Stephens Leverfill No 106

Old “Inky” Stephens, who began the famous company, was all about ink. There is no indication that he particularly cared about pens of any sort. He developed the famous Registrar’s Ink which was used for important documents for years. Though later generations opened the company up to other, related interests, Stephens was always primarily an ink manufacturer. Indeed, calligrapher’s ink in various colours is still made under the Stephens name.

The company’s reputation for reliable ink led to its great popularity and its use in many schools, banks and businesses. The company arranged writing lessons in schools, using dip pens. Though this may well have been intended to advertise its ink for use in schools, there was undoubtedly some concern that children be taught to write well.

Later still, by the nineteen thirties, those running the company saw the opportunity to expand into supplying fountain pens, rightly confident that there are good reputation would lead to strong pen sales.

I have had doubts in the past about the degree to which the Stephens company was involved in the production of the pens which bear their name, but now I have little doubt that there thirties and forties pens were entirely a Langs product. This black and grey marbled No 106 is an excellent example. The number refers to the price which in this case was ten shillings and sixpence. That is almost impossible to convert accurately into modern money but online converters suggest £65 – £70 which seems reasonable for a pen of this quality. Like all of Langs output at that time, the pen is in a traditional style with no attempt to modernise the appearance or mechanics. Like the Mentmore I wrote about recently it is in the style that had become the standard British pen.

Eighty years later, this pen remains in very good condition, almost as good as new. Langs pens were built to last. The gold plating has held up well, only showing wear on the clip. The warranted nib appears original. Restoration consisted only of sac replacement and cleaning. The pattern is attractive and these pens were good sellers at their various price points as is shown by how many are still around.

The thirties and forties may be regarded as the highlight of the pens that were produced for Stephens. Later, when Langs was gone and Stephens became involved with Waterman, pens were made for them in France, principally by JIF Waterman but also by some other French manufacturers. Quality was variable (though some very good pens were made) and their popularity fell away. These later pens are much less common. Eventually Stephens stopped selling gold-nib pens.

Stephens gave us some great pens, splendid writers in a wide variety of nib styles and of course their famous ink still turns up quite frequently in eBay. I have a huge bottle of their red ink probably from the sixties. I rarely write with red ink so I don’t suppose it will ever be used up.


Mentmore Auto-Flow

I like all the wonderful patterns that celluloid and casein can produce but sometimes a black pen is enough, especially when it is enhanced with an engine-turned pattern as this Mentmore Auto-Flow is.

Looking back through my blog I have written about Mentmore before but not often enough. Mentmore was one of the great success stories of British pen-making, turning out thousands of pens under their own name, thousands more under Platignum and an incalculable number more for other companies.

The best of their pens, like this Auto-Flow and the Supreme are well made and reliable. Like Langs Summits and the prewar Conway Stewarts, they are the epitome of the British pen.

The beauty of this pen is subtle, a quality which evidently suited the average British pen buyer very well. The washer clip echoes the single slender cap ring. The pattern cut into the celluloid catches the light and the smooth clip screw, barrel end and section have a mirror shine.

Mentmore nibs appear to have been made in-house. They usually have a considerable blob of tipping material, more than other pens of the time.

The Auto-Flow comes in either lever fill or button fill form. This pen is the latter, and the filling system is well implemented. The section is screw-in and the blind cap fits seamlessly. Of the two, I prefer the button fill. It gives a cleaner line with the unbroken barrel.

Though the earlier, mottled hard rubber version of this pen fetches a higher price, Auto-Flow and the other top-end Mentmores remain moderately priced. They are high quality pens but probably because they are comparatively plain, they do not have a strong following and bargains are to be had.

In that respect they resemble the fifties and sixties Duofolds. They also resemble the Duofolds of an earlier era in appearance. Mentmore began making these pens in the thirties and they continued in production unchanged until the forties.

As you may have gathered, I’m a fan of Mentmore Auto-Flows. The more colourful patterned celluloid ones may make a collection. I like them as writers and I’m happy to settle for a black one.

The Golden Guinea M2

No one knows with certainty who made the Golden Guinea fountain pen but I would be prepared to make a small wager that it was a Mentmore product. It appears very similar to some other Mentmore and Platignum pens.

The name seems a little misleading. A guinea (21 shillings) was pricey for a pen in the thirties. For instance, the Conway Stewart Universal cost five shillings and sixpence in 1934* and it is a much higher quality pen than the Golden Guinea. I would guess that this inexpensive-looking pen cost a lot less than a guinea and the name was chosen to symbolise quality and worth.

Many of Mentmore’s inexpensive pens at this period were made from very attractive celluloids and it is the case with this pen. The white/grey/pink swirling pattern is very eye-catching and the black blind cap, clip screw and section provide a vivid contrast. The narrow/medium/narrow cap rings and the ball-ended clip have little more than a gold wash over the base metal.

The well-printed and strongly made box makes much of the “solid gold nib” but it is disproportionately small, another example of cost-saving. Taking the design as a whole, this low-cost pen with its pretty pattern was perhaps targeted at the school-pupil market.

The barrel’s tapering continues on into the section which is noticeably concave. The general shape is modern for the time, another attractive feature. Golden Guinea pens would make an interesting and attractive collection as during the couple of decades that they were around they picked up on the new and popular designs of those times, often in splendid patterns like this pen.

*Stephen Hull: Fountain Pens for the Million.

How It Gets From Me To You

Sometimes my customers don’t understand the postal process and it can be the cause of some friction.  The truth of the matter is simple enough:  once I have delivered the package to the Post Office, it is out of my hands.  There is no more that I can do.  For both domestic and overseas destinations, I choose a tracked method which is secure and offers some traceability.  How much tracking is available varies from country to country, and the dependability of postal delivery varies, too.  Spain, Israel, Hong Kong and Japan seem to have excellent postal services.  France and Germany are good most of the time but sometimes there are unaccountable delays in delivery.  Eastern Europe can be very difficult, as can Italy.  I insure my packages and recompense buyers on the very rare occasions that a pen goes astray but of course it remains a severe disappointment for the buyer.

The USA, strangely, can be one of the most difficult destinations.  Packages cross the Atlantic quickly but can spend a very long time in Customs.  Even after the package has been released from Customs, the US postal system takes an exceptionally long time to make the delivery.  Other times, the whole business goes very smoothly and it takes less than a week for a pen to be delivered to a US address, coming from Scotland.  But on some occasions because of the delays I have mentioned, it can take three weeks!

The one benefit of the US postal system is how well the tracking works.  Using the tracking number issued by Royal Mail the US Post Office gives detailed information about the current status of the package.  That doesn’t hold true for many other countries.  All that the tracking may say is that the package has entered that country.  No more information is provided until the package is delivered and signed for.

However, it all seems to work very well almost all of the time.  In nine years of selling pens all over the world, three have been irretrievably lost – that’s out of three thousand!  One pen has been damaged because, somehow, the post van drove over it.  The tyre tread pattern was clearly visible on the packaging.  That’s what it takes to damage my very strong postal tubes!

Rambling (I May Have Used This Title Before)

I sell pens; it’s what I do. There is no other way I could handle, understand, appreciate and write about so many pens. I couldn’t afford to keep them all.

I do keep some. I have a rather pretty Japanese box containing about forty pens. Most are retained for their writing characteristics, one or two because of their rarity or oddity and some because of their sentimental value.

I like a fine or extra fine nib and there are some other nib types I like: a fine stub or left foot oblique. Due to the size of my writing I could never use a broad nib or even a medium but I do appreciate their qualities. I no longer use flexible nibs, but again, I quite see why others like them.

I’m sometimes reluctant to part with the pen that suits my hand well but I have learned that I will mourn its absence for a day or two, then move on to the next thing. When you handle as many pens as I do there are bound to be some that write in just the way you like.

There are a few pens that I regret selling: an early Onoto that I have mentioned before, a splendid lapis lazuli Macniven and Cameron Waverley with the leaf-shaped nib and a fine-point Mentmore that was everything a pen should be, for me.

But I can’t dwell on regrets for long because I have so many pens that perform just as I like. I am very fortunate in the few pens I keep and even more fortunate in the many pens I have the pleasure of restoring and sending out into the world again.

Parker Duofold Junior Streamline

There are very few pens that do not meet with my approval. It must be said that there has been the odd exception and only a few weeks ago I hurled a cheap Chinese pen into the waste-basket in a fit of frustration. That said almost every pen can be made to function well with some TLC, and there is a special satisfaction in making an old Platignum or Queensway a reliable and pleasant writer.

But there are times that I want quality and ease of repair. That means the big-name manufacturers – Onoto, Swan, Wahl-Eversharp, Waterman, Sheaffer and, above all in this respect, Parker. I bought a Parker Duofold Streamline Junior the other day. That’s a pen approaching 90 years old. I popped a new sac in, admiring Parker’s hanging pressure bar in the process, gave it a rub with a lint-free cloth and there it was – a 90-year-old brand new pen. No nib adjustment was needed. I filled it with Parker black Quink and it wrote perfectly immediately.

The nib is a European fine, I would say, and I like it very much. I like writing with any of the Duofolds, American, Canadian or British. This Junior fits my small hand very well and I like its chunkiness.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, the Duofold’s shape and size, whether Standard, Senior or Junior seems just right and the Streamline’s gentle taper and flat ends work perfectly for me. You can recognise a Duofold across a room. The cap bands stand slightly proud but have retained their plating. There is a very slight loss on the ball end of the clip. Not bad for an old pen!


(Excuse photos.  Low light!)

Selfit Addendum

This is an addendum to the post about the Selfit nib.  Andy R. was kind enough to obtain patents for me and they made explicit the purpose of this nib.  The three “bumps” on top of the nib, which I barely noticed, act as threads.  Doubtless the barrel of the Selfit pen was fully threaded, making this a screw-in nib, perhaps the earliest.  Esterbrook, Platignum and Osmiroid nibs came much later.

A later patent indicates that the first screw-in nib may not have been entirely satisfactory and the threading on the nib was improved.  The rarity of the Selfit pen makes it clear that it did not take off but it was a pointer to the future.

Wyverns’ thinking behind this development was that removing a normal nib from its section for cleaning or replacement was difficult and could lead to breakage of the feed or barrel.  Pen manufacturers continued to make friction-fit nibs for decades after the introduction of the Selfit and pen repairers did not report any great difficulty.  When screw-in nibs did come along, it was to enable ease of changing nibs for schoolchildren and calligraphers.