not survived so well, many are available second-hand very cheaply. The 65 sac filler is especially subject to distortion and shrinking but it isn’t difficult to find a good piston fill 75. Osmiroid nibs fit Esterbrooks, rather better quality pens, and many German piston fill school pens will accept those nibs. The later Osmiroid system included a section in the nib units and these are less adaptable.

I know one or two collectors who have developed quite complete sets of post war Platignums. One might think it a rather eccentric collection, but it is fair to say that these inexpensive pens sold in far greater quantity than more expensive pens like Conway Stewarts and Mabie Todds. Being such a large part of the fountain pen market in its latter days, it would give an unbalanced view of the use of pens at that time if they were to be excluded.

Osmiroid, like Platignum, worked with schools ‘to improve handwriting’. Perhaps the intention was also to sell as many pens as possible but perhaps one should not be too cynical.

Osmiroid doesn’t attract collectors at all, but their very large range of excellent nibs attract users to this day. As fountain pens began to be replaced by ballpoints, several small, short-lived manufacturers, some from Italy, established a brief place among cheap pens used in Britain.

6 thoughts on “Cheap British Pens

  1. I was at school in the 1960s and was given an Italian Patco Continental. It cost 2s 6d. It was red plastic with a metal cap and the barrel removed to reveal a piston filling system. You simply pressed the piston rod down and pulled it up again to fill the pen with ink, but the integrity of the filler depended on the seal of the rod in the plastic reservoir. There wasn’t really a seal, just a tight fit, so after a few months and some wear the fit loosened so that the pen would leak mercilessly from the nib and from the seal, so that the barrel was full of ink when you removed it. There was nothing to adjust or repair, so I threw it away and went back to my Osmiroid 65.

  2. In the early 1960s, when I was 7 or 8, I was at school in Gosport a few miles from the Osmiroid factory. One day our teacher came into the classroom and handed out some fountain pens to a few of us. They were each engraved with our name and were the result of our having been successful in a handwriting competition although I don’t recall having been entered, or what we had had to do. I presume it was part of Osmiroid’s effort to improve our handwriting. Sadly, in my case at least, it failed.

    1. Hi Bert,
      My husband started school in 1955 and by Primary 3 they were using fountain pens. He says his writing was awful and he was constantly in trouble over it. It was quite a bit later, when he had to write clearly at work, that he improved his handwriting. It’s never too late!

  3. I still have my Osmiroid 65 from secondary school days in the 1960s. It still works well, feels comfortable in the hand, and the nibs are not to be dismissed out of hand. The soft fine rolatip is a very nice nib indeed. Glad I can still use it.

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