Mentmore Supreme

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This one just arrived today.  I haven’t even given it a little polish so excuse the dust.
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Mentmore – apart from the very last ones – are often hard to date, I find.  I know that the Supreme was introduced in 1940 and was one of the few models still on sale during the war years, but whether it was in quite this form or not I can’t say for sure.
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It’s a nice pen and I would have said it was in “New Old Stock” condition had it not been that the clown who sold it to me sent it full of ink which sadly stained the box and papers.  The pen has clearly not been used and still retains its sales sticker for the price of 13 shillings and sixpence (including tax).
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It’s a sturdy pen of a good size at 13.6 cm.  It has some rather nice features, like the transparent barrel end and the “stacked coins” cap band.
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I sometimes feel that Mentmore is rather overlooked compared with the market leaders like Onoto, Conway Stewart and Swan.  Perhaps this is partly because the quality was variable, but their better models, like this Supreme, are very nice pens indeed.

The Latest Daily Writer

I’ve been using the Parson’s Italix as my everyday writer for a while but it’s time for a change.  What I look for in a pen for daily use is that it be a good writer and not worth a lot.
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This pen turned up in a lot I bought recently,  It’s a smart pen, feels good in the hand and writes very well, though without any flex.  It’s worth very little.  What is it?
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Yes, it’s a Platignum.  A gold-nibbed Platignum, though, and one with a solid feel to it.  Not really typical of the brand, though some of their post-war output, like this one, was made with the eye on quality that had been previously applied to the by-then shelved Mentmore*.  I think it will do very well.  As ever, firm-nibbed pens are a challenge to me.  I don’t automatically write well with them and I have to try a bit harder.  It’s character-forming.
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*That was one of the most convoluted sentences I’ve ever been guilty of.  Of which I’ve ever been guilty.  Now I’m ending the sentence with a trailing preposition.  Sorry for hammering the grammar.

A Glass-Nibbed Mentmore?

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What do we have here?  A fine 1920s Mottled Hard Rubber Flat-Top Mentmore?  Or do we…
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Did Mentmore ever make a glass-nibbed pen?  They may have done but I’ve seen no evidence to that effect.  But it doesn’t stop there.  The cap and barrel fit together perfectly but did they begin life together?  There’s a distinct colour and pattern difference between them.
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Adding to that suspicion is this lever.  This lever with its clover or shamrock, I know not which (this is not a gardening blog) was, so far as I know, a mass-produced part bought in by those who didn’t have the labour or machinery to make parts of their own.  It’s not a Mentmore part, in other words.

Frrankenpen, then, but not much the worse for that.
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Glass nibs ( they’re really plastic) were a twenties and thirties thing, I think.  It’s often said that they were chosen for their ability to write through multi-part forms and that’s true, but they were also chosen because they were cheap and durable.  A while back I had a thirties German blow-filler with a glass nib, about as cheap a pen as you could get.  Evidently its British owner became a little concerned about using a German pen during World War II, so he scratched off the barrel imprint and carried on using it.

They’re practical and write well, if in a rather characterless way.  I like them as an interesting byway of the fountain pen journey, but not to write with, I’m afraid.

The Modernes

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These two little pens could hardly be more dissimilar but they have a surprising amount in common. Both are products of the Hungry Thirties, both are button fillers and both are made of celluloid that has discoloured over time. And though they were made on opposite sides of the Atlantic, both are Modernes. The onyx one is a Parker Moderne and the cream and black pen is the Mentmore Moderne.

Parker, I think, used the name first, in 1932. Mentmore followed on two years later. Did Mentmore just steal the name Parker had used? Or did modernity seem like the way out of the troubles of the times, made a little classier and more effective by sticking an “e” on the end and making it French? I don’t know. I only ask the questions, I don’t have the answers.

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Despite the unemployment and the poverty, there was still a need for pens. School students still had to write, as did those clerical workers still in jobs. These pens were built to a price, but quality wasn’t allowed to slip. The pens are smaller and they have comparatively small nibs but they are stylish and very well made. The Parker has a quality edge over the Mentmore, as you might expect, but the Mentmore’s a good pen too. In a way, the Mentmore’s the more interesting pen as you see very few of these and hardly any in the cream and black livery.

My thanks to Eric Wilson, who made a wonderful job of replacing the Mentmore’s cap rings and found a better nib for it than the one it had.

The Mentmore 46 X 2

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Here’s a fine pair of Mentmore 46 pens, probably made a few years apart as there are notable differences between them. 46s came in three versions, gold-filled, sterling silver and what Mentmore calls Permobrite, which seems to be rhodium plating over I know not what – probably a nickel layer and brass, I should think. These two are Permobrite ones and they look pretty good.

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I think the plating may be suffering a little loss on the grey one but the black one still looks perfect. The differences I spoke of are evident here. The barrel end is more blunt on the grey pen and the clip is a different shape. The black one is slightly longer, too, but that may not be a design change. Many older pens weren’t made quite identical, particularly where length is concerned.

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Permobrite probably doesn’t really mean anything, in the sense of being a patented alloy or plating method. Other companies don’t use the term so it was probably a Mentmore trade name. The only other mention of it I can find is in the description of the cap of a Platignum ballpoint pen. It certainly looks good, with that bluish-white shine that you see on rhodium-plated white-gold jewellery. Even the lowest-priced 46, then, was quite a luxurious writing instrument by today’s standards. Goodness knows what a pen of this quality made from these materials would cost nowadays.

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As a great admirer of the 46, I keep threatening to add one to my small collection of keeper pens. That black one is looking especially attractive…

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Mentmore Autoflow And The Spares Chaos

Yesterday was a pen fixing day. I was getting along great guns until a Mentmore Autoflow stopped me in my tracks. The weak point in Autoflows is the feed. The teeth are very thin in the comb at the sides of the feed and often break off. A comb feed with missing teeth can have very uneven flow, so it isn’t just a matter of appearance. I tried a spare Autoflow feed or two but they were too slim for this particular model. It was a rather nice raspberry marbled button filler. I’m slow, but eventually I catch on. Perhaps the button fillers took a thicker feed than the lever fillers!  Well, to cut a long story short, some do, others don’t. To expand on that, none of the lever fillers have the thicker feed and some of the button fillers have a slightly thicker one; others have a considerably thicker one, it seems.

The trial and error took quite a while. It took much longer than it need have, of course. This is because of my lack of organisation. My Conway Stewart and Mabie Todd spares are reasonably well arranged. Everything in else is in a large wooden box, all jumbled together – bits of every make of pen you ever heard of and some you probably haven’t, caps, barrels, sections and miscellaneous components. It takes some time to take each one out of the box, look at it, lay it aside or add it to the “possibles” pile. Then you have to put it all back again…

I know that this is no way to work. I’m very organised in every other respect. All my stock of pens is stored according to their status: awaiting repair, repaired, listed on the website and so on. My spreadsheets enable the calculation of annual taxes in an hour. My image files are regularly archived and my description files save reinventing the wheel for every pen I repair. All of those things are fine, but my spares have been a blind spot. One day soon I must amass some containers and bring order and convenience to the chaos.

Ebay Musings and The Mentmore 46

Just to redress the balance after a couple of days of grouching about an eBay seller (with whom I am now in dispute) I want to say that most eBay sellers are good, some are excellent, and many exceed all expectations. Ebay comes in for a lot of stick on boards like FPN, mostly from people who clearly should not be allowed out by themselves. Ebay’s like anything else: if you don’t research it before you get involved, and if you don’t strain your teaspoonful of firing synapses to grasp how the thing works, you won’t do well with it. It’s a bit like trying to drive a car without ever having seen or heard of one before – it’s likely to end badly and you have no-one to blame but yourself. Soon after it began, I used eBay intermittently for the odd purchase. It wasn’t long before I began to get the idea that eBay could be a large part of a small but sufficient business for me. It took a few years before I was in a position to take advantage of it but now my use of eBay is intense. I don’t sell there as much as I once did, but procurement of stock would be impossible without eBay. There are many sellers that I buy from week after week, confident in the honesty of their descriptions and their dealing.

I wrote about the Mentmore 46 in October last year (http://wp.me/p17T6K-c) but it’s such an exceptional pen that it’s worth writing about again. The 46 was first issued around 1946 (strangely enough), a truly hopeful time for pen manufacturers. The war was over, labour and materials were being liberated up and it was back to business as usual. Swan was planning its torpedo-shaped range, Conway Stewart was moving from its very traditional pre-war pen shapes on to a new, more streamlined range. There was an air of cautious optimism. It was time for something new, the pen manufacturers thought, but not too new. A little refinement here and there, some rounding of the general pen shapes. In other words, some limited novelty but let’s not startle the horses.

Mentmore didn’t agree with that timid advance. Instead, they made this:

Clearly, they had taken a look at Parker’s 51 and decided that they had something there, but they would do it better and spare no expense on the way. In its own way, the 46 is as well made a pen as the Parker 51 – though it’s by no means as innovative, despite appearances. Under the hood (and what a piece of sculpture that is) the 46 is a completely traditional button filler with a normal nib. All the effort has been put into futuristic looks and style.

The style, one must say, is not entirely to everyone’s taste, then as now. Doubtless Mentmore expected this high-prestige pen with its gold-filled or sterling silver cap to be a winner. It wasn’t. Judging by how many are around today, it sold steadily but was vastly outsold by the traditional – dare I say dull – Autoflow.

We’re left with one of the best made of all British pens, solid, quite opulent but a little eccentric. Perhaps if we were not so accustomed to think of the smooth lines of the Parker 51 as the norm for a hooded-nib pen we might appreciate the geometry of the the 46 more. I don’t know, but I do know that they grow on you. I’ve repaired and sold several of these and I’m always on the look-out for more. I might just keep the next one I find. Quality is quality, in whatever unexpected place you find it.