This safety pen is a real rarity. It does appear in Stephen Hull’s excellent Swan book but I’ve never come across one for sale. It’s such a well-made stylish pen that I’m surprised that there are not more of them around.
Safety pens certainly had a select market for a time and apart from the very popular Watermans and Swans such manufacturers as Whytwarth turned out their own versions.
These pens were mostly made during the years when the alternative was an eyedropper filler. Safety pens, with their retractable mechanism and the little door which sealed the ink in the barrel were very much more complicated than an eyedropper filler and this was, of course, reflected in the price.
So what was the attraction of these more expensive pens? It’s hard to put oneself in the mindset of the pen buyer of more than a century ago but probably the main draw was the portability of the safety pen.
They were advertised as being impossible to leak, a big selling point in those days of ink-in-the-barrel pens. With the quantity of ink held even in those slender pens, a leak would have been a very expensive disaster, ruining a shirt, or even worse, a jacket.
Judging by the number of clipless pens we find from that period, most pens remained on a desk but there would have been numerous situations where it would have been beneficial to produce a pen from a jacket to sign a document or take an essential note. The safety pen might pay for its additional cost by obviating the need for one eyedropper pen at home an another at the office.
Whatever the reasons for their popularity, we are fortunate to have inherited these cleverly-designed pens. They’re just as practical today as they were in the Edwardian period. There has even been a small fashion for modern pen manufacturers to produce safety pens. Perhaps the necessity for them has gone away as we have so many other designs of pens that are safe to carry but the mechanism is as admirable as ever.
Thanks to Rob Parsons for the excellent photographs.