An 18th Century Document

You can find anything on eBay. A friend showed me an old legal document he had, a fascinating thing. I was inspired to go looking for something similar and I found that there were many documents of all ages for sale in eBay, After much hunting I settled on a deed of 1795. It arrived in very good condition.

These old documents survive so well because of the paper they are written on. It is thick and durable, almost like cartridge paper. It is faintly off-white, a colour I would describe as less than cream, perhaps ivory. It appears whiter than it is in the accompanying photographs because I’ve increased the contrast. The deed is written on a single large sheet of paper, 47cm high and 60cm wide, folded to make each page 30cm. I’m sure there will be a name for this size of paper which resembles modern A3.

The legal import of the document is rather beyond me but it appears to relate to land and buildings in Royton, now part of Greater Manchester. The writing appears mostly quite modern though the long ‘s’ is occasionally used. It’s mostly legible though the clarity varies. No doubt this document was written by some Bob Cratchit-type clerk who most likely got rather bored writing such dry deeds day after day and the writing probably suffered a little for that reason. Actually, I think he did astonishingly well. My own writing, as I draft this article, is less than legible to anyone else.

This was the day of the quill, of course. Cheap metal nibs had yet to come. The clerk’s desk would have held all the necessary accoutrements of his day, a sander, a quill knife, inkwell, wafers and seal. The ink is grey/brown, probably India ink a very little faded with time. I love this deed. It’s a window into the past to allow us to look on the work of those writers who were our predecessors of the pen more than 200 years ago.

A One-off?

A solid gold pen, the cap encrusted with sapphires and diamonds. That may sound a little like one of those high-priced modern limited editions, jewel laden, opulent and tasteless. In fact, this pen isn’t like that at all. Its opulence is measured and it is a restrained thing of beauty.

It appears to have been made in the late thirties, most likely by Dunhill though that has still to be confirmed. Everything about the design, together with the Dunhill/Namiki nib, suggests that it came from that house.

I don’t buy expensive pens and I hardly ever envy those who do but this pen comes close to being an exception. Not only is it a thing of loveliness that you could spend ages admiring, the Namiki nib is as good as you would expect it to be, flexible and highly responsive. It would be sacrilege to imprison such a pen in a display case. It demands to be used and used often.

When it comes to such pens, discussion of cost is largely irrelevant but when one considers the combination of highly satisfying design and pleasurable utility the pen is clearly worth a lot of money and compared with the price demanded for anything remotely similar today, its lucky owner secured a bargain.

With thanks to Mario Kaouklis

Tuppence’s Diary

Here we are, sorting through the mail. That’s my Dad, helping me. I love my Dad, as you can tell and this is why:

A few years ago before I had the op, I had a small family. Now I’m a small cat and they all grew into enormous brutes. My owner decided to keep one and being so much bigger she took to bullying me. Me, her mother! She even lies across my owner’s window to stop me coming in! I began looking around for somewhere else and got this job with Goodwriters.

My daughter still bullied me whenever she could. She also killed birds. My Dad was most displeased. One day he chased her out of the garden and she hid under a bush. He had a spray bottle for his plants and he seized it and gave her a good soaking. She was most indignant. She ran away and doesn’t come into our garden any more. How I laughed! And how I love my Dad!

Back to the pens…

Waterman #10

What’s the story with this enormous Waterman?

I don’t really follow Watermans any more but I would like to know about this pen. That price seems rather inflated to me.

Edit to add: I’ve heard quite a bit about this pen and the seller now. I withdraw my remark about the price being inflated. This pen really is worth something in that price range!


I refilled the printer this morning, loading around 100 sheets of A4 paper into the tray. In the course of the day I’ll be writing in three notebooks which serve different purposes. Getting pens ready for despatch will require some form-filling. It’s all paper.

We love our pens and ink has become a very popular subject of discussion on the pen boards but paper is the poor relation, much less discussed but equally essential. People do discuss the best modern papers but I don’t know much about them. I use old paper from the mid-twentieth century or earlier, a time when all writing paper was fountain-pen friendly.

I freely confess that I love paper. It’s an obsession with me, not far behind fountain pens themselves. Like many other things, it was the Chinese who invented paper. and it took a long time for that technology to reach the West. On this side of the world such writing as was being done was on vellum and parchment, expensive materials that were the result of a long and costly preparation process. Books were treasures, about as far from modern cheap paperbacks as it is possible to imagine. Literacy was low and so was the requirement for written materials. Supply and demand were in balance. That was about to change.

Those prepared animal skins were an excellent material to write on. I’ll have more to say about them another time but it’s important to realise that it wasn’t writing that drove their replacement by paper. Acts of Parliament were still written on parchment until 2017 when it was finally replaced with archival paper. Vellum and parchment were impossible to completely standardise, making them unsuitable for printing. That’s where the increased demand for paper came from. Paper had been around, supplied by Italian paper-makers, since the 13th century but it’s use was relatively low until the 15th century arrival of printing. High-quality, water-marked paper was soon being used by printers in huge quantity.

Scribes gradually fell into line, using this good paper for letters, diaries, notes and draft copies. In some respects paper wasn’t quite so good as vellum for handwriting; for instance you couldn’t properly delete an error, just cross it out, whereas with a sharp knife the scribe could completely remove a mistake from vellum as if it had never happened.

Price ensured that paper won the day and wonderful papers have been produced. Some was even made to resemble parchment. I have a diminishing supply of that lovely textured paper, best written on with a medium or broad nib because of its coarse but satisfying surface.

It’s not so long ago that paper was comparatively expensive and it was used carefully. In letters, people often wrote one way then turned the paper sideways and wrote across the first writing. Now if I make a mistake on written or printed paper the sheet goes for recycling without a second thought. We are wealthy in paper!

A Colourful Swan L92

These little pens don’t appear often so I was glad to snatch this one even though it isn’t perfect. The slight discolouration at the nib end of the barrel suggests that red ink was used. Also it may have been a ring-top though there’s no ring assembly there now.

Those things aside the tiny pen is a wonder. It was made around 1929/30 when pen manufacturers had mastered the use of celluloid and were exploring its possibilities. This pen is designated L92 which calls up ‘lavender with jade, coral and black rings’. I would have expected a stronger hue from lavender but as the image in Stephen Hull’s The Swan Pen is identical in colour it isn’t the result of fading. That’s just how it is.

The moiré effect is so strong that it suggests a texture. It’s only when you pick it up that you realise that it’s completely smooth. The coral and black bands really stand out. This is a small, Dinkie-sized pen. It posts well which helps but it remains at the outer edge of what is practical. The pen dates from a time when it was assumed that women desired tiny things. Goodness knows why!

The surprising thing is that this wee pen sports a No 2 nib. It doesn’t look as if it is a shoe-horned in replacement for an original No 1. I have no reason to think that it is not original. These multi-coloured pens – there’s quite a range of them – are unique to Mabie Todd in this style. I’ve seen nothing like them from other pen makers.

Stephen Hull: The Swan Pen

A White Swan

Of course I should have taken these photos against a black or coloured background. I’ll learn some day…

Though they’re not very common I pick up these Art Deco Swans from time to time, usually in black. I’ve never had one of these white ones before. The contrast between the white body and the black ends and section makes a striking pen. Stephen Hull, in his The Swan Pen, says that these pens were intended to be gifts for bridesmaids and nurses. Lovely gifts they would have been too and I’m sure they were much appreciated.

These Art Deco pens were made on the brink of war. They appear not to have been huge sellers, surprisingly considering their elegant design. Though this pen is in generally good condition there is some loss of gold plating on the lever, indicating extensive use.

Though its comparative rarity makes this pen a collector’s item the splendid, very flexible nib deserves use.

A Glorious Montblanc Safety

The modern Montblanc is not to my taste for various reasons and in any case I wouldn’t spend that much on a current pen. I’m told that they are good writers but so is the Lanbitou I’m using to draft this article. It cost three quid. Of course that’s a rather shallow argument – the Lanbitou doesn’t have the quality of a Montblanc and it may not be as durable. That said, if I want superior quality I just need to use my vintage Swans or Onotos – the highest quality at a tiny fraction of the price of a modern Montblanc.

I promise not to rant on interminably about modern Montblancs. Just two other things I would mention: associating pens with dead artists and authors seems a spurious piece of marketing. In truth they had nothing to do with the pens. Secondly, drawing attention to yourself by flashing an expensive pen seems a bit jejune. But maybe that’s just me.

It was not always so. A few years ago I used to buy forties and fifties Montblancs to restore. Wonderful pens with outstanding nibs. They’ve gone a little beyond my budget now but I’m glad they’ve reached their proper level and are suitably appreciated.

Long before that Montblanc made many safety pens. The well-known White Top of 1912 and the famous Rouge et Noir of the same period are highly collectable – if you can find one!

In the twenties this beauty came along, another much-sought-after collector’s pen, photographed here with a fine Swan.

As well as being treasured by collectors these pens are perfectly practical writers. I’m told this one is somewhat stubbish. I love the nib – a real work of art.

Such Montblancs as these are expensive too, but worth every penny!

With thanks to Hans Gilliams for his excellent photographs.

Tuppence says

It’s very windy here today – 40mph gusts that would blow little me away so I’m staying indoors. Dad did the bare necessities outside and they’ve both been working on pens since. Seven restored so far and another two in progress. Me, I’ve been sitting around radiating waves of adorableness and sometimes going for a nap because it’s hard work being as totes adorbs as me.