Smoothing and Unsmoothing Nibs

This subject arises from a discussion in the ever-entertaining Fountain Pen Geeks. I dislike a buttery-smooth nib. It feels slippery and imprecise to me. The problem is easily resolved with a moment on fine micromesh. The aim is a nib that grips the paper ever so slightly rather than skating over it. No roughness or scratchiness, just that absence of slipperiness is what is required. Most Pilot pens I’ve had are like that straight out of the box.

Others, of course, will go the other way, polishing their nibs to make them even smoother. The question – really an unanswerable question – that arises from this is, “were people so particular about their pens in the heyday of the fountain pen – say the 1940s?”

Unless some centenarian with a wide knowledge of how people used their pens back then appears, we will never know. We can speculate though. Most people would only have one pen, used for social and work purposes. Would they tolerate it being uncomfortable or unpleasant to write with? Would they have made an adjustment themselves as many of us do? There was a large fountain pen repair industry, everything from the local guy (or guyess) to the fountain pen manufacturing companies. I’m sure most of those technicians carried out all the repair work we do now. Would they have been surprised to be asked to unsmooth a pen? Is it just us modern snowflakes who are so sensitive about our pens?

What do you think?

Caps and Convenience

There are a variety of types of caps and they have various benefits and disadvantages. I use pens in two ways: writing drafts like this one and taking notes when reading and researching. Taking the latter first – and why not? The best cap for note-taking is no cap at all! I had a Pilot Capless for a few years and it was convenient and a good writer. Too convenient, perhaps, because other suitable pens never got an outing to take notes. In the end I sold it. It was a good pen and I enjoyed it but it was time to try the other pens.

I had a Lamy Dialog briefly. It lacked the convenience of the Capless. Twisting to expose the nib is not one handed, or at least not conveniently so. The pen was heavy and did not sit well in my hand. The new Platinum Curidas has yet to come my way. I have no doubt that it will.

Pens that have caps that must be unscrewed are a nuisance for note-taking. The hard rubber slip caps of the earlier part of the twentieth century were beautifully machined and those I’ve had fitted firmly a century later. It is my one use for eyedropper fillers.

Modern pens with press-on caps depend either upon a plastic clutch, or, more simply, several small protuberances that close the pen against the section or by locating behind a ring. I do use such pens for note-taking but I do not expect that they will still be usable in a century from now. Clutches and bumps wear. The former is capable of being repaired, maybe a few times before it gives up altogether. I can imagine a rough hack that would replace bumps but neither closure method is especially durable.

That takes care of the note-taking. For more extended spells of writing any pen will do. I don’t post my pens. Once the cap is unscrewed or pulled off it is set aside until I’m finished so threaded caps, even those that take several turns to uncap, are perfectly convenient. Other concerns become more important – the comfort of the pen in the hand, the quality of the nib, even how many pages can be covered before a refill is required.

Like most people, I like pens that don’t dry out quickly and the cap plays a large part in that. The Platinum 3776 is most famously secure in that regard but most pens, old or new, can be set aside for a week or two and still write instantly. I have two Swans that I particularly favour, a rather battered SF230/60 and a 1060. Either could be set aside for a month or two without drying out. Mabie Todd made good, well-threaded caps.

Wing Sung 699 Plunger Filler

I often say that I will buy no more pens – for myself, that is, not for the business! And I also say no more Chinese pens. I stick to neither of these resolutions. The Chinese are no longer the poor relations of the pen world. They are turning out pens now that are competitive in quality and ingenuity with the rest of the world.

The biggest seller last year was the Wing Sung 699. It is variously described as a vacuumatic filler and a piston filler, neither of which is an accurate description of its filling mechanism. Many of those advertising and reviewing pens have little idea of pen history and the traditional names used to identify various filling systems.

The vacuum description has always been problematic. Every filling system depends on the creation of a vacuum to draw ink, even the Parker 61 capillary system. That said it has been applied to the Parker pen of that name and the first Parker 51s and also to the plunger fill Sheaffer which is where the confusion arises. That pen is a plunger filler and so is the Wing Sung 699. I’m glad we’ve got that out of the way!

At £16.99 the 699 is a little more expensive than the average Chinese pen but it is almost ludicrously inexpensive for what it is. At 15.1 cm capped it is a large pen and the mechanical parts make it quite heavy at 29 g. Though it isn’t too heavy for me it may be too big to be comfortable especially the very big nib. I am told that in appearance and operation it closely resembles a particular expensive Japanese pen. Frankly, I never care about these things which seem to be the source of great annoyance to some people. If it is a good pen that is all I care about and this is a good pen!

It is a very Onoto-like in filling. Unscrew the blind cap, apply a single thrust and the pen is filled – in this case not quite to the top but enough to keep you writing for a long time. Again, like the Onoto, to enable good ink flow you have to leave the blind cap unscrewed a little. The nib is a 0.5 mm fine – which is not very fine in my book. I think I might have a nib that suits me better and I might swap them around.

Other things are as you might expect. The cap fits well with a single turn. The semitransparent smoky brown plastic feels very smooth, warm and pleasant. The nib lays down ink well with no skipping or hard starting. It’s a good nib, just a bit too long and too like a medium for me. These pens have not been around all that long so we can’t really talk about durability, but I haven’t heard of cracking or breakages. The plunger works very smoothly.

As I said I feel that it may be too big to be a keeper for me. Large pens are not a problem for me but very large nibs can be, pushing the wrist back to an uncomfortable angle. We shall see.

The accompanying piece of paper is almost all in Chinese but it does show an exploded diagram. The pen should be quite easy to disassemble should the need arise. I’m not one of those whose default is to tear a pen apart to clean it but it’s good to know that it should be easy to change the nib.

What Makes a Good Pen?

On one of the pen boards I saw a thread entitled something like, “what makes a good pen?” I wasn’t tremendously impressed by the answers but I thought the question an interesting one. Here are a few ideas of my own.

Nib. Flexibility or firmness are personal choices, not an indication of the quality of the nib. You may rave about those super-flexible nibs suitable for copperplate when all you can do is the modified printing one sees so much these days. I do a proper cursive best served, to my mind, by a firm nib with a well-sculpted tip.

Design. There are at least two sorts of design, possibly three. No, actually definitely three. There is the design for appearance which adds nothing to utility of the pen. The Sheaffer Balance is an example of that. Then there is designed complexity for its own sake. Yes, I’m looking at you, Snorkel. I know it seems like I’m picking on Sheaffer but that’s only because. Then there is designed for utility and comfort in the hand, for a pen that doesn’t tire one in the long haul of a day’s writing. I’m thinking of the Swan 1060. Not the post-war very tapered one but the slightly tapered wartime one; a pen of great elegance and utility. I like the model with the No 3 nib. I hasten to add that this is not the only pen that I would regard as well designed. It’s just an example.

Materials. I hate those horrid concealed brass pipework jobs, like many Chinese pens and the execrable Italix. (I am aware that not all Italixes are brass bodied; most are). Pens do not require weight to work well, it is rather the reverse that is true. Acrylic, celluloid or hard rubber will do very well. I especially favour hard rubber with its warmth to the touch and proven durability. I snigger at those commentators who talk about materials “feeling cheap”. We won’t get into abuse of “precious resin”.

Colour and Pattern. Most of what makes a pen useful for me has nothing to do with what colour it is. Many of my pens are black but I do appreciate good colour patterns. Examples of what I appreciate are in the vast range of patterns employed by Conway Stewart, the subtler patterns of Swan, the hard rubber ripple by Waterman and even the very bright acrylic used by Moonman in the Duofold lookalike.

Filling System. Really, nowadays, it makes little difference to me. Eyedropper fillers tend to blob and are rather a pain to fill but I’m not saying I would never consider one. I hold the cartridge/converter filler in some contempt for lack of imagination and taking the easy way out but I use them anyway. What I don’t use are the overly complex examples by Parker and Sheaffer made during that prewar period when it was all about gimmicks. Sac fillers, especially the button filler and the Swan Leverless, piston fillers, plunger fillers, the Ford Patent, bulb fillers – they’re all good.

Have I annoyed you enough with my prejudices? Tell me about yours!

John Brindle’s Mabie Todd Pen Lists – Update

The new version of John Brindle’s Mabie Todd lists is going ahead well. It will be done in WordPress and I confess that creating a website of such complexity in WordPress would be well beyond me! I am therefore hugely grateful to Tony Lancaster who is redesigning and rebuilding the site. It will still be the work of John Brindle but corrections and additions can now be made. That had become impossible on the old site.

Once it has all been put together there will still be all the data entry to do, and that – and future site maintenance – will fall upon my husband who had a good relationship with John and who is happy to take on the work in John’s memory.

Here’s a working image of the front page.

The Later Swan 1060

Apart from sales stock I have thirty or forty pens of my own. Mostly they are chosen purely for their writing capability.

This one is a Swan 1060, not the wartime one but the post-war torpedo-shaped pen. It is unsaleable because of a hairline cap lip crack. That could be repaired but the chemicals involved are dangerous to someone with a breathing problem. As my husband is so afflicted I no longer carry out that repair.

This pen qualified as a keeper on two counts: it is a Leverless, a filling system I admire and the nib is a very pleasant fine. It is semiflexible and the line variation is very easily invoked. I don’t usually care about flex but it can be nice for some things – addressing an envelope, for instance.

The pen was made in the late forties, a year or two older than the aforesaid husband. He says he wishes he had worn so well. He could live with a lip crack if the rest of him looked so good!

Looking for Advice

I’ve been told that WordPress might not be ideal for what I want to do with the Brindle site.  Someone with experience in these matters says that WordPress now is a sea of plugins, not all of which are well coded.  It would take some time and experimentation to discover which plugins would be best for my purpose.  Also, these plugins are frequently updated, again not always well.  What would work for me today might not tomorrow.  He recommended Google Sheets which can then be embedded into a free Google Site.  I’m not all that keen on falling into the clutches of the Google Evil Empire but perhaps I should put my prejudices on one side if this will work well.

Any experience, comments, thoughts?

John Brindle’s Mabie Todd Pens Lists

In 2013, when there was little information available on Mabie Todd pens, John Brindle spent weeks gathering information on every one of their pens that he could find. Someone else created the website and several of us added photographs of the pens. At the time it was a tremendous reference. It’s perhaps less important now because Stephen Hull’s The Swan Pen is so informative about the company and their pens. However, I think the listing still has a purpose as a quick, easily available reference.

An enthusiast contacted me a few weeks ago because he had photographs of pens that he wished to add to the list. He had used the site’s contact button but it no longer worked. I found that John’s personal website and his email addresses had gone. I can only conclude that John is no longer with us. He was elderly and clearly frail when he produced the site seven years ago.

Rather than let yet another British fountain pen site slip into abeyance I contacted the gentleman who had put the site together for John. The bad news is that the site was written with software that is no longer supported, so it cannot be updated. The good news is that the site will continue as it is for the moment.

It has been accepted that I will take over responsibility for the Mabie Todd list. As time permits – and time is supplied in small quantity – I will attempt to create another version of the list using WordPress. It will of course include all of John’s work and can be updated as new information and photographs come along. It will always be John Brindle’s Mabie Todd pen list.


Conway Stewart No 13 Safety Pen

This is a rather splendid Conway Stewart No 13 safety pen. Its owner assures me that it has never held ink and is New Old Stock. It appears to be in perfect working order and the chasing is sharp. The only imperfection is in the nib which appears to have been “adjusted” in a manner which marked it.

The nib appears to be original and is engraved, “Solid 14Kt Gold”.

A No 13 is depicted in Stephen Hull’s Fountain Pens for the Million but there is no more information. Was this pen made in Conway Stewart’s factory or imported?

With thanks for photographs and information to Rob Parsons.


I’m back in business but not business as usual. The website has been kept current and up-to-date so that you can see what pens are available, but you can’t buy through the website. This is because there are still several locations where delivery is very slow and erratic. The news from the US, the Antipodes and the Far East is not good as yet so I can’t sell pens to those places at the moment. I will, however, reserve a pen for someone in those locations, without charge, until I can dispatch the pen. There are no shipping issues with UK and European addresses.

There will be additional pens uploaded to the website soon. If you see a pen that interests you, contact me on either of the usual email addresses: or