Take note:  Stephen Hull’s long-awaited and much-desired Mabie Todd book is available now!


Waterman 52 BCHR

The Waterman 52, in all its varied forms, is one of the stalwarts of fountain pen collecting. In both its hard rubber and celluloid forms it’s a sturdy, reliable pen, often with a great nib. At its best, a Waterman nib is unsurpassed even by Wahl Eversharp or Swan.

This black hard rubber model has a 9 carat gold barrel band. I can’t find my hallmark book; perhaps someone will kindly do the honours. I am more than satisfied with this pen. It is semiflexible and medium. It writes splendidly.

However, the seller provided a photo that to me suggested that it is very much more flexible. The pen is strongly pressed against a surface causing the tines to spread wider than they would ever do in writing. This is a pernicious practice. As well as misrepresenting the nib’s flexibility it risks cracking the nib at the breather hole. It’s stupid and a way of increasing the price with a false promise.

The shape of this nib gives rise to another point.  It is usually taken, in the pen boards, that a nib like this with a slender profile and long tines, is sure to be highly flexible.  It is not so.  I have had nibs exactly like this that are nails and others short-tined and high-shouldered that have flex you would not believe.  The shape of the nib is no guide to its flexibility.

Mabie Todd Swan SF230


This is an SF230, one of Mabie Todd’s glorious 1920s pens. I’ve written about them several times before; there’s nothing technical or aesthetic to add.

These pens and others of similar quality are fully modern. An SF230 would be at least as useful and comfortable in the hand as any modern pen. We may feel a kinship with the first owner of this pen, using it daily in his business and leisure.

It was a very different world though. There was no smart phone, PC, laptop or tablet. For most there was neither electricity nor landline telephone. Communication was either face-to-face or written. If the local shops could not provide a required item there was no Amazon to send it. A handwritten letter to some distant supplier was the answer.

In business, though some correspondence would be typewritten, most was handwritten. Permanent records were done in ink. The Armed Forces depended upon the handwritten word. So did the law courts and government.

It appears that our SF230 was an essential instrument, without which the world of the 20s and 30s would have rapidly come to a halt. The power of the pen – any kind of pen – is much diminished today. Nearly all of its functions have been taken over by ever faster and more capable machines.

Has the pen any role in which it is essential today? Christmas cards and note-taking, writing lists and dashing off a quick note – these and similarly trivial tasks are of the last islands of pen use for most people, and a vanishingly small proportion of them will ever use a fountain pen. Is it, like the spinning wheel and the horse-drawn carriage, to be laid aside in the museums, marveled at for its primitiveness and used only by hobbyists and those who refuse to let modernity rule them?

I love my fountain pens and I use them every day. I use a mixture of old and new technology in my life and I enjoy the ongoing online conversation with like-minded friends. Wherever possible I encourage younger people to consider using a fountain pen. But I do wonder how many will use them in subsequent generations…

Moonman 600S

Here we are again with another modern Chinese pen. I’m sure I said some time ago that I wouldn’t buy any more. I relented for several reasons and I expect I’ll do so again. The reasons: I’d heard good things about PenBBS and Moonman nibs. I already have one or two decent Chinese nibs and I wanted to try another. Secondly it wasn’t going to break the bank or be a huge concern if it proved defective. Also I have readers who are interested in these things and should not always be deprived. The penultimate reason is that despite its garishness I like the acrylic. Almost all acrylics appear garish when compared with the subtlety of marbled pattern celluloid or casein.

But here’s the big reason, the elephant in the room! Is it possible for a Chinese company to make a pen more like a current Duofold? I have regularly defended Chinese pen manufacturers against the accusation of plagiarism. After all there are so many pen shapes around that it is nearly impossible to come up with a pen that doesn’t resemble one of them, and it isn’t only the Chinese who fall foul of that difficulty. This, however, is of a different order. Even the dimensions, though not quite close enough to allow swapping components, are very close indeed. It isn’t a fake. Moonman put their name to it. But there can be no question that they are maximising their sales by offering a Duofold for people who can’t, or don’t want to, afford a Duofold!

That said, assessing the pen as a pen, it’s very good value for money. These recent Chinese pens are much better and provide real competition to Western and Japanese pens, for those who are buying pens to write with. The pen comes with a converter. All the parts seem to fit together well. The nib is splendid – absolutely fault-free. My only complaint about it is that it is a Western fine rather than an Oriental one. Something that might prove a little annoying is that it takes 2 3/4 turns of the cap to close the pen – not a note-taker, then.

In all, a very good pen. Not the first example of plagiarism and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Quite shocking in its cheek. And not unamusing.

Schneider and Fischler: The Book of Fountain Pens and Pencils

The Schneider and Fischler book was once a highly regarded reference but, having been published in 1992, the advances of the intervening years have diminished it. The best thing about it is that it shows pens you won’t see anywhere else. The rarities are all American unfortunately. The pens of major pen-producing countries like Japan, France, Italy, Germany and Britain are covered only lightly.

A disproportionate number of metal overlay pens are presented. That, I think, was the emphasis of the hobby at the time. All pens that are not hard rubber are described as “plastic.” It would have been useful to know what the other materials actually were. Indeed, most of this large volume is devoted to photographs with very brief information.

It is perhaps in the photographs that this volume most shows its age. Very poor by modern standards, it is as if they were taken through coloured gauze. The colour and even the shape of some pens is indistinct.

This is beginning to be a litany of criticisms and I’m not quite finished yet. There is a section on pen repair which should be ignored. It appears to have been acceptable in those days to risk burning your house down with naked flames being applied to pens. We know better now.

It isn’t all bad, though. I’ve been at this game for a long time yet I was deeply surprised at the large number of pens and pencils shown that I had never even heard of, let alone seen. Pencils are not forgotten, as they are in most other works and there is a section on pen/pencil combinations.

Prices vary between £50 and £60 for the book and you may judge whether this is an essential for your bookshelf or whether the money might be better spent on pens, ink or tools. Despite all I have had to say about it, I’m glad to have it.

Mabie Todd Fyne Poynt MHR Pencil

I love and admire mechanical pencils almost as much as fountain pens but demand for them is low. Such pencils as I have dealt with have come in a batch with fountain pens that I wanted. I have never bought a vintage mechanical pencil for its own sake – until now!

I saw this splendid Mabie Todd Fyne Poynt propel-repel pencil in eBay the other day and I was determined to have it. I paid a reasonable price for it and count myself lucky to have obtained such a fine pencil. This would match a 1920s fountain pen in the SF range. I often have those pens but they are mostly in the more common black hard rubber material. The mottled hard rubber ones go for quite a lot more nowadays.

No matter, it’s a very fine writing instrument in its own right and I will enjoy it for as long as I have it.

Conway Stewart 479

I’m not especially fond of cap rings. Whether they are single and slender or multiple in patterns such as thin/medium/thin, they’re just things to help to keep the cap lip from splitting. I would make an exception for the ones that are genuinely decorative or are a feature, like the Swan Visofil pierced cap bands or the large metal bands of the Sheaffer Triumph 1250 or Waterman Taperite. Otherwise I would prefer that they made stronger cap lips.

The Conway Stewart 479 is an excellent example of a pen with no cap rings. I’ve had many of them and none has had a crack in the lip. This is because the lip is a fraction thicker than those with cap rings. It seems an altogether better design as cap rings don’t actually prevent cracking of the cap lip, as we have come to know all too well.

The 479 was a very popular pen and it had a long period of production. It came in some outstanding colours, too, like this deep plum and black marble. It’s a very rich pattern, all the better for being uninterrupted across the cap and barrel by cap rings. This particular example is enhanced by having a quite flexible stub nib.