Mabie Todd Swan SF200/47

How about this one?

Lapis Lazuli Duofold

From the first time I saw one – a very, very long time ago – I have always loved the Duofold. It’s probably the most copied pen ever, even more than the Parker 51. Its huge influence carries on to the present day.

Much as I love the Duofold I couldn’t use one in those days because I always wrote with a flexible nib and Duofolds are not noted for flexibility. I know there are some that will produce a little line variation but most are nails.

Times change and so did I. I decided to try firm nibs and I have never looked back. I love a nail. Duofolds became right up my street and I have had one ever since, a beautiful black firm fine that is a treat to use.

Is there a best vintage Duofold? Best in shape, best in colour? Silly question really. We all have our favourites and mine is the original, the 1st version that was produced from 1921 to 1928. The only major differences in that period were the shift from hard rubber to Dupont’s Permanite and the change from a single medium cap band to two slender ones.

Which is the point where this pen comes in, a 1927 or 1928 Lapis Lazuli two-ring Duofold. Such a splendid thing, perhaps the answer to my earlier question. For me, this is the best Duofold. The mineral Lapis Lazuli has been well known since antiquity, used for carving and crushed to produce blue paint. It was an obvious choice for pen manufacturers once it became clear that celluloid could be made in such colours. Parker made two versions of its Lapis Lazuli, one being white on blue, the other pale blue on dark blue. I believe this one is the earlier white on blue.

An Aristokrat

Fountain pens were big business for more than a century and still manage to continue at a greatly reduced rate. Many fortunes were made and, more importantly, hundreds of thousands of people were employed in skilled trades. Incalculable numbers of manufacturers made pens. Various lists have been made of all the pen manufacturers there have ever been. Those lists will never be completed. Interesting smaller pen makers keep turning up.

This elegant pen is an Aristokrat. No-one seems to know very much about this company, even among German pen enthusiasts – it is undoubtedly German. Some say Aristokrat has some relationship with Soennecken, others say that this is untrue. The company seems to have been based in Fuerth, near Nuremberg. Hard rubber and celluloid – and maybe moulded plastic – pens continued to be made until as late as the sixties.

On this pen and some of the other Aristokrats I have seen, the highly decorative clip stands out. Some Aristokrat nibs bear an eagle image. Quite rare and poorly documented, the Aristokrat remains a mystery for now. Who knows – someone may come along with a history for this independent German manufacturer one of these days.

Thanks to Scott Paden for photographs.

The De La Rue Pen

Today I have a lovely small De La Rue Pen. For those of you who may have forgotten, De La Rue was (and is!) a large company which makes most of its money from specialised printing. From our point of view their claim to fame is the Onoto, both plunger and lever filled, and the De La Rue Pen which is always lever filled.

What’s the difference between, say, a lever-filled Onoto and a De La Rue Pen? Clearly, the latter is the “Junior,” but in terms of quality I see no difference. This pen is remarkably well designed and well executed. It has no clip, never had one. The parts all fit together very well and the pen looks almost new. It has a warranted 14 carat gold nib but this is no ordinary warranted nib. They are usually anonymous and not always of the best quality. This one is a 33 by TDLR & Co – Thomas De La Rue – and it is a splendid nib, every bit as good as the equivalent Onoto. There is some line variation and the nib is soft and springy.

The pen is 12.7 cm capped. The two cap bands stand a little proud, like those on US Duofolds. I estimate it to have been made in the very late 30s or 40s.


I’ve never understood the fuss about the TWSBI. To me it’s just another Far Eastern pen, by no means the best of them. I’m told that it has a section to itself on Fountain Pen Network, but there are few things that surprise me about FPN. There are a great many reports about various TWSBIs developing cracks and even falling apart altogether. Probably better off with a Wing Sung, Pen BBS or Moonman, all of which seem to be more robust.

I had one briefly. It was supposed to be flexible but wasn’t. Perhaps that’s unjust. After all, you could flex a cold chisel if you can apply enough force. I sold it on, probably just in time before it collapsed into a pile of its component parts.

Perhaps your seething with rage by this time at the dreadful calumny I am inflicting on your favourite pen. You believe I am entirely wrong. Okay, convince me!

Sunday Ramblin’

There are so many options with fountain pens: an unlimited range of brands, firm or flex, fine, medium, broad, heavy or light – I’ll stop before this gets too boring. The main divide in the pen world for me is vintage and modern. Most people reading this have an interest in old pens, I should think, but I know that there are a few who like new pens too.

Most of the pens in my box are old ones. As you would expect most of them are British – Conway Stewarts, Swans, English Parkers, an Onoto, an Altura Waterman among many others. There are a couple of US Parkers of different vintages, several German piston fillers, mostly prewar, and 60s/70s Japanese pens, if that’s not too modern to be considered vintage.

I use modern pens also, mostly low-cost (but excellent) Japanese pens. I’m writing this with a Sailor Lecoule and I also have modern Pilots and Platinums. I have a Waterman Carene, too – a great modern pen. And then there are the mechanical pencils, mostly Fyne Poynts by Mabie Todd.

What do you use? Are you vintage only and spit upon any modern pens you see? Or maybe both, like me? I think it’s unlikely that I have many readers who only use modern pens but I’ve been wrong before and maybe I am again!

A French Reynolds School Pen

This Reynolds pen, with its Arctic wolf image and pawprints is not my usual thing but it raises a couple of points. First it is a well-made pen, all its parts fitting together well and it’s plated steel nib delivering ink smoothly. It’s aimed at the youth market, showing that there are still good school pens around – or were; this pen is a few years old.

The other point of interest relates to the long-lived Reynolds business.  It was best known as the first company to produce an at least somewhat reliable ballpoint pen in the USA, from which it made a fortune before ballpoint pen prices fell. Reynolds then invested in fountain pen factories in India and France. These were successful, especially in India, until in 2016 the factory producing these pens dropped the Reynolds name and began making pens under the name Rorito. The French factory too continued producing well-made, low-cost pens until 2007.

Unlike many pen manufacturers Reynolds dealt with the decline in the fountain pen market by exporting production – and largely sales – to other countries. This business model enabled them to continue producing basic fountain pens in markets where they were still demanded.