Mabie Todd Swan SM205/60

The SM205/60 follows on well from the Swan 6142 I wrote about the other day.  Both are wartime pens though this is earlier: 1939/40.  It shares the high military-style clip but in other respects is profoundly different.  The SM205/60 looks back to the hard rubber pens that preceded it, with its flattish ends and engine chasing.  By time the 6142 came along  a new design dynamic prevailed with its very tapered shape.

The SM205/60 lacks the colour of the later pen but it makes up for that with its attractive chasing and the flush-to-the-barrel black hard rubber lever, a style unique to Mabie Todd.

Which of these pens would I prefer?  Probably the SM205/60.  It has everything you would want from a lever fill pen and a bit more.  I appreciate the colour pattern of the 6142 but the increased tapering does nothing for me.  It isn’t an improvement, just a fashionable aesthetic change.

Mabie Todd Swan 6142

I don’t believe I’ve written about the 6142 before.  Surprising because it was a popular pen and they appear quite often.  It’s one of those patterns that moves with the light.  At one moment a small area looks almost black.  You move the pen and the blue leaps out at you.  The celluloid – they called it xylonite – that Mabie Todd used throughout the thirties and forties is tough stuff, strongly resistant to wear.  As a result many of the pens of that period look like new.  This one has retained its gold as well to complete the picture.

The 6142 has a No 1 nib, of course.  It’s quite a small nib but it has all the fine properties of the larger Swan nibs.  This one is quite flexible.  Some people are quite disparaging about small nibs.  I’ve never understood that.  After all, they’re a lot bigger than the nib on the ever-popular Parker 51 and it’s only the final few millimetres that do the business of applying ink to paper.  I note that there is a tendency among modern pen and nib buyers to go for the biggest thing they can get.  I have my suspicions about why that should be so; perhaps an element of compensation is coming into play there but this is a family blog and I won’t go into that any further.

Strangely enough I see few of the small Swans these days.  Have they all been bought up?  Almost every pen I buy is either a 2, 3 or 4.  Spare No 1 nibs are rarer than striped leopards.  I have a rather splendid 1910s eyedropper, complete with split feed, that has been waiting for a No 1 nib to turn up for a very long time.

Like many other wartime pens, the 6142 has its clip set high to keep it tidy beneath the flap of a uniform pocket.

Chris’s Ink Reviews

I know that some of you are very fond of ink.  For myself, it comes very much secondary to pens and yet, somehow, I have filled a shelf 14 inches wide and five feet long with bottles of ink.  I don’t know how that happened.

Anyway, my friend Chris is an ink aficionado and there are no better reviews around than hers.  You’ll find them here.

I believe she reviews the occasional fountain pen too.

 

Damage

This is part of a very battered 4261 which I probably won’t write about as there’s nothing special to say about it.  The peg had broken, an unfortunate thing that can happen to any of us with a slip of the hand or a second’s inattention.

It’s a pity I didn’t take a picture before I went to work on it.  The previous repairer had used some glue to try to replace the broken part of the section, a fairly hopeless task given the outward pressure that the feed applies.  He had done it with the feed in place, possibly because it gave the broken fragment some support.  It had all the makings of a goodly disaster…

It hadn’t worked, of course, and the glue had overspread the end of the feed and had seeped into the channels.  I could scrape it off the end but the channels defeated me.  I ran a brass wire brush over it in the hope it would remove the glue but not damage the channels.  Didn’t work.  The usual advice in these situations is to run a fine blade along the channels but I never do that.  It invariably cuts the bottom of the channel which isn’t an improvement.  Time to resort to the spares bin.

Ebonite

While hard rubber is by far my favourite material from which pens have been, and are, made I recognise its failings, the worst being oxidation.  The market has come up with several methods of restoration (of a kind) of faded hard rubber pens but I steer away from them.  They rarely work well and many pens returned to their original colour by these method tend to stand out and look bogus.

Long-lasting old black hard rubber, the sort that doesn’t fade, frequently appears in cheap pens.  I’ve often seen 20s and 30s advertising and giveaway pens that shine with all their original lustre and depth of colour while Swans and Onotos fade if you give them a sidelong look.  Purely subjectively, the rubber in those pens seems especially light to me and they don’t wear as readily as “better” pens.

Be that as it may, hard rubber is always light, one of its great benefits.  I suspect that those who appreciate heft and regard heaviness as a sign of quality don’t actually write very much.  The ideal pen would weigh nothing.  A Swan 1060 with a fill of ink weighs 17g.  The Crocodile, average for those far eastern pens with lots of metal, weighs 35g empty.  I actually like the Croc for other reasons but I know which pen I prefer to settle down with for a long writing session.

Of course celluloid wins by several lengths in the colour stakes but hard rubber has shown a range of possibilities.  Waterman and strangely enough Platignum turned out splendidly colourful hard rubber pens but they were beaten into a cocked hat by the rainbow myriad of colours Pilot achieved in their – sadly all too rare – 1930s hard rubber pens.  For myself, I’m satisfied with black or mottled.

Hard rubber is hard to repair if it cracks or breaks.  I have yet to be convinced that a durable repair is actually possible and yes, I know about the Loctite solution.  Didn’t last for me.  Of course all pens with exceptionally thin cap lips crack, regardless of material.  I can’t repair the celluloid ones because the materials involved are lethal to someone with respiratory complaints so I can’t have them in the house.  Sadly, damage is part of the ageing process for delicate instruments like pens.  It isn’t always the end.  My Swan 1060 was not sold because of a cap lip crack and I’m rather glad about that!  And, on the other hand, hard rubber has a “memory” and a blast of heat is usually enough to get rid of those pesky bite marks.

I keep coming back to my 1060, of which I am especially fond.  When I found it, it was not faded.  It was dulled with much use, a mass of micro-scratches.  Once I spotted the cap lip crack and decided I would keep it, I gave it a cursory polish with a cloth and that was all I did to it aesthetically.  However, the more I use it, the shinier it gets!  It’s beautiful to look at and very pleasing to the touch.  I have a slightly faded SF230/61 that is going through the same process.  Gets shinier every day I use it!  It makes those pens especially precious and personal. Do any of the other materials pens are made from do that?  Perhaps silver, though I’m not fond of metal pens.

Black hard rubber takes beautiful chasing, sharp enough to cut you when unworn.  Celluloid does too, to be fair, but I always think of that as a backward glance to the glory days of hard rubber.  Also, I would have to say that both are upstaged by chased metal pens but I just love black chased hard rubber.  Whoever came up with the relatively simple chasing machine was a genius in the true sense of the word.

I’m lucky in that the pens I appreciate most, the Swan Self-Fillers and Leverlesses, were made in the heyday of vulcanised rubber production.  Mabie Todd had an especial loyalty to that material, making pens from it in the forties and fifties when it had otherwise disappeared from fountain pen production.

1935 Blackbird

This 1935 Blackbird had quite a bit of work done on it before it came to me.  The broad gold-plated cap band was probably fitted to cover a cap lip crack.  It won’t crack now, that’s for sure!

It also had a Swan clip.  It was fine so long as you didn’t look too closely but I couldn’t leave it like that.  A search through the spares revealed a cracked cap with the required clip, correct if shabby.  With the help of the heat gun the clips were swapped easily.  The replacement clip has lost some plating but at least it’s a Blackbird clip.

These flat-top Blackbirds are very attractive.  This one is in the /41 pattern, Almond Green.  Like this one, many of the 1930s celluloid patterns are superb.  On the end of the barrel is inscribed BB2B/G2.  I really can’t parse that.  The final “G2” is a complete mystery to me.  I see similar, possibly larger pens in Stephen Hull’s book.  They are designated “G3” so perhaps size comes into it. Much has been learned about Mabie Todd mysteries in recent years but I’m glad there are some puzzles left for us to gnaw upon.

The Leverless

I enjoy re-saccing the Swan Leverless.  Though it can happen it is rare to find the old sac stuck to the sides of the barrel and I cannot think of an instance where it had adhered to the paddle.  The ossified sac almost always slides out whole with the assistance of a hooked dental pick.  Often the imprint of the paddle runs the length of the sac and you know that the pen was put away with a soft sac and never used again.  By contrast, lever and button fillers often require internal scraping and the sac can form a bond with the pressure bar that outdoes many glues.

Some models of Leverless have large pegs to which the sac is attached.  With those, the repair is straightforward.  It becomes more complicated with the Leverlesses that have small pegs.  Those are intended to be re-sacced with a necked sac but I find it impossible to get ones of the right length, so I use straight sacs, No 20 for the smaller ones and No 22 for the big Leverlesses.  I apply shellac in the usual way then bind the sac tightly with thread.  The thread can be removed after the shellac has cured.  Alternatively, if the thread doesn’t interfere with the insertion of the section into the barrel, I shellac it and leave it in place.  I have come across old repairs where the sac has been bound with thin wire.  That’s a bit excessive, I think.

The process is strangely relaxing.  You know before you begin that this is not a job that can be rushed so you might as well take your time and enjoy it.  To be sure that the sac has securely bonded to the peg it’s best to leave it for several hours.  When all is ready, I push the sac into the barrel with a slim dowel and reset the nib and feed in the section.  I get more of a sense of “a job well done” from the Leverless than any other pen.

A 1951 Blackbird Lever Filler

There are some changes from earlier models in this 1951 Blackbird.  Most obviously the way of fitting the clip has changed from the inserted type to something like the Waterman of the time.

The barrel imprint has moved to near the section and reads Mabie Todd and Co Ltd.  Made in England with no mention of Blackbird.  The pen is identified as a Blackbird on the section and nib.

This present example is probably unused and bears the price tag 14/8d.  Not a cheap pen, then, but a pen of good quality.  It’s rather difficult to establish a true present-day price equivalent but a pen as good as this wouldn’t leave much change out of £200 now.

The pattern is attractive and the material (celluloid?) is thick and robust.  The nib gives slight line variation but it is splendidly springy rather than flexible.  At this point Mabie Todd had five years to go but this Blackbird was built to last and surely reflects confidence in the company.

1968mandy2011

Among other sources I get many pens from eBay.  Occasionally one will arrive with undisclosed damage, like a cracked nib or cap lip.  An otherwise rather nice Swan 3260 arrived yesterday but it had a crack in the cap.  Those repairs are too time-consuming to be worth the effort so I requested a return.  The seller, 1968mandy2011, refused the return, saying that the pen was good when it left her so I must have over-tightened the cap.  Never mind the fact that that’s not how cap lip cracks happen, the crack was ingrained with dirt and clearly old.

I told her that I would wait eBay’s statutory eight days and refer the matter to them for judgement.  It was only at that point, fool that I am, that I looked at her feedback.  With less than 500 sales she has six negatives and three neutrals.  Judging by the buyers’ comments she makes a habit of concealing flaws in the goods she sells and adding insult to injury by blaming those she has wronged.

She couldn’t leave well enough alone and kept messaging me with increasingly vituperative insults.  I brushed them off calmly.  I’ve been there before!  Eventually her comments descended into obscenity and I reported it to eBay.  This morning I received a return-paid label from eBay.

I don’t usually write about eBay disputes and I don’t usually name and shame but while this one was amusing it was also unpleasant.  I suspect that others less persistent than me may have lost their money for useless goods.  Best to avoid 1968mandy2011, I would say.  She will have seven negatives shortly.

Preferences

We all have our preferences in fountain pens; some can be backed with a logical explanation, others may be inexplicable but nonetheless important and strongly held for all that.  To begin with, I like pens with a proper filling system which rather disqualifies eyedropper fillers and cartridge/converter pens.  That isn’t to say that I won’t use them.  I just don’t admire them.  For me, the lever filler is a good, well thought out method.  The button filler is very similar in its workings but better, because the barrel is unbroken and your hand is kept away from the ink when filling.  For the same reason, I especially love the Swan Leverless and it wins because it is almost always allied with an admirable nib.

Talking of nibs, I used to write with a medium flexible, perhaps oblique and stubbish.  Such a setup flattered my writing; the breadth of the line concealed the imprecision of the creation of the letters and the flexibility provided a bit of distracting flash.  A few years ago I became dissatisfied with that.  I decided to try to write well with a firm nib.  Making the nib a fine or an extra fine provided even more of a challenge.

Many people write with fines because their writing is small.  Mine isn’t huge, to be sure, but it isn’t minuscule either.  Within my own eccentric style of writing I aim to create the letters well and I pride myself (perhaps I delude myself) that my writing is clear and easily read.  That’s the intention.  I don’t aim for beauty in writing, just legibility.

So I am happy with my Swan Leverless 1060 with its very fine No. 4 nib.  A No. 3 nib might be better and if I ever come across one that is extra fine I will swap.