Mabie Todd Swan 3250 yet again!

I’ve written about the Swan 3250 on several occasions, some of them quite recently. So what more is there to say? More of that later.

These pens were made soon after the end of the war, and many of them survive today. There are probably many factors adding up to that survival: the robust nature of the material that cap and barrel are made from, the respect they were treated with and the fact that they were forgotten in a drawer for years.

3250s are generally unremarkable, as is this one, at least until the nib is applied to the paper!

Though it is sometimes said that there were few fully flexible nibs after carbon paper became common that isn’t really true and applies more to the US than to Britain. Some degree of flexibility can be found in many British pens but full flex like this, in the post-war period, is mostly restricted to Mabie Todd and, occasionally, Onoto.

Flexible nibs are much in demand. I’ll confess that they are not especially to my taste, being a little difficult to handle over extended periods of high speed writing. I’d rather a fine firm nib but I do understand their appeal to others. They can produce some very beautiful work, well beyond my ability (as is evident!).

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Waterman 513

I have written extensively about the Waterman 513 before. The search box above will take you there. It and the 515 are probably the best post-war Watermans. The 1955 W3, while still a good pen, shows a decline in quality.

This striated blue version is very attractive, the gold plated trim fitting well with the pattern. The box lever design is a little different from earlier examples but is still quite robust. The clip shows a little wear but much less than I have seen on many examples.

When I’m researching a pen, I take a look in eBay. I find it quite amusing that among an entire page full of 513s, a couple of sellers describe the pen as rare!

This example is English. Canadian 513s are near-identical. The US Stalwart seems to be the same pen. There is another US pen, the 513J, which has a different clip and tassie and may be earlier. I have seen a variety of nibs in these pens. Some of this may be from the factory using up stock, but others, like this one, have a replacement. This nib is a W3, the later type, and must therefore be a replacement.

With its gold plating and variety of patterns, the 513, like most post-war Watermans, makes a fine collector’s pen. It also makes an excellent writer. Waterman nibs are invariably good, whether flexible or firm and the pen is a decent size and sits well in the hand.

A Bright Red Swan

This subject has already been covered in Fountain Pen Network but for those of you who don’t read that forum I’m discussing it here.

This pen went through eBay on Sunday and fetched a good price, though not as much as it might have given its rarity. It’s a very late-production Mabie Todd Swan and the only thing that makes it special is the fact that it is gleaming, Post Office red! There were, of course, later red Swans made by Biro, of much poorer quality, but this is the only bright red Swan of this type that I have ever seen.

The seller, radjiel, kindly gave me permission to use his photograph. He said that the pen belonged to a book keeper who used it for red ink. I understand that there is no model number on the pen. It would appear to work out as 3277.

Mabie Todd never ceases to surprise us!

At the Sign of the Swan

I have kindly been given sight of historical material relating to Mabie Todd. (thank you Paul L!) It includes correspondence between the company and Mr R Ridgill Trout, a publisher who wished to produce a history of writing materials. Whether that history was ever produced I know not, but his company produced other materials and is reasonably well-known.

The correspondence, typed and dated 1938 is in the very stilted formalese of the time. It is so remote from how people speak that I suspect one had to decide what one wanted to say and then translate it into the language of business correspondence. In any case, Mabie Todd were keen to help and provided a very detailed history of the company’s pen production and its moves and expansions. They also included a company brochure entitled, “At the Sign of the Swan, Your Pen and Ink” by SPB Mais. Though he died in 1975 – not so very long ago – he is completely forgotten today despite having written over two hundred books on all sorts of subjects. His writing style is pleasant, informal and humorous, very much of its time.

The brochure covers the making of Swan ink in Liverpool, the production of gold nibs, how the barrels and caps were made and it ends with a description of Sunderland House, which the company had recently acquired and made its headquarters. In hindsight we know that Sunderland House was doomed to be demolished by German bombs in a few years. It is sad that the illustrations of its elegant rooms are of spaces soon to cease to exist.

I knew already how the various parts of fountain pens were made but Mais’s account is so well done and so detailed that it is almost as if one is there.

These are precious documents, wherein the company gives an account of itself at the very height of its prosperity. We know the wonderful, high-quality pens that were being produced in the mid-thirties and the company’s pride in its product is justifiable. They had been making splendid pens for many years and had every reason to expect it to continue. History records that, in the longer term, it was not to be, due first to enemy action, then the overpowering success of the ballpoint. It’s nice to dwell on these earlier, more optimistic times.

Dip Pen/Pencil Combo

Paul S kindly provided me with photographs of this exquisite writing instrument. Though it has a Conway Stewart No 6 stub nib, I can find no indication that it was made by Conway Stewart. There is nothing on the combo to identify the manufacturer.

Moving the central gold-filled band exposes the nib, and the rear half of the body is turned to bring out the pencil. The gold-filled cap at the rear unscrews and holds spare leads.

The barrel is chased black hard rubber. Altogether it is a splendid exercise in design and engineering. Given its high quality and excellent finish, this combo may well have been made by one of the major manufacturers of mechanical pencils.

Swan Half Overlays

This post will be a little image-heavy!

Some exceptionally fine overlay Swan eyedropper fillers appeared on eBay last week. They sold on Monday and, to be honest, there seemed to be less interest than I had expected, given their rarity and condition. I’m not complaining, mind you! I managed to snag two of them, a solid silver Mabie Todd Swan half overlay and a very decorative Mabie Todd & Bard Swan half overlay gold plate. They were expensive, though not as expensive as they might have been. When I saw them my eyes lit up and I was consumed with greed – I wanted them all. But the car is due its MOT and the insurance has to be renewed so I had to pull my horns in.

Pens of this age, quality and condition don’t come up very often. I think it’s reasonable to assume that this is the dispersal of a collection of some significance, garnered over many years. In any case, here they are: the gold plated pen is absolutely magnificent. I’ve had one somewhat similar before but this one is in immeasurably better condition. It originally belonged to TP Thomas and I don’t suppose he’s still around today. The solid silver pen is a beauty too. It shows signs of having been used a little more but the condition is nonetheless splendid.

These pens were the luxury items of their day. As well as being a huge, recent improvement on the dip pen, the materials and craftsmanship make them exceptionally beautiful and desirable. The price that such pens sell for today is often less, in comparative value, than they sold for when new a century ago.

The gold plated pen must date to before 1907, when Bard’s name was dropped. The silver pen would have been made between then and 1911 when a newer style of eyedropper pen was introduced. Dip-testing, both pens have a lot of flex. The silver pen is a medium stub and the gold one a fine.

The Coronation Scroll

Like other manufacturers, pen makers cashed in on great national occasions like the Coronation of 1953. Many of those commemorative pens were at the lower price end, some very low indeed to make for an easier impulse purchase.

This Scroll is a case in point. The company was around making cheap (and mostly shoddy) pens from about 1950 until Scroll merged with Scripto Pens Ltd in 1955*. The other Scrolls that I’ve seen have generally written well enough but the build quality has been poor. And I mean poor. These pens make Platignums look good.

If this pen has any value it is as a commemorative item. As a pen, it’s very bad indeed! It’s a bulb filler, probably the cheapest way to make a fountain pen. Maybe the blow filler might be cheaper but there can’t be much in it. I’ve seen bulb fillers by Mentmore and Langs that are sound, high-quality pens but the Scroll is at the other end of the scale. I have returned the pen to full writing functionality but I can’t guarantee it continuing to work for very long and that isn’t something I would normally say.

The nib appears to have had some gold wash but it has mostly rubbed off. The barrel and cap are very light injection-moulded plastic, the cap with a gold-alike coating. The parts fit together but not in the satisfying way that they do in a better pen. Perhaps the best looking aspect of the pen is the crown and gold lettering.

This is not where the British pen industry was in 1953. Yes, the ballpoint was proving an efficient competitor to the fountain pen and it was beginning to cast a shadow. New ideas were being anxiously sought and there may have been economies applied by some makers, but all the major British brands were still turning out very high quality pens. This tawdry rubbish was presented in the hope of making a quick, cheap sale to people who were inspired by the Coronation.

By far the best part, and probably the most expensive, is the box. The lid has a velvet finish, the gold lettering is excellent and the design is appealing. Unlike the pen.

Don’t let me depress you too much though. I shall be writing about better pens shortly – much, much better pens. Watch this space!