Mechanical Pencils

There was a time when I gave no consideration to mechanical pencils, was barely aware of them as my only interest lay in fountain pens. Over the years that gradually changed. I began to be aware of the artistry in even the most ordinary pencil. There are, of course, highly collectable silver pencils in every shape imaginable, from frogs to assegais.

Fifty years and more ago, when someone received a pen and pencil set they were just as grateful for the pencil which was going to be used equally as much as the fountain pen. The pen was for permanency of writing, for formal use and for correspondence, but when you needed to take note of something for yourself or do a bit of calculation, there was the pencil. There was no cap to remove and the lead lasted for a long time especially if it was of the harder variety.

Some pencils, then as now, came on their own. I have this delightful yellow and black pencil that you might have been given if you stayed at the Rosetor Hotel in Torquay. The hotel is sadly gone, demolished years ago but the pencil, which might have been considered ephemera, proved to be less ephemeral than the bricks and mortar.

Someone – I’m not sure who – made pencils for Wahl Eversharp in England. Many, like this patterned ring-top example are silver plated. There are gold plated examples too, as well as solid silver pencils.

A variation is this smooth silver plated flat-topped pencil. I lack the knowledge to date any of these pencils, though in the case of the Wahl Eversharps I would hazard a guess at the thirties or forties. The yellow pencil might be later.

All these years later these pencils still work perfectly without any requirement for servicing beyond the insertion of new lead, which is still widely available in all the vintage sizes.

The more I think about it the less I understand why there is less demand for mechanical pencils than fountain pens. They are, in many cases, pieces of personal jewellery, yet practical and convenient.


A Black Chased Hard Rubber Spot

I’ve written about the Spot pen before and outlined its history. Mentmore tend to be rather dull, worthy pens with unyielding nibs but the Spot brand seemed to allow the company the freedom to make an altogether more interesting pen. There were true ripple pattern pens, something no one apart from Waterman made. The one I wrote about before was a thirties pen in the style of the Balance.

This is an earlier pen, perhaps the first half of the twenties by its appearance. The black chased hard rubber remains black, quite unfaded, and the engine turned pattern is sharp enough to cut you. The tolerances are tight and everything fits together just as it should. It’s a beautifully-made pen and it wears its years very well.

There are a couple of very interesting things about this pen. First, it has a box lever and a swing pressure bar, just like a Waterman. So far as I am aware Mentmore didn’t use this system on other pens. That’s something to think about.

Then there is the unfaded black hard rubber. Some of the finest pens – Onotos and Swans – often fade badly. Others remain as black as the day they were made. Far from the most costly pens having the most durable black some of the cheapest nineteen twenties pens are the ones that remain dark and shiny. I’m thinking of those anonymous pens with threads on the end of the barrel to receive the cap. Why is this? Are there different black hard rubber recipes with some having more durable colour?

Yesterday I wrote about Paul L’s Pitman pens.  If you look at this photo there is a striking resemblance between the College pen and this Spot. That’s kind of interesting too.

We are fortunate indeed that the glorious Spot box has survived in such fine condition. Often the box would have been pitched in the trash but this one has been kept and treated with care. It’s one of the most attractive pen boxes with its leopard and its bright colours.

Spot pens are highly collectable and much sought-after. This wonderful example is surely bound for a collector’s display cabinet. It’s a delightful writer but some pens really do need to be preserved.


Many thanks to Paul L for the photos and information on this lovely pen.

Pitman II


Paul L kindly sent me photos of his Pitman pens. There is a black hard rubber “Fono” in very good condition, a long slender, straight-sided pen. It has a rather long lever. The domed cap has a riveted clip with the ball end. The barrel imprint is “Pitman’s Fono Lever Self-Filler.”

His other Pitman, though black, bears considerable resemblance to Paul Stirling’s mottled hard rubber pen and is of similar quality. It is decorated with deeply incised engine chasing and has the mid-cap clip and box lever. The barrel imprint is “Pitman’s College Made in England” there is no obvious difference between the Fono and the College of similar dates. I wonder what the explanation might be for the different names.

If we were playing, “Guess the Manufacturer” Paul L’s Fono bears considerable resemblance to the Mabie Todd Swans of the day and the College, with its lever box, might have been made by Wyvern. We will never know who made these pens unless some related paperwork turns up.

Compared with a special purpose pen like, for instance, the Kenrick & Jefferson Super Pen which was designed for use with the company’s multipart forms, the Pitman pens share a consistent high quality with that range. Like them, and like many other pens, there is a slight falling away in the fifties, but for most of the production Pitman pens are well worth seeking out

The Velvatip

The Velvatip appears to have been made by Langs, having the stepped Art Deco clip that Langs applied to all their pens. I don’t know whether it was produced for some retailer or was part of the Langs range.

Langs made some very good pens, like the Summit or the Stephens but they made some pens built to a price as well. The New Bond Easiflow, made for Woolworths, is an example of their low-end pens and the Velvatip is, sad to say, another. Though it is perfectly capable of being restored to usefulness, it is a pen that hasn’t aged well. The gold plating on the clip and the straight lever has mostly disappeared and the black hard rubber clip screw has faded to a dull brown. The plated nib is discoloured. At least it is a nib with tipping material, not the cheapest type with a folded tip.

I must confess that I hate to be negative about any pen. This pen, after all, has a lot more potential for restoration than some others, for instance those 50s pens marked “foreign” which were never intended to be serviced and defeat all efforts to open them.

This Velvatip is a challenge, I think. It’s worth trying to bring it back to an acceptable appearance. I’m sure it can be made to be a good writer. After all, despite being built down to a price, it has the good basics of a Langs construction. Of course, a pen like this can’t be restored economically – no one would be prepared to pay any more than a token price but I don’t like to see a potentially good everyday writer cast aside.

Edit to add:  I replaced the sac and broken pressure bar, cleaned the plated nib, polished the barrel and cap and the results were mixed.  It writes well.  However, cleaning showed up previously invisible chips along the lip of the cap and beside the lever.   I suppose I could have rubbed the clip screw down with Micromesh but I couldn’t find the energy.  In its current state, I’ve seen many worse pens.

It would be interesting to know if this pen was made for a retailer or was the entry-level pen in the rage of the Langs pens.

New Uploads

I added a few pens to the sales site: a couple of Swans, and Edecoto, a Croxley and some others.

Pitman’s Pens (1)

If you put “Pitman’s” into the search box at the upper right of this page you’ll see what I had to say previously about the general history of these pens. In general terms there is not much more to say except that for most of their long production these were decent pens. Their manufacturer remains a mystery. It may have been several companies over the years.

So down to the particular: starting at the top of the photograph that Paul Stirling kindly provided, this is a black hard rubber pen. As with the next two pens, it has the mid-cap clip, a style made popular by De La Rue in the 1920s. It has a noticeably short lever. It has a “Fono” nib and the barrel imprint is “Pitman’s Fono” followed by a small lower case ‘s’ – it may be that this indicates shorthand, but considering that all the Pitman’s pens were for that purpose, maybe not.

The next one also has the ball-end clip. It is also black hard rubber. It has a warranted 14 carat nib. This is a longer pen than the first one, with a longish lever and a slight taper to the barrel end.

The third pen is in handsome mottled hard rubber and it’s the prince of this group, a long pen with a box lever. While I wouldn’t say that any of these pens were “built to a price” this is a high quality eye-catching pen. The mid-cap clip has a diamond end, replacing the previous ball end.

The fourth pen is celluloid. It’s shorter than the previous two and has a rather plain clip. It has a medium/broad cap band and a straight lever. This is the “Pitman’s Fono Deluxe.” The barrel end is rounded unlike the flat profiles of the earlier three. Again, the nib is warranted and the feed is of the comb type with a central channel, reminiscent of Waterman feeds.

The final example is quite a short pen at 12.7 cm. The ball ended clip is once again used but like the fourth pen it is in the more usual position at the top of the cap held by a screw. It is once again a “Pitman’s Fono.” There is no cap ring.

What about dates for these pens? I’m working from photos and haven’t handled the pens but I’ll take a crack at dating. Some among you may be better informed and I’d love to hear your opinions. I would put the first pen in Paul Stirling’s photo as late 1920s. The next two are mid-30s pens, I would guess. The fourth pen with its long lever, broad cap ring and more conventional clip is probably late 40s and pen number five looks like a 50s pen to me.

Who made these pens? There are clues but they may be red herrings. De La Rue popularised the clip in the middle of the cap and they also used the box lever. Wyvern made a handsome box lever too. It should be borne in mind, however, that Pitman would probably have a detailed specification that they issued to their contractor or contractors. All pen manufacturers could make a pen to any design. Just because a pen is reminiscent of a De La Rue, a Swan or a Wyvern does not mean that the pen was made by any of those companies. This makes me long for documentary evidence.

We can never be sure that any nib is original which adds to the debate about whether Pitman’s shorthand system required flexible or firm nibs.

I am grateful to Paul Stirling for his kindness in providing me with photos. If you wish to read further about Pitman pens, there is an excellent, intelligent discussion in the Fountain Pen Board. The search feature will find it.

There is more to come on this subject but it was too much for one blog post. I’ll follow-up with more photos and discussion in a day or two.

More Gold-Filled Swans

An addendum to my last post on the subject of gold-filled Swans.  There’s a rare split-lever version about which I wrote recently and a very handsome smooth Leverless.

Many thanks to Paul L for his excellent photos.