You may remember that I wrote about a mystery object recently and it turned out to be a keyring. Des Bull was kind enough to send it to me. It’s a delicate little object and it’s a wonder it has survived for a century.
I noticed that it has the Mabie Todd initials turned into a logo which I think I may have seen elsewhere. In any case, many thanks, Des. I’m delighted with it.
I sent the first pens since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown this week. Only UK addresses so far. I despatched a pen to the US towards the end of March and it arrived at its destination this week. I have yet to decide what the lesson is – is this how long I can expect a cross-Atlantic delivery to take, or does this mean the huge delay in deliveries is finally at an end? Also, I don’t want to be hanging around in a post office too long. I’m using one about eight miles away because it’s safer than the local one but still, postmasters don’t always have much control over their somewhat loony customers. I will charitably say that the lady I shared space with on Tuesday may have been suffering from the consequences of the lockdown. Whatever the cause, her constant braying laughter was filling the air with a heavy shower of droplets, hopefully not virus-laden. No mask of course.
When did interest in old pens begin? The oldest books on the subject that I have are around 1981/82 and I’ve heard that proposed as the start. I began picking them up in the nineties so I make no claim to being an early adopter. My husband (who is a trifle older than moi) was buying Swans, Onotos and Conway Stewarts in junk shops in the late sixties. He couldn’t get them restored then and used them as dip pens. He amassed quite a few, just for the pleasure of having them.
Maybe it goes back earlier than that.
This Swan 200C/60 is a late twenties pen and a very good one. One of the bands is engraved “ANS 1954”. How do we explain that? It may be that someone saw the pen in a second-hand shop and recognised the quality – rather better than almost anything available at the time – bought it and had it engraved for a spouse or a friend.
The other possibility, and the condition of the pen suggests it, is that it was unsold new old stock which someone finally bought. But twenty-odd years? Possible, I suppose. This doesn’t suggest the kind of interest that led to collecting, to my mind, but it does indicate that high-quality pens were always valued, if only by a small minority.
Thanks to Rob Parsons for the photographs.
I was, for many years, completely unadventurous about ink. I had a couple of different blue inks and a bottle of red that I never used. I had a yearning for the blue-black I’d had years ago but had used up. I didn’t follow the discussions about ink on pen boards. It was what I wrote with or write-tested restored pens with.
I had a notion that it might be nice to try vintage inks. I bought several, most of them usable. There was a blue-black among them. I was content.
Then people began suggesting that I should try various inks. Someone very kindly sent me sample bottles of colourful inks. I bought small bottles of various inks: green, brown, violet, rust and deep purple. I filled half a dozen pens with those bright colours and wrote with them until the pens were empty. I began to yearn for rich blue and blue-black. I filled my pens with Super Quink and Diamine blue-black. Those colours really seem best for me. I’m not really a green, violet or russet person. It was like I had a little spell of infidelity, having shameful adventures with other inks. I’m sorry, blue-black and I promise I’ll never do it again.
Please forgive me.
I picked up this bottle of Stephens Fixed Blue ink for a song considering the price of ink these days. It’s about half full. The seller packed it well but there was a tiny bit of leakage by time it got to me. Really just an insignificant amount – until it got on my fingers, where it became truly significant. It is, indeed, fixed! With much washing I was able to reduce it, not remove it!
It’s strange ink. First applied it looks decidedly purple. Also, it seemed rather weak, as if it had lost its intensity. When I looked again I did a double take. It had become fully blue and it stood out well on the paper despite having been applied with a very fine nib. I’m very pleased with it but I can’t put a date to it. “Old”. That’s near enough!
While we’re on the subject, here are two more Uniques, made in Europe and quite late in the company’s history. Probably inexpensive pens – but what celluloid!
With thanks to Peter Hinchliffe for photographs and information
I think it’s fair to say that Royal Mail’s cost-cutting measures have left a trail of devastation throughout the Highlands. I won’t detail the tale of woe. Suffice it to say that a year ago there were three Post Offices here; now there is one and it is entirely unsuitable. It’s in a greeting-card-and-scented-candle shop. Two large shelving systems cut the space to a point where social distancing is impossible. Coronavirus would kill my husband and probably me as well. I can’t use that Post Office.
There is another Post Office a few miles away that I have used in the past. It’s a little general store – far from perfect but only two people are allowed in at a time. I am considering that I might use that Post Office. I’m not setting a date when I will return to sales but I believe that it is in sight. When I do, I will only send two packages at a time to minimise the time I spend there. I have reserved pens for customers during the lockdown and those will be the first to be sent.
At first I will only be sending to UK addresses. The last pen I sent out on 24th March, to a USA address, has yet to be delivered. When I try to access USPS tracking the site is always unavailable. I need to know that pens will be delivered promptly and that is not yet the case.
I have some more pens to upload to the sales site – all Mabie Todd – and I will get that done as soon as I can. In the meantime I beg your patience as I try to get under way again. I will continue to reserve requested pens.
Someone showed me this object in the hope that I would know what it is. ‘Fraid not. It remains a mystery to me. I considered that it might be a keyring but it’s too thick for that, I think.
It says “Compliments of the Swan pen people” It is hinged so it can fold in half, also it has a spring catch on one of the hinges so it can open up. It’s just over one inch in diameter.
Any ideas about what it might be?With thanks to Des Bull for photos and information
Unique never fails to provide us with interesting pens and questions.
What is this? A Waterman or a Unique? The celluloid and the box lever look like Waterman but the – poorly fitting – nib and feed are Unique and the pen bears that company’s name.
A possibility is that Unique bought these part-finished pens that Waterman wished to offload when they moved on to a new model and added their own parts.
There are so many unanswered questions about Unique, especially in the post-war period. Some time ago, Barbara Epstein responded to a Unique post. She is the repository of all Unique history. It is to my eternal regret that I did not take matters further at that time but my husband had an operation which did not go well. He was in the ICU for ten days, followed by months of slow recuperation. Many things were laid aside at that time and some were never resumed.
If Barbara still reads this blog, I would be very grateful to hear from her.
Thanks to Peter Greenwood for photos and information.
You have fourteen or fifteen Swans and Blackbirds that you’ve restored sitting around doing nothing. Why don’t you upload them to the sales website? Even if you’re not open for sales it would give people some more pens to look at.
Well, Smartie, I would have to write-test them, photograph them, write descriptions…
So? What else are you doing?
It just seems a lot of work. And you’re no help. You’re supposed to be my assistant.
Never mind the excuses. You’ve become bone idle during this lockdown.
Guilty as charged. I’ll do the writing samples if you do the photos…
I would. Really. But I have an important cat meeting to attend. See you later. Oh, and make my dinner too.