If you took one model of a pen and produced it in different materials, it would be as different as one model and its successor. An example might be the Waterman 52, in black hard rubber, red ripple, silver or gold plated overlay and finally celluloid. Such a difference can be seen, too, in the ever-handsome late 30s Swan Leverless, shown here in silver, and as different a pen as could be from its celluloid sibling.
Already an elegant pen, the silver version is classic. Silver lends itself to fountain pen construction very well, being so malleable that it can assume any shape in the designer’s mind. Pure silver is very soft, nearly as soft as gold and for ornamental purposes a small admixture of copper is applied, commonly in the ratio 925/1000.
This model of Leverless was issued in 1938. The presentation date of this pen is 1944. It is imprinted, ‘HJM from David Mitchell,’ rather curiously making the donor more important than the recipient (could this have been an illicit romance?). The pen is hallmarked on the cap and barrel. It sports a wonderful stub nib, making it as delightful in use as it is ornamental.
Even more than gold or gold plate, silver is an ideal substance from which to make a fountain pen. I’ve had silver fountain pens which were heavy – Yard-O-Led comes to mind – but they can be quite light as is the case with this Swan. Silver takes an exceptionally lustrous shine and if the pen is constantly in use and handled, tarnish is kept at bay. It is because of this exceptional shine that silver is regarded as a precious metal, and has been from time immemorial. Like gold, silver was mined and worked so long ago that we have no first date for its use.
There are those who make a comparison between silver and bronze and regard tarnish as similar to patina, and value the tarnish for some imagined beauty. This is mistaken. Patina protects bronze and prevents any further oxidation. Tarnish eats into the silver and should be removed and kept away by whatever means possible. Given that ornamental silver is valued purely for its lustre, keeping pens in a tarnished condition seems somewhat perverse.
I hope HJM enjoyed his or her beautiful pen for many years. I know that its present owner holds his glorious pen in the highest esteem.
Many thanks to Paul for his excellent photos and for permission to write about his pen.