Not Fountain Pens

I am indebted to Andrew Hooper who kindly indicated these interesting items to me. They are at present displayed on an auction site.

These are a dagger and a compass in the guise of fountain pens, and were provided for the use of undercover agents in World War II. Many of us will be aware of Platignum versions. This dagger pen was made in England but I cannot be sure of the manufacturer. The compass is placed in a foreign-made pen.  Unfortunately none of the pictures actually show the compass.  I guess that it is attached to the inside of the section.

They are an interesting insight into a not very distant world of espionage and sabotage. I can imagine that the compass would be immediately consulted by an agent parachuted into occupied France, for instance, but were the daggers ever used? This one looks capable enough!

The Platignum versions appear to have been made in that factory. This compass appears to have been added later to a normal pen. This hints at a Q-like technician in a room full of lethal gadgets.

Fountain pens are, of course, no longer expected to be in everyone’s pocket. The most recent lethal delivery system (that we are aware of) was an umbrella. It’s sad that fountain pens are even superseded as a means of killing people!

My apologies for the photos.  I borrowed them from the auction site.

Content of the Blog

As you know, I decided a few months ago that I would restrict myself to Mabie Todd pens for restoration and sale. That suits me very well, working on the pens I like best but it has consequences for this blog. I’m sure that most of you will want to read about pens other than Swans and Blackbirds. Of course, I occasionally buy small lots of pens because there is a good Swan included but that doesn’t happen very often.

I will therefore be grateful for photos and information about interesting pens that may come your way.


Polishing is an issue that comes up often on the pen discussion boards. My own practices have changed and become more conservative over the years. Unless there are scratches to be removed or oxidation to be ameliorated I don’t use polish at all. A good, thorough rub with a soft cloth is enough for most materials. Hard rubber responds especially well, as does celluloid and casein. My modern pens – mostly eighties and nineties Japanese pens – are probably acrylic, I should think, and they polish up very easily in the same way. Metal parts do need some actual polish to look their best. I use Simichrome, very sparingly.

When there are scratches to reduce or oxidation on hard rubber I use the three-part Novus abrasive polish. This is a tool like any other and should be used in the way intended; beginning with the No 3 coarse scratch remover, going on to the No 2 and finishing with No 1. Used in that way it is very effective, restoring old pens to something approaching their original appearance without falling into the trap of producing an unnatural glaring shine on a buffing machine. I have tried other polishes over the years but I only use Novus now as it has the reputation of being harmless to the materials I work with. I hope that’s true. I’m not a chemist and I have to go by the experience of other restorers as well as my own. As I said above, most of the pens I restore don’t have any chemical polishes applied to them at all apart from a little metal polish.

In the same vein of trying to avoid harm, I never use wax of any kind. Even pure beeswax is hard to remove and will provide a coating that prevents the escape of any gases produced, to the detriment of the materials. Other waxes such as the popular Renaissance Wax are said by those who know better than me to contain chemicals that may be harmful to the materials pens are made from.

I have always restored conservatively. More and more I subscribe to the advice, “first do no harm.”

Update on the Mabie Todd Pen List

It’s been quite a while since I’ve said anything about John Brindle’s Swan and Blackbird list. That doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening, though. Tony Lancaster has done an enormous amount of sterling work in getting the site together. It was something that was well beyond my capability and without his very welcome help I think the site would have fallen by the wayside.

There are one or two things that need to be done on the coding side but the major work now lies with my husband, editing the data that is there. It’s always the case that when you take over a work in progress there are things that you don’t fully understand, things that you don’t quite agree with and amendments that need to be made for the sake of accuracy. John always said that he couldn’t guarantee the accuracy as it was always a work in progress.

So that’s where we are now. My husband intends to amend things that are clearly wrong and once that has been done I think the site can go live. There will still be detail in the contents that may need to be amended and we will depend on you to point those out. The majority of the entries don’t have photographs attached and that is something we would like to see improved. Also, there are lots and lots of models yet to be included, to make the site useful for ready identification of pens. I may have some of them. I expect that you will have some of them too. When the site is up it will include a method for contact and providing information and I hope to hear from you.

The NA Safety Clip and the Swan Metal Pocket

As Andrew Hooper kindly sent it to me I’m taking another look at the NA Safety Clip today and comparing it with the more familiar Swan Metal Pocket. As the N is over the A in the pressing I would say it should be that way round. There is a slight difference in size. The Swan is 119 mm long and the NA 117 mm. The NA weighs 16 g to the Swan’s 15 g. I would think the latter figure is probably not all that significant and it may be within the margin of error of my digital kitchen scale – not the most precise of measuring devices.

The method of manufacture appears to be the same but the design is different. The NA is a very slightly more complicated pressing in that it has a tiny tab above the label to enable pulling the front forward to insert the pen. The finish is different. The Swan holder has an only slightly shiny, almost matte finish whereas the NA appears to be finished with gloss paint.

None of this, of course, takes us any closer to finding out what company had the NA Safety Clip made. Using it as a search term in Google leads to a spring hook for a dog lead… Not that helpful, really! Unless someone comes up with the answer to this puzzle that’s all I have to say on it, except that I would not advise anyone to use these things for the purpose they were originally made for. Almost all of them have deteriorated and have internal rusting which will scratch a hard rubber pen.

A 1910 Swan

Here’s a very nice 110-year-old pen. It’s “The Swan Pen” of 1910. It has no number on the cap as the later ones did, like the 200 or the 1500. The black rubber is pretty well pristine and the chasing and barrel imprint are crisp and clear. The cap fits well and the section thread is very good. It has a pretty piece of slender rope work at the base of the barrel.

Though the nib is clearly quite old and tapered to fit the section, I suspect that it cannot be original. It is English-made and Swan were importing the nibs from America in 1910 so this is probably a post-1923 nib. The split feed is in good condition which is a relief. So often these pens are let down by broken over-and-under feeds. It seems to be an almost insoluble problem as things stand at the moment. Were split feeds moulded or machined in some way? I’ve considered trying to create one using a very fine saw if I could only get some kind of blank.

However, I don’t need to worry about that with this pen. All is present and near enough correct. I’ve even managed to acquire a spare split feed for any future emergencies. The nib is soft and springy rather than flexible. In all, a very good pen ready to continue writing as it did 110 years ago!

A Different Metal Pocket

You know those “metal pocket” things? Most are stamped “Swan” but you occasionally see Conway Stewart ones. Andrew Hooper sent me photographs of a rather different one that has come his way.

I’ve been racking such brains as remain to me, trying to think what “AN or NA” could stand for. I can’t think of any pen company with those initials but of course I may be missing something obvious!

The metal pocket came in company with a Swan eyedropper filler, probably a 200, which suggests that they have been together for a long time.

Any ideas?

With thanks to Andrew Hooper for photographs and information.

My Assistant Gets Busy

Me:  I thought you were going to write-test those pens today…

Smartie:  Go away.

Me: You slept through the Grand Prix.  You must be refreshed by now!

Smartie: Go away.

Me:  You’re in the way.  I can’t get to that bookshelf…

Smartie:  Tough.  Go away.

Me:  I may have to reconsider your employment if this continues.

Smartie:  I’m 14 years old.  That’s 110 in your years.  I retire.  Go away.

The 1060s

There are two main versions of the Leverless Swan 1060 and varying nib sizes from No 2 to No 4. All a little confusing, perhaps, but all accurate. There is the classic of the late 40s and the more tapered, later version of around 1950. The sizes appear a little distorted by my dumb photography. In reality the earlier one is 13.2 cm and the tapered version is 13.7 cm capped. If I had my druthers I would pick the earlier one but I’m perfectly satisfied with the tapered version that I actually have.

When Mabie Todd moved on from hard rubber to celluloid they bought it in from the English Xylonite company so that’s what they advertised it as: Xylonite, but it’s just celluloid. I’m always a little cautious writing about Swan materials because they sometimes used a plastic that didn’t celluloid weld. Whatever it was, it wasn’t celluloid! Regardless of what they may be made of – and I assume it’s celluloid – these pens take a terrific shine and the more you handle them the better they shine.

Both have No 4 nibs. The post-war one has a semi-flex fine, the earlier one an Eternal No 4. Eternals come in for a bit of stick from the flex people, who think flexibility is the only way to go! The Eternal is the equivalent of the Conway Stewart Duro or any Duofold nib you care to mention, a very good nib indeed.

Posting Pens to the US

There was a week or two when deliveries to American addresses were going through quite quickly, almost back to normal. Then it all went wrong. Packages get across the Atlantic quite quickly but then they go nowhere for ages.

I’m aware from the news that there is interference with the US mail and doubtless that’s what underlies the difficulties I’m experiencing in sending pens to my US customers. This is not a political blog and none of that is my business. All I’m concerned with is whether I should be sending valuable packages to America when they may disappear into limbo for a long time.

If US customers wish to place orders I will send pens but I would advise caution for the moment.