Mabie Todd Swan Visofil VT340/76

One of these days I may own a Visofil, an ambition yet to be fulfilled. These photos are kindly supplied by Jens. This is the very beautiful green and silver /76 pattern. This later, VT version of the Visofil comes in several candy stripe patterns.

The first version of the Visofil, introduced in 1935, is the easier to repair. It is Swan’s answer to the fashion for ink-in-the-barrel pens with ink viewing windows.

In 1937 Mabie Todd brought out an entirely new version of the Visofil and unfortunately little consideration was given to servicing. Perhaps it is enough to say that it takes four pages in the Marshall & Oldfield repair book to describe servicing this pen.

Repair, then, is not for the faint-hearted but there are a few very skilled and experienced repairers who will take on this work. I’m not one of them, I hasten to add!

The Unique

My husband re-sacced this Unique along with a Dinkie 14 years ago. They were used a little, then set aside. When I checked them a few days ago, the sac in the Unique was hard while the sac in the Dinkie was as good as new. I don’t know what conclusion to draw from that.

This Unique is a charming pen in a pink and black marbled pattern. At 13.1 cm capped it is an average-sized pen for its time, which I guess would be immediately post war. The gold – little more than a wash – shows some wear throughout. The cap is a little darker than the barrel. The pointed black clip screw is not matched by black at the barrel end as one might expect with some other brands. Uncapped, the small nib is a surprise at first.

Leaving all that aside, this Unique is a decent writer with good ink flow, no hard starting or drying up. I’ve found that to be usually the case with Uniques. They are reliable. The material of the barrel and cap will stand comparison with Conway Stewart or Burnham. The nib, though small, is gold, unlike Platignums, Osmiroids or school Burnhams. The filling mechanism works well. It is only really let down by the thin gold plating, which isn’t too worn in this example.

Like some other pens at the lower end of the market the Unique was built to a price, most obviously in the size of the nib, but they were well built to that price. It would be my guess that the pen was aimed at the school pupil market. I would think that the kid who got a Unique would not feel as deprived as the one who got a Platignum. His or her fingers would be less ink-stained and he or she would not feel the need to conceal the pen. It’s actually a pretty decent pen.

The Parker 25 Revisited

I sold a Parker 25 this week. I’ve written about this pen before. I didn’t like it and I said so, only to be rightly rebuked by several people who not only appreciate the 25 but hold it in high regard.

That forced me to reassess my own ideas about the pen. There are two things I can never force myself to like: the squashed appearance of the nib and the strange shape of the barrel. Against that I must say that the pen writes adequately well and just because no-one else made a suddenly tapering, narrowing barrel is no reason why Parker shouldn’t do it.

I have to accept that the 25 is a pen that is almost entirely problem-free and it sold in numbers that reflected that. This flighter is so robust that it could be used as an illustration for the word “robust”. It uses the cartridge/converter system that I don’t really like but most of the rest of the world does. In timely fashion, someone reminded me* that the filling system is of little consequence; what really matters is what happens when the ink is in the pen and the 25 is faultless in that regard. Not admirable, outstanding or inspiring, you understand, but faultless.

What about the barrel? Why does it have that sudden taper followed by a narrower part of the barrel? Does it serve a purpose? You may say that it enables secure posting but the Swan Leverless 1060 I am drafting this with posts perfectly securely without this abrupt taper. Like many, many other pens, the rear of the barrel of the 1060 tapers gently to reflect the shape of the cap, making a pleasantly balanced design. The 25 is not balanced, pleasantly or any other way.

Not everything has to be balanced, as the great builders of the Gothic period celebrated, but the Parker 25 isn’t Chartres Cathedral. It’s an inexpensive fountain pen that many people like and which will still be writing in the 22nd century. I won’t be around then and even if I was I still wouldn’t like it.

*Thank you, Jens!

Lever or Button?

In the years after the First World War there was a scramble to find a successful method of ‘self filling’ a fountain pen. Sheaffer’s lever filler led the way and, of course, their version was denied to everyone else. All sorts of methods of compressing a latex sac were offered to the public with varying degrees of success. Only the Conklin Crescent filler lasted and even that eventually died away. Waterman created a version of the lever sufficiently different that Sheaffer could not successfully claim it was a copy of their design. Parker re-thought the whole process of flattening the sac and created the button filler.

These two sac fill designs dominated fountain pen design for many years. Which is the most efficient? Which proved the most popular then and among vintage pen fanciers now?

There’s an aesthetic consideration. The button filler provides an unbroken barrel and a different coloured blind cap may echo a clip screw and/or a section. Until it becomes worn and loses its plating, Waterman’s box lever may be seen as a handsome interruption to the plain or patterned barrel. That design has been copied many times, by companies such as Conway Stewart, Wyvern and De La Rue.

There is another, less visible issue with lever fillers. Waterman designed a swing pressure bar that met the sac quite flat and squeezed the air out very efficiently. Conway Stewart used a similar system, perhaps licensed from Waterman. Other manufacturers adopted the j-bar which is cheaper but addresses the sac at an angle and does not compress it so well. Mabie Todd pens use their own version of the j-bar developed to be more effective.

It is generally assumed that Parker designed the button filler to avoid Sheaffer’s patent and that is undoubtedly so but as a result they created a very efficient system – or a couple of systems, one transferring the pressure of bending the pressure bar to a screw-in section, the other applying it to the button aperture.

I have heard those who occasionally repair a pen say that they dislike the button filler because it is a more difficult repair. There may be a little more to it but of course it isn’t more difficult. In the hands of the user, I would say it is a little easier to fill, though there isn’t much between them. Which system do you prefer, and why?

A Little Old Nib

This tiny nib appeared in a Swan eyedropper that I bought. I swapped it out for a correct nib and I have hung onto it in the hope that it will eventually become clear which pen it began life with. It’s properly tapered for a split feed eyedropper filler but at 16.7 mm long it would be just swallowed up by any pen I can think of.


New Uploads To Sales Site

I will be uploading some pens, mostly Mabie Todd, to my sales site later today. It still is not open for sales in the usual way because there remain some locations where delivery is uncertain. I don’t want to send pens out that will end up being lost in the system. So what I am doing is taking orders by email from those places where I can be reasonably sure of safe and timely delivery. Payment by PayPal for overseas clients. The same for UK though bank transfer can be used if preferred.

I do wish this pesky coronavirus would just go away and we could get back to normal life and I could get back to website automated sales which involve me in much less work than doing it this way! However, I do realise that I am moaning about a very small detail at a time when many poor souls are suffering terribly, physically or emotionally. Please take care.

The Pocket Swan Safety Screw Cap

You don’t often see a pocket size Swan Safety Screw Cap. It sports a No 2 nib and is more practical than it might at first seem. It is 10.9 cm capped but a more practical 14 cm posted. The little pen is in good order. The barrel imprint shows up well as does the chasing but there is some wear on the gold plated broad band. The band has a very artistic superimposed collection of initials which I am struggling to make out: clearly there is a T with an A and what looks like a G but there is something else there that I can’t puzzle out! Very attractive, anyway.

The Safety Screw Cap was about the last of the eyedropper fillers, going into production in 1915 and proving popular, judging by the numbers that survive. This little pen qualifies as an antique, then, being fully a century old. It is of its time, both in that it is an original eyedropper filler and in that it was designed to be kept in the pocket of a waistcoat which very few wear nowadays.

It remains a quite practical writer. Both sets of threads, those which enclose the ink in the barrel and those which close the pen, are in excellent condition. The nib is smooth and has some flexibility.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that this monogram is AT together with the Christian fish symbol. That does seem likely. Many thanks, Jens!

The Red Hand!

I was rather taken with Noodlers Black Swan in Australian Roses and I bought a sample bottle. His sample bottles are pretty large! His normal bottles must be enormous. I tried it in a throwaway Chinese pen and it seemed very pleasant and quite innocuous but I needed to try it with flex to give the shading an opportunity to show. I put it in my Swan 1060. The ink was beautiful with flex. Then catastrophe struck! I set down the pen and noticed that my hand was covered in red ink. That ink is described as 16% bullet-proof which basically means that it was very hard to wash off! I examined the pen and it was leaking at the turn button. When I pulled the section off the ink poured out. The sac had parted company with the nipple.

I restored that pen perhaps six or seven years ago and on previous experience I wouldn’t have expected it to fail. A re-sacing usually lasts 10 years or more. Does Noodlers Black Swans in Australian Roses eat shellac? I think it’s worth saying, though, that flushing Leverless pens thoroughly requires working the turn button pretty hard for a large number of times. I’d never really flushed that pen before because I always filled it with blue-black. There is always a temptation to blame Tardiff’s ink because of its reputation and, in all fairness, because he is an obnoxious critter. The No 22 sac fits the nipple quite snugly but when I re-sac it I think I shall wrap it with thread, just to be sure.

Mabie Todd Swan Leverless Dark Blue and Black

There are times when the eye is better than the camera. I can see the pattern on this Leverless perfectly well but the camera can’t. I don’t set up the lightbox for the individual pens I write about and I’m not sure that if I did it would show up this subtle pattern well. Those are my excuses about the photos, now let’s talk about the pen.

The pen has no number on the barrel but if it did it would be L205/52, dark blue and black. Mabie Todd’s patterns are often subtle; this one is, I think, the most subtle. These mid 30s pens were expensive and rightly so. They are absolutely outstanding examples of fountain pen design and execution. The stepped clip is beautiful and very strong. I don’t often come across one of those clips damaged or broken out. The absence of a lever gives a smooth, unbroken barrel. The black hard rubber cap top and barrel turn button make a balanced design. The straight lines of the cap and the gentle tapering of the barrel make a most satisfying and instantly recognisable shape.

It’s not only beautiful but comfortable in the hand. It is well balanced uncapped which is how I write. The nib, a No 2, is flexible and smooth. When properly restored the pen holds a good volume of ink. I have used a straight No 20 sac. The turn button – and hence the paddle – rotates well, compressing the sac fully and creating sufficient vacuum to fully charge the sac in ten seconds.

It is my belief that these Leverlesses have never been bettered and like the Parker Duofold or the Onoto, will stand as examples of excellence for all time.

FPR Darjeeling Update

You may remember that I gave away the FPR Darjeeling some time ago. The recipient has kindly written a report on his experience with the pen. Many thanks, Kev.

I thought you might like an update on the Darjeeling. I tried it when it arrived and it was exactly as you said, wrote well for a page or so then gave up.  I cleaned it and fiddled a bit but to no avail and then went on holiday for a couple of weeks.  

I would like to say that, as a result of my thorough investigation on my return, and my expertise, the pen is now working as it should.  In fact the pen is now working beautifully but it has nothing whatsoever to do with expertise, more ‘persistent tinkering’.
I noticed that the feed was slightly off centre with respect to the nib and that the feed was not tightly screwed into the section, both of which may well have been as a result of my earlier ‘fiddling’, so i put that right.  S.B.R.Brown, on his Darjeeling review suggested that the nib may work better with some inks than others so I filled it with Diamine Saphire rather than the Parker Quink I had been using.  I then smoothed the nib a little and tried it again, more in hope than expectation.  It wrote beautifully.

I thought it wise to use it a few times for extended periods before I claimed victory and it has continued to behave, the odd ‘tramlining’ at full flex but nothing more.

The nib deserves a good deal of credit as I am left handed and naturally push the nib along making more demands on it than a right handed angle of attack. Over the years I have managed to minimise this by angling the pen so the top is pointing to the right and sloping the letters forward.  My writing is still horrible but nowhere near as diabolical as it used to be.  Surprisingly the ultra flex nib responds quite well to my contortions and I am enjoying it immensely.  I am in the process of finding a calligraphy style to settle on and practice, I anticipate it may take some time but that is a commodity that is in plentiful supply at the moment.