Back when fountain pens were what everyone used, people only ever had one pen, not a boxful as most of us have today. I suppose for many people any pen would do so long as it worked but we are more selective than that, aren’t we? What would be your everyday pen, the only pen you would have? I think we should leave boring modern pens out of it. Select any vintage era where vintage = whatever you think it does.
There are so many pens with different wonderful qualities to offer. If I was especially concerned about the quantity of ink my pen would hold it would have to be an Onoto or even a Ford Patent Pen, but actually I don’t mind filling my pen occasionally. Most sac fillers hold more than the average cartridge, so that’s enough for me.
Colour and pattern might distract me. I do appreciate the wonderful patterns that Waterman produced in the 30s and especially the subtle 1920s and 30s Swan patterns. Post-war Conway Stewarts have a colourful glow to them as well.
But colour won’t decide which pen I choose. The nib is what the pen is about. I would want something firm and fine – at least as fine as a Japanese EF. Not many of the major manufacturers produced nibs as fine as that in the vintage years (my vintage ends at 1960). In the late 30s Waterman (or actually Altura) produced an accountant pen with a near needlepoint nib. A plain-looking pen, invariably in black so far as I’m aware. That would be my one and only pen
According to the box this is the Swan Standard Fountpen, a name that harks back to an earlier era. The paperwork describes it as the Safety Screw Cap type – that’s a blast from the past! The barrel imprint calls it the Swan Safety Pen. Despite all the historic references I believe it’s a late pen, made sometime in the 50s.
It’s an eyedropper filler, most likely for the export market. Like Macniven & Cameron, who had Burnham produce an eyedropper filler for them around the same period, Mabie Todd (or rather Biro) were perhaps trying to break into the Indian market as home sales declined.
It’s a nice enough pen, only brought down by the gold-alike cap. The rest of the pen is in a very dark blue and the nib is up to the usual Swan standard – very good in other words.
I’m usually quite good on English Watermans but I don’t know this one
Selsdon, if nothing else, were inventive. They turned out fountain pens which varied from the passable to the very good. I’ve written before about their ballpoints.
This thing, which could also be called a ballpoint for want of a better word, is a lever filler with a ball point of sorts. The amount of wear on the pen, particularly on the clip, suggests that it once worked well enough to be in use for some time.
I can’t make it draw ink. There is a blockage inside the hood. It doesn’t remove for servicing but some time in the ultrasonic cleaner might yet clear it.
I don’t quite suggest that Selsdon are underappreciated because much of their output was unashamedly aimed at the lower end of the market. However, they were not afraid to take a risk with something new. It would be good to know more about them.
For months I’ve added, here and there,
Some pens for sale, without fanfare.
I have not written clever verse
(Which always goes from bad to worse).
But these fresh pens are so delightful
Keeping silent would be frightful!
So here’s a mangled bit of rhyme
To say, come and take a little time.
Peruse my site and find some gems
On sale here, far north of the Thames!
(I warned you it might be the case
That my words here would lose me face.)
All this nonsense is to say
I’ve got some glorious pens today!
Be quick, my friends, or they’ll be sold,
Red Ripple and more, with nibs of gold.
Peruse my site and find a winner –
I’m off to have my well-earned dinner!
In the 60s the main Japanese pen manufacturers – and some smaller ones – developed a new kind of pocket pen with a long cap and a barrel just long enough to contain a cartridge. These “long-shorts” came in at all price points. Some were dignified and opulent with black barrels and sterling silver caps. Others were more colourful.
Of course the long-short was a configuration that had been tried before. Diamond Point, among others, had tried this form of pocket pen as a bulb filler in the 1920s. None of the earlier attempts achieved the success that the Japanese made of the style.
This example is by Platinum. It has an 18 carat EF nib. In every respect it is a typical long-short. I have seen this model identified as a Platinum 200 and PKA-500 is also applied to it. So far as I can tell it’s a 70s pen. Though it is quite pretty with a metal cap and turquoise barrel/section, the selling point for these pens is, as is always the case with Japanese pens, the nib. Hair’s-breadth fine yet completely smooth, it delivers ink consistently with no pressure at all. There is no hard starting or skipping. It may be a small pen but it doesn’t really feel like one in the hand.
All three major Japanese manufacturers produced long-shorts in all sorts of colours and patterns, which makes them very collectable today. Not for me, though. I wanted to try one, the nicest one I could find, to see if it is a pen I can write with. It is.
(My apologies for the photographs. The metallic finish is intensely light reflective and very annoying to try to capture. I tried various setups and this was the best I could do!)
When I worked for an employer, the stationery cupboard contained one kind of writing instrument: the ubiquitous Bic. Though I always had my Sheaffer Targa at the ready I often had to grab a Bic when answering the phone or taking notes at impromptu meetings. At more formal ones I used my Sheaffer. I don’t like ballpoints for all the reasons we usually share – painful writing angle, characterless writing point, pressure required etc, etc. However, there is no doubt that they won the war.
When I buy batches of pens in auctions there are often ballpoints among them. The cheap or unbranded ones go in the trash but I pass the better ones: Parker, Sheaffer, Cross and Papermate to my husband. He installs refills and gives them out at the hospital. Nurses do a lot of form filling and, busy as they are, grab the first ballpoint that comes to hand. To them, it’s an irrelevance whether it’s a Bic or a Parker. Just the tool they need for the job.
Ballpoints gave rise to several descendants – fibre tipped pens, roller balls and gel pens. I use the Pilot G2 gel pens for those jobs that the demand something other than a fountain pen: the forms of officialdom and addressing envelopes. I used to address envelopes with a fountain pen then rub over the address with a candle to waterproof it. I gave that up – too pernickety. The gel pen has proved its worth.
When it comes to real writing – blogging and corresponding, however, I would never dream of using anything other than a fountain pen. I barely touch the paper. In fact with the best pens like this little no-model-name 1960s Pilot, it’s as if I wave the pen over the paper and the words magically appear. I could write my autobiography at a sitting without fatigue. The act of writing with a very good fountain pen is not work; it’s a pleasure, happily anticipated.
I am no calligrapher. I cannot produce the artistic script that was the norm one hundred and fifty years ago but my handwriting is much better than it ever could have been if I had not escaped the trap of the ballpoint. The way that a good fountain pen lays ink on paper is so much more pleasant and aesthetically pleasing that better handwriting is automatically encouraged.
So are fountain pens really better? Of course they are and we knew that anyway, but there’s no harm in restating the obvious. Emphatically!