John Brindle’s Mabie Todd List is coming along by leaps and bounds. More models are appearing week by week and quite a few are illustrated now. There’s a new drop-down tab too, entitled Mabie Todd Information Gathering. This leads to a forum where discussions can take place on any Mabie Todd-related issues you care to raise. Come along and register and take part! I know there’s a lot of knowledge out there that we can record for the benefit of all those who love Swan, Blackbird and Jackdaw pens.
A number of years ago, I began consciously creating a photo archive of the pens that passed through my hands. Sadly, at first I ignored the day-to-day bread and butter pens and only retained photos of the more unusual ones. Four years ago or so, I came to my senses. Given the huge disks and vast acreages of backup media we now had there was no reason not to keep everything from the gold-plated Swan to the lowest cartridge-fill Platignum. And so I did. I didn’t really know why. I had no project in mind but I knew they would come in useful one day. Such appropriate photos as I have are going to illustrate John Brindle’s Mabie Todd pen list.
However, I hadn’t sat down and planned a photo archive. I just chucked stuff onto a backup disc. My backup is like the neglected attic of my PC. You know the kind of thing. That trunk there contains Great-Uncle Murgatroyd’s naval uniform and his wooden leg, and yonder woodworm-eaten wardrobe over there is the actual cupboard that contains the family skeletons. Of which there are more than a few, believe me. Really, it’s not quite that bad. But it’s bad enough. I backed up everything. When I remembered. So one directory will contain the image and data files for March 2009. Another one contains six months of absolutely everything from November 2008 to February 2009. It’s a little like if you ran around the library tipping the shelves and throwing the books on the floor. You know the good stuff’s in there but you’re going to have to dig through a lot of rubbish to get to it.
In 2010 I got some sense at last and began taking a set series of images for each pen, and those were used for sales purposes as well as archiving. Each set was accompanied by a writing sample which identified the pen. Those ones can be raced through. The others – well, it’s hardly efficient but it’s entertaining, just like the neglected attic would be. Now, where did I put Murgatroyd’s leg?
Some of the terms used in describing fountain pen filling systems are less than helpful in understanding how the pens work. For instance, Parker’ Vacumatic and Sheaffer’s Vacuum Filler seem to lay claim to the vacuum principle in filling pens, whereas every pen that has a self-filling system depends on that principle. Whether they be sac fillers, piston fillers, plunger fillers or any other self filling system I’ve forgotten they are provided with a means of creating a vacuum and it is nature’s abhorrence of that vacuum that fills the pen. None is more dependent or makes greater use of the vacuum principle than another. All self-filling pens are vacuum fillers.
“Twist Filler” must be the most misused term of all. In a true twist filler, the sac is attached at both ends, one directly to the turn-button on the end of the barrel. When the button is turned, the sac is wrung out like a dish-cloth. The defining principle of the twist filler, then, is that the sac itself is twisted to empty it of air in preparation for pulling in ink. Almost any pen that has a turn-button on the end of the barrel seems to be called a twist filler nowadays, whereas the majority of them work in another way. Swan’s Leverless is often called twist filler, but in fact the sac is attached at only one end and rather than being twisted it is pressed against the interior of the barrel, thereby expelling most of the air. Various late Mabie Todd pens are called twist fillers when in fact they are most closely related to the button filler. A cam is activated by turning the button, and this presses down on a normal pressure bar which squeezes the sac in the usual way.
Yes, I’m feeling picky and pedantic today.
It might be worth taking another look at John Brindle’s Mabie Todd Pen List. John’s been adding a few more model numbers, and we’ve begun the long process of illustrating each pen with a photo. It’ll be a long process because all of us have other projects to pursue – like putting bread on the table – but it’s growing at the rate of a few photos most days. That’s a lot of photos in a year.
An interesting debate, and one that bears on the future of our hobby, I believe, is taking place in The Fountain Pen Board under Conway Stewart – The True History. This is the debate that was suppressed for years in Fountain Pen Network. I recommend it. It’s worth a read.
One of several annoying things about the present-day Conway Stewart company is the Soviet-style re-writing of history they present on their website. Though their only relationship with the original, long-defunct Conway Stewart company is that they purchased the rights to the name and trademarks, they claim the accomplishments of the original company as their own. In addition to publishing this nonsense on their site, it has been posted in Wikipedia, that magnificent source of dubious information.
To counter this disinformation, Andy Russell has made available, in .pdf format, a brief and accurate overview of Conway Stewart history. Go to Fountain Pen Board, seek out the post “Conway Stewart – The True History” and you can download it from there.
Many thanks to Andy for putting the record straight. The rebirth of dead companies is annoying enough to those of us who are interested only in the older pens, but at least the other re-born companies like Eversharp and Onoto have had the decency to mark a clear line between their output and that of their long-ago predecessors. Only Conway Stewart have had the brass neck to rewrite history to lay claim to the work of other, and dare I say better men.
John Brindle’s list is available now here. I’ve also added the URL to my blogroll, down on the right-hand side of this blog. Many thanks to Martin Holloway who made a splendid job of creating the site.
As well as being a useful source as it stands, John’s list provides an excellent start-point for further research.
Just a few quick lines today as my assistant and are up to our respective ears (hers are relatively higher than mine) in work.
The Mabie Todd numbers site proceeds apace. Many thanks to Martin Holloway who has acquired the domain and has begun work on the site. He has been reading your comments with interest. I think the way that it will work is that Martin will have the final say on what it is practical to do, under John Brindle’s ownership of the material which he is very generously making available.
Martin has suggested a downloadable .pdf file of the material, which seems like the way to go. Illustrations of the pens seems the next logical step and Martin is looking into how that could be best implemented.
It will take some time and quite a lot of work but I’m looking forward with great anticipation to seeing this coming to fruition.
A gentleman by name of John Brindle phoned the other night to speak to me. I was unavailable at the time and my husband, another pen enthusiast, took the call. John spent last winter researching Mabie Todd fountain pens, and he has drawn up a list correlating model number, colour, cap bands and filling system. He has recorded – literally – hundreds of pens.
I have the list before me now and it’s an astonishing piece of work, clearly very valuable to Swan and Blackbird enthusiasts. John seems amenable to the idea of having it published but I want to ascertain that more formally. Then I would either need a copy of the original digitised document or I would have to key it in. It shouldn’t be difficult to find somewhere to host it for a time to make it widely available.
I gave up on Fountain Pen Network after the last round of deletions and suspensions so I have no idea how things are going there. I cannot find it in me to care, either. However, I see many of the more knowledgeable and interesting former habitués commenting on other boards now. Indeed, this diaspora of FPN refugees seems to have reinvigorated some of the other boards. I have high hopes of better things to come on FPB and FPG.
Talking of FPB and FPG, it is amusing to see David Isaacson, the calm, eminently reasonable and even-handed mod of FPB playing the part of an irritating thirteen year old troll in FPG. My assistant thinks it’s a total hoot!
For myself, I can take it or leave it…