The Conway Stewart Dinkie 540

There are many small pens: the various vintage pocket and ring top pens, modern Kaweco Sports, the various Japanese long-shorts and, I suppose, a host more. These pens have normal sized nibs, it is just the barrel and cap that is reduced. Then there are tiny pens: the Waterman Smallest Pen in the World, which I assume was just made to show that it could be done, the Peter Pan fountain pens and some Wyvern and Wahl Eversharp very small sets. These are pens that are proportionate in every respect, with very small nibs. The most famous and best of these is the Conway Stewart Dinkie.

I’ve tended, generally, to avoid them. The most modern ones are not worth much and some of the older ones are worth a great deal! I didn’t find them particularly easy to sell unless they were really outstanding. I’m a dealer not a collector and they didn’t really work for me. Of course, I’m interested in all fountain pens and the Dinkies began to appeal to me more. They get you in the end.

I remember a discussion that took place on the Fountain Pen Board some years ago, when someone said that Dinkies were for collecting rather than writing. They were too small to write with. Andy Russell replied to that saying (excuse me if I paraphrase, Andy, as I can no longer find the discussion) that of course they were for writing with, they were a huge seller and people didn’t buy them to look at. That of course is completely right. Some of the finest calligraphy ever written was done with birds’ feathers for goodness sake! I have seen a builder with hands like bear’s paws scribble a page of text with a stub of pencil less than an inch long. The notion that a pen has to be large enough to double as a weapon in a tight corner is an entirely modern one.

To the pen in hand: this is a Dinkie 540 from the 1940s. It’s a splendid little pen, like a Conway Stewart 286 in miniature. The colour is variously described as red moire or dark pink moire. Dusty pink would work for me. I filled this pen and wrote with it. It’s a delightful stubbish semi-flexible medium. Now, I am arthritic and I confess it is a little slender for someone with my affliction but I wrote a page of text with it without any difficulty. It’s exactly the same diameter as the wooden pencil I have in my jar, so those people who find a Dinkie too small to write with, can’t write with a pencil either. This is evidently a physical disability.

I’m not going to attempt to go over the history of the Dinkie – it has already been done splendidly by Andy Russell. Suffice it to say that if I were a collector, I could find no better field of collection than these wonderful, jewel-like and yet practical pens.

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Hero 1588

Chinese pens have a number of things going for them. They are often ridiculously cheap and the quality has improved immeasurably compared with a decade ago. I bought several and was quite impressed with what I got for the most part. For one reason or another they didn’t really suit me and I sold them on. All except one, this Hero 1588.

It’s an entirely metal pen but it is light so I’m fairly sure the barrel and cap are made of some aluminium alloy, rather than the usual brass. The section/hood assembly is steel and therefore a little heavier but it doesn’t unduly unbalance the pen.

I don’t usually like metal sections and I’m not fond of sections that are shaped to indicate where your fingers should go. I don’t really care for hooded nibs either so why do I like this pen so much that it is the only Chinese pen remaining? First, despite being shiny metal the section is not slippery because of its sculpted shape. I’ll forgive the pen its hooded nib because the nib is so good. It’s a firm extra-fine. The ink delivery is completely reliable – no hard starting or skipping. It suits my hand so well that this £3 pen is one of my favourites, a better all-round performer than some pens I have that cost fifty times more.

Metal hooded nibs seem to be an exclusively Chinese thing. At least, I haven’t seen one on any European or Japanese pen though I confess my knowledge of modern pens is hardly comprehensive. Beyond that the pen is rather ordinary, traditional even. It’s flattopped and very gently tapered. It has an arrow-clip which strongly resembles that on recent Parker models, though I am unaware of any Parker that looks like this pen. The only thing that draws the eye is the robin’s egg blue of the cap and barrel.

Considering that a few years ago many Chinese pens were encrusted with decorations that appealed to their taste much more than ours, they have come a long way. They have learned from Parker, whose pens they often emulate, but also from Japanese pens like the various Pilots which several Chinese pens resemble. Above all their nib technology has been transformed, if this little pen is anything to go by.

Parker “17” Lady

This is the Parker “17” Lady. I don’t know why we have to have quotes around the 17 but Parker put them there so it seems we do. Like the rest of the 17 range, this pen is a descendant of the Aerometric Duofold, differing mainly in the hooded nib. It’s quite a small pen at 12 cm capped, and it is slender and light. This is because we ladies have tiny little hands that can’t hold anything as huge and heavy as a Parker Junior. I don’t think that pen makers condescend to us in quite this way today – at least I hope they don’t, other than Bic, with their (widely mocked) sparkly pink offering. However, until recently it was assumed that we needed tiny pens.

Having got that out of the way the Lady is a pretty decent pen. The 14 carat gold Parker nib is made to the usual high standards and the Aerometric filling system is, as always, designed to last, if not forever, for a very long time. The sprung barrel ring ensures that the pen closes firmly. This example has retained its box and guarantee, which suggests that it wasn’t used all that much. It is in pretty pristine condition.

As it is quite late, I will have a tiny snack and a tiny cup of tea and get off to my tiny bed.

Parker Duofold AF

I’ve written about the Parker Duofold Aluminium Filler before, but not recently. It’s the predecessor of the Aerometric Duofold and looks very similar. To my mind it’s a more satisfying design. It looks better than the usual button filler and you don’t have to remove the barrel for filling as with the Aerometric.

It was in production for about five years so it’s very common. If it has a fault, it is that it isn’t as easy to repair as the earlier button filler. The best way to do it is to remove the whole button filler assembly but it sometimes refuses to come out. The fall-back position is to pull out the button itself – again not particularly easy, and it leaves a small aperture to work through.

This one is what Parker describes as burgundy but it’s a very deep red that usually appears black in photographs. It looks more brown than red to me. In any case once it’s all back together and ready to go it’s a super pen with the great Parker nib.

Conway Stewart Nippy Pencil

Conway Stewart were masters of design and it shows in their pencils as much as in their pens. This early “Nippy” is a thoroughly practical pencil and it is also a small work of art, a usable sculpture. Conway Stewart used casein more than other manufacturers, and that’s what this pencil consists of, along with steel, brass and gold plating.

Jonathan Donahaye has dated this pencil to 1933 to 41 and he has said that it matches with the Nos 17 and 759 pens. Some of Jonathan’s splendid work has since been shown to be incomplete, outdated or wrong but his site is still useful because of its accessibility, one area where the online source is always more user-friendly than a book. It seems strange that No 17 should be paired with this much earlier pencil. If it is correct, perhaps Conway Stewart were using up earlier stock.

Mechanical pencils have never caught on in the way that fountain pens have. I confess that I don’t use them all that often but I do admire them, especially the prewar ones.

An Esterbrook Relief

I know the usual Esterbrooks, both Relief and otherwise but I haven’t seen this one before.  It’s English made with a 14ct gold screw-in nib.  The gold plating is good though the pen has clearly seen some use.  I like the cowl clip.  It’s not a working pen as it stands as there is no sac nipple.  Can anyone tell me about this model?

Unknown Button Filler

Can you help me to identify this small pen?   It’s 10.9 cm capped.  There’s no writing on the cap or barrel, though there may have been at one time.  It came with a Parker nib and the barrel is very Parker-ish.  The cap fits very well but it doesn’t look like any Parker I know.  Probably the parts are a mismatch but I’d like to know what the cp is, if that’s the case.  It looks familiar but I can’t place it.