Conway Stewart Nippy Pencil

Conway Stewart were masters of design and it shows in their pencils as much as in their pens. This early “Nippy” is a thoroughly practical pencil and it is also a small work of art, a usable sculpture. Conway Stewart used casein more than other manufacturers, and that’s what this pencil consists of, along with steel, brass and gold plating.

Jonathan Donahaye has dated this pencil to 1933 to 41 and he has said that it matches with the Nos 17 and 759 pens. Some of Jonathan’s splendid work has since been shown to be incomplete, outdated or wrong but his site is still useful because of its accessibility, one area where the online source is always more user-friendly than a book. It seems strange that No 17 should be paired with this much earlier pencil. If it is correct, perhaps Conway Stewart were using up earlier stock.

Mechanical pencils have never caught on in the way that fountain pens have. I confess that I don’t use them all that often but I do admire them, especially the prewar ones.

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An Esterbrook Relief

I know the usual Esterbrooks, both Relief and otherwise but I haven’t seen this one before.  It’s English made with a 14ct gold screw-in nib.  The gold plating is good though the pen has clearly seen some use.  I like the cowl clip.  It’s not a working pen as it stands as there is no sac nipple.  Can anyone tell me about this model?

Unknown Button Filler

Can you help me to identify this small pen?   It’s 10.9 cm capped.  There’s no writing on the cap or barrel, though there may have been at one time.  It came with a Parker nib and the barrel is very Parker-ish.  The cap fits very well but it doesn’t look like any Parker I know.  Probably the parts are a mismatch but I’d like to know what the cp is, if that’s the case.  It looks familiar but I can’t place it.

Epenco Lever Filler

This is a rather splendidly-patterned Epenco Lever Filler, not a common pen on this side of the Atlantic.  Made in the 1930s, it sports a stepped Art Deco clip and two medium cap rings.  The Epenco nib is gold plated steel.  I see no model name or number.

Epenco pens were made by the Eagle Pencil Company, one of the oldest-established American fountain pen manufacturers.  Their pens were priced at the lower end of the market and this pen was probably priced in cents rather than dollars when it was new.  The Eagle Pencil company is famous for producing the first cartridge pen, a metal pen with a glass cartridge and a dreadful nib.  They sold very well though and are still seen on eBay today.  I think I wrote about one a few years ago.

Epencos remain popular because of their beautiful and often striking patterns.

I didn’t think it would last a month…

I’ve been writing this blog for a long time now. They used to say (I don’t know whether it’s true or not) that every cell in your body has been replaced in a seven-year period. That means I’m not even the same person who started writing about fountain pens!

I had a few aims and ideas when I started out. I wanted to write about as many pens as possible, so that there would be a point of reference for someone acquiring or considering an old pen that was unknown to them. I wanted to supply as much information as I could. I’m no great expert but thankfully several of those who comment on my posts are.

My intention was to write mostly, but not exclusively, about British pens. When I began there was little information online about British pens, unlike the situation in the US. That has improved – there is much useful material available now, but there are still some important brands that have not been covered.

I intended to write only about vintage pens but somehow modern pens began to sneak in. I use one or two modern pens but most of those that came my way were sent out again. I’m not aware of any modern pen that can compare with a Swan, Onoto or older Parker.

It was my plan to tell it as it is. If I didn’t like a pen I’ve said so but there aren’t many old pens that I don’t like. I don’t like the current behaviour of making new pens and selling them under the name of historical companies which shut down long ago. I also didn’t like eBay’s policies of a few years ago, when they took little responsibility for faulty, damaged or wrongly described items that were sold through their sites. I probably bored many of you to tears about that but I’m glad to say their policies are much improved.

I’ve tried to keep it entertaining as well as informative. I’m aware that in recent years I haven’t always succeeded in that. Getting old and boring – it comes to us all!

Sheaffer Balance

I’m not well informed on Sheaffer Balances. They come in a variety of sizes and trims. This one is slender, just under 14 cm long capped and has no white dot. The trim is gold.

I’m fond of Sheaffers though I no longer handle many of them. At one time I imported pens from the US, Sheaffers among them, but that became too expensive with the charges that have been imposed. I regret that. Sheaffers have great quality, or at least they had until they were taken over and ceased to be real Sheaffers.

This pen is a lever filler for which I’m thankful. I think that Sheaffer went rather astray with some of their other filling systems, pesky to repair and in some cases not holding much ink.

The gold plating on this pen is good except, strangely, on the cap ring where it has almost disappeared. Its real glory is in the celluloid, black with iridescent inclusions that change colour as you move the pen. They really knew how to produce beautiful patterns in the nineteen thirties, for Sheaffer and Waterman especially.

The Balance was a revolutionary pen, and not just for its new tapered style. Sheaffer produced a pen that sat well in the hand without having to be posted and that is how to best enjoy a Sheaffer Balance today.

A Faded Mentmore

Pens have a life of their own, even if it’s only black hard rubber fading or the pen accumulating micro-scratches. I could write one of those essays we did in school, “The Life of a …” about a fountain pen, but that’s not what I’m going to do today.

This is a Mentmore Autoflow, one of the better British pens. It started out blue and black marbled, as the cap remains but something happened to the barrel. It has become translucent amber with traces of the original marbled pattern remaining. I’ve seen this several times before, mostly on Mentmores but sometimes on other pens. British-made Watermans of the thirties are susceptible.

I don’t know what causes this effect. It may be similar to the transformation caused by the outgassing of sacs that affects jade and lapis lazuli (among others) celluloids. If that is so, why does it not affect all marbled celluloid? Perhaps it is down to a flaw in this particular celluloid, and it may be that the gases from the sac act as a catalyst. There may be some other explanation.

If you think of it purely as damage, this is a throwaway pen. I find it quite attractive, particularly when held up to the light. It’s something different anyway as it isn’t especially common.

My husband got into a discussion with a gent who had a Waterman that this had happened to. This was in FPN, a place where I am no longer welcomed with open arms and glad cries of joy, but he still visits the place. He has a stronger stomach than me. Anyway, the owner of the Waterman wanted to be told that he had something unique and precious. Hubby told him, with some regret, that it was a form of fading but the owner remained certain that Waterman had made this one pen that way. People can convince themselves of anything but I’m afraid there can be no doubt that this is a process that afflicts some celluloids.

The fact that it is a process is interesting too. Assuming that the fading happens to be an interaction between flawed celluloid and gases from the sac, could these little islands of pattern disappear too, if the sac decayed for long enough? Has anyone seen one of these amber barrels that has become wholly translucent?

I happen to have two or three of these faded pens at the moment (thank you, PS!) and I plan to restore them to the best condition possible. I think they’re quite special.