Conway Stewart 205

The Conway Stewart 205 is a mystery pen in some regards. It isn’t specifically mentioned in Stephen Hull’s Conway Stewart book. It closely resembles the more common 206. In fact the only real difference I can see is that the 206 had a fixed clip whereas it seems likely that the 205 came with an optional washer clip. My one has no clip.

I’m particularly fond of these early-ish Conway Stewarts. This one probably went into production in the early to mid twenties, so it’s among that group of pens where Conway Stewart was getting into its stride with manufacture rather than outsourcing. In appearance and style it’s a real Conway Stewart with its domed, knurled cap and flange lever.

I like a light pen – the lighter the better – and the 205 is very good in that regard. I no longer post my pens but if I did this pen would still weigh very little in the hand.

By now Conway Stewart were making good, solid pens that were meant to last. Though it isn’t far short of a century old, I don’t treat this pen as a cosseted antique. It’s a pen to be used, to take advantage of its splendid Conway Stewart nib, just a hair thicker than fine, beautifully smooth from the decades of use. Most of the pens that I write about will be for sale. This one isn’t. I will never part with it.

I enjoy the smooth warmth of the BHR. The pen has been used so much that the barrel imprint has almost disappeared. No modern pen quite matches the comfort of this old pen. In some respects age brings benefit that new pens will take decades to acquire.


Daily Herald MHR Pen & Pencil Set

Harking back to my recent post about unbranded pens, here’s a splendid set issued by The Daily Herald in 1935.


Many thanks to Paul Stirling for sight of this beautiful set.

An Unusual Coin filler

I’m fond of mysteries but there are times when I wish for a solution. This handsome coin filler gives no indication of its manufacturer. There is no barrel imprint and the original nib is long gone with any helpful information that might have borne. I cannot even say with any certainty which is its country of origin. At 13.5 cm it is a medium-sized pen, though it takes a very large nib for the pen’s size. When it came to me it was fitted with a folded tip, gold-washed replacement nib. I tried various nibs from my stock; a Swan Eternal No 4 fitted perfectly. The slip-on cap fits securely. It is quite long, as slip caps go. The original black has been retained and the chasing is good. It has the usual slot for a coin but there is also a circular aperture for a matchstick. I find that quite unusual

The seller put a date of 1910 on it. Certainly patents for coin fillers were taken out in that year and perhaps that’s where he got the date from. Viewing the shape and the style of the pen overall, I would estimate a date a few years later, perhaps 1915 or 16. The pen is graced with a spring accommodation clip bearing a representation of the Stars & Stripes. It has worn quite well and there’s even some colour in the flag. The accommodation clip is certainly American. Is the pen American too? I suspect that it might be. Coin and matchstick fillers were more popular in the US than here in the UK.

I’m pleased with it as a writer. The coin filling system is quite efficient so the pen takes a good draught of ink. It feels comfortable and balanced whether posted or not. The clip is quite light and doesn’t overbalance the pen. As a replacement, the Swan Eternal nib doesn’t really form part of the judgement of the pen, but as always with Eternals it is wonderfully smooth and pleasing in use.

So there it is: a 100-year-old mystery and a great rarity while still being a very practical pen.

Swan 3250

Though I’ve probably written about it before (after all this time I’ve written about many things before) the splendid Swan 3250 is worthy of further consideration.

The burgundy is so dark that it appears black in anything but bright light. This is one of the earlier examples with brass barrel threads. The company returned to plastic threads later, probably because of cost. The brass threads wear the cap threads but not quickly enough to have influenced Mabie Todd’s decision, I would have thought. After all, almost 70 years later this example is still closing firmly with a single turn.

The gold plating has worn quite well, not always Mabie Todd’s strong point. The No 2 nib is not flexible but it has some spring which makes it very comfortable to write with. For me and for someone with larger hands than mine, it is a comfortable pen to hold and use. It is so well made, from such good materials, that it feels like a new pen.

We are blessed with the gift (or curse) of hindsight, and we see this pen as completely in line with its high-quality predecessors. We are, of course, aware of the fall to come in a few short years, when very inferior products will be turned out bearing the Swan name. That makes these fine late examples all the more precious, I believe.


Was it the quill which gave rise to that style of writing we so admire today; those scripts which employed the instrument’s capability of producing line variation? There can be no doubt that the extremely bendy steel dip nib perpetuated it and maybe even exaggerated it. It served no practical purpose: it did not make the script more legible than it would have been without line variation. It was, however, undoubtedly beautiful and admirable. It was also generally aspired to. I have seen it in the writings of registrars, of ministers of religion, in military clerks’ writings and in everyday correspondence. It was not something separate from usual writing. For a time it was usual writing.

In quite a short period it appears to have diminished. It took quite a while to disappear altogether from formal writing. In the UK more than the US it left a trail behind it. British fountain pens continued to offer flexibility until they were supplanted by the ballpoint. It was, however, the fountain pen that was the instrument of its demise. First World War soldiers’ records, written in fountain pen, more often than not show no line variation and where it is present it is as a flourish in the later business style of writing.

My husband remembers being taught that version of cursive – or longhand as it was then expressed – in the mid fifties. It was insisted that, using pencil, down strokes should be heavier than up strokes. This was probably in preparation for utilising line variation when the move came from pencils to dip pens. It was wholly an anachronism by then; nobody wrote that way any more.

Copperplate and its cousins have gone from being communication to a branch of art today. Calligraphy, whether commercial or hobbyist, is not used any more where the primary purpose is to inform. I think it’s fair to raise the question why was it ever the general cursive? Writing with the dip pen was naturally slower than using a fountain pen because of the need to refresh the ink on the nib but it was not that slow. Painting letters, which copperplate is, must have been very slow even when practised by the proficient. One may say that it was used in a slower age but that’s a modern myth. The Victorian period was anything but slow. Clerks, transcribing legal documents, were paid by the word.

It remains a puzzle to me, but I’m grateful for its existence. I can but admire it.

An Unbranded MHR Pen

I see the occasional modern unbranded pen but they’re not common. Back in the 1920s and 30s it was another matter. There was a proliferation of unbranded pens, many of which have survived. Some unbranded pens were used for promotion or advertising and usually bear some indication of their purpose, like the famous Typhoo Tea pens. Others were undoubtedly just sold, like branded pens. How did one go about buying such a pen?

Buyer enters a stationery shop.

“I’d like to buy a fountain pen please.”

“Certainly, madam,” replies the shop assistant, “would you like a Swan, Conway Stewart or maybe a De La Rue Onoto?” After a slight pause, with a discernible sneer, “or perhaps a Platignum?”

“Don’t bother me with all that,” she replied, “I’m in a hurry. Just give me a pen!”

So the shop assistant offers a mottled hard rubber pen with no maker’s name. She grabs it, hands over the paltry sum required and dashes off to write whatever it was she so urgently had to write.

Some of these pens were probably churned out by well known pen manufacturers like Mentmore or Wyvern when trade was slack. Others may have been made by companies we’ve never heard of who did nothing else but make unbranded pens. Whether in black chased hard rubber or mottled red and black hard rubber, they have a consistent appearance. Made from two tubes, the wider forming the cap, they are about as simple as a lever-fill pen can be. The nibs are always warranted when they are gold but sometimes they have steel nibs, plated or otherwise.

This one is a handsome specimen. The milled clip screw hints vaguely at the Duofold. That’s the one attempt at style. The lollipop clip with its cloverleaf or shamrock imprint is a common bought-in item. The nib is warranted 14 carat and of a reasonable size. The pen’s glory is in the rich reds and blacks of the hard rubber, the colours as strong and intense as the day it was made. The clip was once gilded but the gold has gone almost entirely, leaving a faint memory in the crease before the ball end. This pen would probably date to the late 20s.

I’m fond of these unpretentious pens. They were practical when made and, with a little attention, they remain practical now. These pens were not bought to show off the owner’s wealth or taste, just to do a necessary job. They were the pens that completed decades of sales or purchase ledgers, which kept families in touch with emigrated children or were carried in a soldier’s pack to write home from the outposts of Empire.

In this case, the pen has survived to show off colours more eye-catching and handsome than that of many a much more expensive pen.