A 1927 Swan Advertisement

This 1927 advert for “The Mottled Swan” shows an enviable pen, probably the SF230/61, so I’m drafting this with my SF230. Unfortunately it isn’t mottled; it’s black hard rubber (somewhat faded) with GP barrel and cap bands. A beautiful mottled Swan for 15/-. That’s 75p! Oh for a time machine! Those pens are very expensive today, even unrestored. They are much sought after – and rightly so!

This is one of the more direct Swan adverts except for the logo at the top, combining a stub nib and two swans within a rather abstract surround. It also lists all the Mabie Todd addresses of that time.

There are a number of other adverts on this page from Punch: there’s Spinet Large Oval Cigarettes, “Soothing as an Old Time Melody” and Orient Line Cruises by the 20,000 ton SS Oronsay and Otranto, to the Mediterranean. There’s also the “Hardy” Angler’s Guide and Catalogue and consultations with Dr Brighton, suggesting that a holiday there is a cure for all ills.

Going back to the pens, the late twenties and early thirties seem to have been the very best of Swan pens though the company produced excellent pens before and after. The SF range and their immediate successors combine a particular elegance with comfort and practicality.

A Guest Article from Chloé

It is no secret that I adore vintage fountain pens, especially vintage Parkers. My Parker Duofold with a stub nib is one of my favourites because it gives such a deliciously smooth writing experience, which also goes for my Parker 51 and Parker 61, as well as a very pretty marbled Parkette in my collection. But I also own some pens manufactured by their arch-rivals, Sheaffer.


There’s something about the sleek design of two of my Sheaffer Lifetimes that attract me, because I like green and gold. I suffer from an incurable case of ‘Oooh! Shiny!’


When I received the pens, they were in need of a good clean, inside and out. The clips were grubby, there was dried ink on the nibs, and a chemical smell surrounding them both that could only mean ancient ink inside, or else a somewhat unpleasantly pungent modern one. I started work on the small Sheaffer first (commonly called a Tucky or Tuckaway).


It is part of a pen and pencil set, but since I don’t own any pencil leads at the moment, I focused on the pen. I was, in fact, forced to focus on it very hard indeed, as the Filling Mechanism Was Hidden.
I stared at it, firmly and at great length, until I figured out that there was a blind cap on the end of the pen, which unscrews anti-clockwise. You then have to pull it, like a plunger. Then you dip the nib in some ink, push the plunger back down and screw the blind cap back on. Count to ten slowly, and the pen fills with ink, as it is drawn in on the down stroke.


It took me a long time to flush out all the old ink with water, but I did it and removed the unpleasant chemical smell in the process. The nib was still dirty, so I used a microfibre cloth and cotton buds to return it to a clean and shiny state that only 14k gold can achieve. I admit that there is still a thin line of ink around the bottom of the nib that refuses to be removed by anything.


It haunts me.


The grip section is black, so you can’t actually see the ink without looking closely, for which I’m thankful.
The only thing left to do now was to polish the barrel and cap. Again, prolonged application of a microfibre cloth and elbow grease was all that was needed, and the stripy green of the barrel shone like new.


I inked the pen and started writing. Wow – the nib felt like butter over the pages! It lays down a medium-thick, firm line. I use it posted because the barrel is so short, and it fits comfortably in my hand.
Now I turned my attention to its longer sibling. I won’t go through the whole process again, as it was exactly the same as for the Tucky, except this one has a gold clip and band which needed extra attention.
After I had returned it to its former glory, I inked it. I held it up to the light, as you can see through the barrel to gauge the ink level, and I saw that it was nice and full.


Then I wrote.


I have to say, I prefer the medium nib of the Tucky, as opposed to the fine nib of the larger Sheaffer. This isn’t the fault of the pen, as it writes smoothly and is a perfect example of a fine nib. I just prefer medium nibs in general. I do like to draw with my fountain pens, so I will probably be using it for this purpose, because it is a gorgeous pen and I feel happy when I use it. Or maybe I’ll write with it until I get used to using smaller nib sizes!


These vintage Sheaffers are both a great blend of beauty and functionality. The stripy green design is fun whilst still retaining a suitable level of formality, and the smaller pen would fit perfectly into the pocket of a polo shirt. A two-coloured nib is a pretty feature that I appreciate, and both caps are crowned with the white dot characteristic of a Sheaffer Lifetime pen. Even though these pens were manufactured in the 1930s, they are still almost as good as new.


If you see any old Sheaffer pens in an online or in-person auction, you should definitely consider adding one to your collection. They are quality pens!

BIO:


Chloé Stott is a blogger, freelance writer and reviewer with a fountain pen obsession. She is the founder of KraftyCats, where she blogs about pen restorations, guitars, cats and coffee, and publishes reviews for companies all over the world.

https://ratherbechloe.wixsite.com/kraftycats

Vintage Inks

There has been some discussion recently in Fountain Pen Geeks about vintage inks of which I have several. I use most of them. One or two have been a sad failure through settling out and though I’ve tried mixing them and even boiling it has been impossible to return them to their original strength. Luckily all the others are as good as they were when new.

This Swan Blue/Black ink bottle was full when I bought it some years ago. It has been my go-to ink ever since. I decant it into my normal-sized elephant bottle.

Some feared that old inks would have mould and maybe some do but not any of mine. If the cap is secure the inks should be free of mould. I think that mould is more of a problem in modern inks.

Anyway I take a special delight in filling my Swans with the ink that was intended for them.

(I managed to include our Peugeot 3008 in the background. Aren’t modern cars boring? Reliable and durable but boring.)

Another Swan Leverless L205/62

I’ve written about the Leverless L205/62 before and the search box at the top right will find those entries.

There are several truly outstanding Swan patterns and this is one of them. Some of those patterns score by their subtlety but this isn’t one of those. This is a bold and eye-catching pattern. So much so that I can’t have this pen as I would never get any work done with it as I would be constantly distracted by its glowing colours.

The nib is one of those that has a dip just before the tipping material. This has the same effect as Sheaffer’s tip-tilted nibs or the Waverley dip nib. It makes for a very pleasant writer.

Mabie Todd & Bard Beauties

I’d been looking at the Pen Collectors of America site and admiring the lovely old overlay pens and chatelaine holders. Then Mario showed me these:

Feast your eyes!

The silver chatelaine case has an anomalous date letter for 1912. I understood the name Bard was dropped in 1907.

Many thanks for the excellent photos, Mario!

Clips

I don’t clip pens to my clothes but they are useful – though not essential – in keeping pens in place in my wrap. They also stop pens rolling around – and off – my desk.

The occasional portable dip pen, often combined with a pencil, has come down to us but they were mostly quite expensive and never common. The great majority of dip pen handles and a supply of steel nibs remained at home and there would be a similar kit in the workplace. Dip pens were not for carrying in the pocket.

The first fountain pens were modelled on dip pens, essentially dip pens with a reservoir and a cap, so means of carrying them were not at first considered. Again, most people working in offices would have a pen at home and another in the workplace. Indeed it took quite a long time for the dip pen to be replaced at work. As the first pens were eyedropper fillers most people wouldn’t have wanted to carry a large and poorly contained volume of ink in a pocket!

There were jobs, I suppose, that needed a portable pen and manufacturers came up with ideas like the accommodation clip and Swan or Conway Stewart metal pocket to make that possible. Means for making the containment of ink more secure in the pen were developed in tandem. Those clips were good ideas at the time but accommodation clips can rust in situ over time and can leave an unsightly mark if removed. The interiors of metal pockets also provide a fine home for rust that is hard to remove and can scratch pens,

For a long time – several decades – clips were an optional extra. It wasn’t until after World War II that pens were always issued with clips. They took several forms: piercing the cap and keyed in place inside, rivetted or held in place by a clip screw. During the years when manufacturers sought methods of depressing the pressure bar without breaching Sheaffer’s patent, one pen had a clip that was used for that purpose, like a fixed matchstick filler.

As clips became a usual part of the pen they were plated in gold or chrome to make them an attractive part of the pen’s furniture. Many brands used clips to advertise themselves. Several clips, like those of Parker and Croxley, were recognisable at a distance,

Restoration or Conservation?

For someone to say that they restore fountain pens seems a simple enough statement. It isn’t, though. There are two views of what should be done with valuable old things and there’s a whole spectrum of views in between. The two operative words are restoration and conservation.

Conservation has a variety of meanings as does restoration but I suppose its simplest definition would be along the lines of doing no more than is necessary to ensure the item remains stable in its current state.

How do we define restoration of pens? At one end there is the restorer whose intention is to return the pen to its condition when new using whatever means available. At the other end there is the restorer who sees the pen in its current state as a historical document, with its wear and scratches as a record of its “life”.

My own view of restoration lies toward the latter definition which shares some of the aims of conservation. That can be taken too far, of course. In reality the ageing and damage a pen has sustained is not history, or at least not a history we can read and understand. It’s more like a record of its bumps and scratches. Do they have any value? Maybe. Perhaps they have a negative value. Removing all the marks of a pen’s past presents a fake view of its age. We don’t expect eighty-year-old people to look like twenty-year-olds. I would say the same is true of vintage pens.

What I do to each pen is determined by its condition when I receive it. In general I return the pen to good working condition and, as far as is reasonable, to a pleasing appearance. I don’t remove every last scratch, I don’t remove personalisations , I don’t re-black and I don’t re-plate.

Years ago I saw all of this in an ethical light. I believed it was unethical to re-black faded hard rubber pens because it was misleading the customer. Polishing off every scratch and re-plating all metal trim to return an old pen to a false picture of its original state seemed equally reprehensible to me.

I’m older now and, if not necessarily wiser, I’m at least less condemnatory of the practices of some other restorers. In eBay, particularly, I see three or four “restore as new” sellers of old pens. That the job they do is appreciated by a proportion of the old pen market is shown by the number of bids they get and the eventual price paid for each pen. Good luck to them, I say, and I even admire the skill with which they make old look new.

I no longer feel I’m taking the moral or ethical high ground as a conservative restorer. In actuality I turn out pens the way I like them. The SF230 I’m drafting this with has black hard rubber faded to a pleasing rich chocolate brown. The plating on the barrel and cap bands is reasonably good but the lever is pitted. Though it takes a good shine – brighter with all the handling – there are the minor scratches of ninety years of use and the barrel imprint is shallow but legible. It isn’t at all like the year-old Waterman Carene also on my desk and that’s entirely as it should be.

The wear on my SF230 isn’t history. History is something written and read. My pen shows that it was worked hard and probably loved by its first owner. I know, from actual history, that this pen was probably in use during the slump of the thirties followed by Hitler’s war. Maybe it continued in use thereafter and maybe it lay in a drawer. These things – for me – give this pen a richness of association that my Carene doesn’t have. Not yet, and not for a few decades. The SF230 is an old and valuable thing and much of that value, for me, comes from those signs of age and the times during which it was used.

I make sure each pen does what it was originally intended for: write well. I think my sales say that restorers like me also meet with the approval of a segment of the old pen market.

Mabie Todd Swan 6160

During all the years that Mabie Todd made pens there must have been a succession of employees entrusted with the job of stamping a model number on the barrel of each pen. So many operatives and yet they all had the same failing: lots of pens got past them without being stamped. Several explanations have been put forward for this omission – a factory romance, perhaps, or a tendency to overindulge in lunchtime pints of a Friday. We’ll never know.

Had this pen been stamped as it should have been if the fellow’s mind had been on his job it would have been with the number 6160. It isn’t an outstanding pen. It’s at the bottom end of the Swan range of the time with it’s chrome plating, just a workmanlike instrument of the late thirties, one of the best sellers of the time.

The only notable thing about it is that the nib is a sweet semiflex. Looking back through my blog I see that these pens are often flexible. As we have discussed recently Mabie Todd offered quite a range of nibs for their Swans and it may be that these flexible nibs were a matter of customer choice.

In Praise of the Ballpoint

Or at least an honest assessment…

If you’re fond of fountain pens you may well avoid ballpoints. Indeed many express a hatred of them and refuse ever to use them. I reserve my hatred for more worthy targets but I don’t use ballpoints now.

They have a long history in Britain, being adopted by the RAF during WWII because of their convenience and permanence. Those first reliable ballpoints were sold under the name Biro which remains the usual name for a ballpoint in the UK. When they first went on commercial sale they resembled the fountain pens of the day, with a threaded cap and usually a gold plated clip.

Soon however, ballpoints broke free from the influence of the fountain pen with the development of the ‘clicky’ retractable point. As demand rose so did competition and the ballpoint’s price fell from its luxury writing instrument level by a long way.

The Bic, of course, revolutionised both ballpoint sales and the view of it presently held, as a very cheap and completely disposable note-taker. It is as a note-taker that the ballpoint is most successful. When I worked in an office there was always a Bic on the desk, capless as the cap had been discarded as unnecessary because a Bic doesn’t dry out in normal use. It was instantly ready to take a note in a way that no fountain pen can ever be, not even the Pilot Capless.

When a longer spell of handwriting is required – something not often called for in the modern office – the ballpoint fails. Its design demands that it be held vertically and pressure must be applied. This leads to discomfort quite quickly. In this situation the fountain pen does a far better job as does the felt tip or gel pen.

Bics dominate the ballpoint market to a huge extent but there are other very cheap pens which some favour. Also there are those committed ballpoint users who want something ‘better’ and more permanent. Most of those companies that make fountain pens also make high quality ballpoints. Those pens are not disposable and take replacement refills. Like the fountain pen, expensive ballpoints are a niche market.

There are situations that demand a ballpoint – some documents are quite specific about that. Should I come across one of those I would be at a loss; there isn’t a ballpoint in the house!

The fountain pen had completely lost its place as the pen of business by 1955. Managers, lawyers and doctors hung onto it for a bit longer – some still prefer it. The fact that the fountain pen is an altogether better writing instrument is of no consequence. The Bic writing stick and similar ballpoints ruled the day for a long time and even their use is in decline in today’s digital office.

Happy New Year

Or, as the song says,

A guid New Year tae yin an’ a’ an’ monie may ye see,

An durin’ a’ the years tae come O happy may ye be.

An’ may ye ne’er hae cause tae mourn

Tae sigh or shed a tear.

Tae yin and a’ baith great an’ sma’

A hearty Guid New Year!

I realise that some of my non-Scottish readers may have a little difficulty with that! It should be sung in a Fife accent.

I have a collection of Mabie Todd and Mabie Todd & Bard advertisements. I’m sure they must have been famous in their time both for the quality of the copy and especially for the delightful illustrations. The names of the talented artists responsible have sadly been lost.

This is a splendid example and the advice is very good to this day. A well-restored Blackbird is as fine a writer today as it was when new and it is available at a fraction of the price of today’s equivalent.

Most Blackbirds are lever-fillers. I find the lever-filler a good system, quite clean and convenient in use. However I read recently someone reporting that they avoid lever fillers because they almost always get ink on their fingers and they fear an accident with the ink bottle. Though I don’t have that difficulty I understand why they feel that way. Such a pity though, they deprive themselves of some of the best fountain pens ever made.

Filling any pen requires a little thought and preparation. Glass ink bottles are slippery things and it’s best to find some way of preventing them slipping around while filling the pen. I set the bottle on a small rubber mat. Someone else I know uses a piece of Blu Tack. Kitchen towel should be to hand to wipe the nib. It’s best to lift the lever before inserting the nib into the ink; you don’t want to be fiddling with the pen while the nib is in the ink. Release the lever and give a slow count to ten to ensure a good fill. Remove from the bottle, re-cap pen and bottle. What could be easier?