Yesterday’s Pens

Senator Regent

Platinum 3776 Century Bourgogne

Sailor Lecoule

Sheaffer Imperial IV

Jinhao 992

Pilot Celemo

The Jinhao is used for Baystate Blue.  The pen cost so little that it doesn’t matter what happens to it, but many months down the road it’s still working well.



The subject of rotation comes up quite frequently in the discussion boards. One thing that is evident is that everyone does it differently. There are, of course, some who never write with their pens but maybe they take one out for a day to look at it and put it back and take another one the next day. Just surmising.

I’m semi-organised. I have a Japanese-style wrap that goes everywhere with me. It holds six pens. I could cram in a few more but six will do. As each pen is dried off it returns to the box and another one is chosen. There’s one exception, my Geha Schulfuller which is such a pleasure to write with that it is just refilled. Perpetually. I also make something of an exception for sac fillers because they are a bind to flush. I’ll go through several cycles of the same ink before the pen is dried off and put away.

I have a couple of pens on the desk: a 1940s BHR Swan and a red ink Pilot Varsity. If I’m working on pens the number on the desk and in use can increase exponentially. I’ve had more than a dozen being tested by being used for whatever I’m working on.

I don’t strip pens down to clean them. Nothing can wear a pen out faster than frequent total disassembly*. I just get all the water I can through them and dry them off when no colour shows.

Pens that are in rotation are also being constantly tested. Usually I confirm to myself that I was right to keep the pen as it suits my hand and writes the way I like. Occasionally, using a pen I’ve kept a while I’ll conclude that the line is too thick or the pen is a little awkward to work with. It goes on sale and I return to the hunt for my dream pen (which I probably have already, the Geha Schulfuller.)

Guess the pens in my wrap.  If anyone gets them all right I might think of some sort of prize.

*There are exceptions: the Conid Bulkfiller and some TWSBIs. These pens were made to be stripped down. There may be others – this is a little out of my area.


Here’s a fairer pic of the pens.

Clue: They’re 50/50 old and new.


A Coral Blackbird

In eBay during the week there was a late Blackbird in the colour known as coral. These pens are not common. I’ve seen them before but not often. I bid on it in a half-hearted way and I didn’t get it. I was disappointed but not too disappointed. It was something of a rarity but it was also unattractive to my mind.

Ink had penetrated the cap and barrel in several places and it seemed unlikely that it could be completely cleaned. The other thing that was against it was the colour. It reminded me of creepy, scary pink plastic dolls. I wasn’t a girly-girl as a child. Dolls didn’t do it for me. They looked like dead things. Dead things that blinked, said, “Mama,” and even, in the most horrifying of cases, walked!

Those late lever fill Blackbirds are far from the best of the Mabie Todd output but I’ve had ones in marbled blue or red that were attractive. They sold quickly so it seems that other people shared my appreciation. I wonder if the coral one would have sold so well. It might have reminded some of an amputated finger.


Edit to add:  On further consideration, this pen is rather earlier than I originally thought.  Thirties, perhaps.

And again, maybe not!

An Early Swan Eyedropper

I saw this pen for sale on eBay and it was the stub nib that attracted me. It turns out to be a ridiculously flexible stub. Never mind your Watermans and Wahl Eversharps (good though they are), if you want a really outstanding nib, look for Swans of the first couple of decades of last century.

Looking at the pen I thought it was early and probably a Mabie Todd & Bard. On looking more closely the part of the imprint that would have said either “Mabie Todd & Co” or “Mabie Todd & Bard” had been partially abraded out. The rest of the imprint is good so it isn’t normal wear. The space between “Mabie Todd” and “New York” is quite long, larger than would have been necessary for “& Co”. It’s my guess that this barrel was made when Bard was still part of the company. By time the pen was ready to be sent out he had retired so his name was removed. That would date the pen at 1907 or 1908.

Be that as it may, this is an exceptional pen. It lays down ink like a paintbrush and the combination of stub and flex makes for some very pretty line variation.

My assistant says, “I’d like to get my paws on that Swan!”

Conway Stewart Nibs

Doug Wilson of Melbourne, Australia contacted me to see if any of you could help with identifying these mystery Conway Stewart nibs.
He says, “The set of nibs is said to have belonged to a late salesman employed by Conway Stewart. The outside of the nib box has no ID. The Conway Stewart logo inside the lid is the main clue that the box originates from the latter half of the 1930s. The fact that most of the nibs have heart-shaped breather holes (as opposed to the round ones that were introduced in the late 40s and 50s) supports this dating.
Most of the nibs are straight and either fine or medium but a couple are broad, two are oblique and one is “turned up” at the tip for particularly smooth writing. On the bottom row there are some really large, rare items – look at No. 26 on the bottom right, for example. There is information in the public domain which enables one to assign most of the nib numbers to specific pen models but there are others where, intriguingly, I have not been able to do this. The mystery numbers are:
Top row:       Nib No. 2V
Centre row:  Nib nos. ISM, 15, 11 and 1M
Bottom row: Nib nos. 27 and 8A
If any readers can throw light on these, it would be greatly appreciated. After years of collecting Conway Stewart pen and pencil sets, it is only recently that I have begun to understand the depth of information that can be imparted by nibs. It is like a dialect within the overall pen language!”

Mabie Todd Swan 3250 yet again!

I’ve written about the Swan 3250 on several occasions, some of them quite recently. So what more is there to say? More of that later.

These pens were made soon after the end of the war, and many of them survive today. There are probably many factors adding up to that survival: the robust nature of the material that cap and barrel are made from, the respect they were treated with and the fact that they were forgotten in a drawer for years.

3250s are generally unremarkable, as is this one, at least until the nib is applied to the paper!

Though it is sometimes said that there were few fully flexible nibs after carbon paper became common that isn’t really true and applies more to the US than to Britain. Some degree of flexibility can be found in many British pens but full flex like this, in the post-war period, is mostly restricted to Mabie Todd and, occasionally, Onoto.

Flexible nibs are much in demand. I’ll confess that they are not especially to my taste, being a little difficult to handle over extended periods of high speed writing. I’d rather a fine firm nib but I do understand their appeal to others. They can produce some very beautiful work, well beyond my ability (as is evident!).

Waterman 513

I have written extensively about the Waterman 513 before. The search box above will take you there. It and the 515 are probably the best post-war Watermans. The 1955 W3, while still a good pen, shows a decline in quality.

This striated blue version is very attractive, the gold plated trim fitting well with the pattern. The box lever design is a little different from earlier examples but is still quite robust. The clip shows a little wear but much less than I have seen on many examples.

When I’m researching a pen, I take a look in eBay. I find it quite amusing that among an entire page full of 513s, a couple of sellers describe the pen as rare!

This example is English. Canadian 513s are near-identical. The US Stalwart seems to be the same pen. There is another US pen, the 513J, which has a different clip and tassie and may be earlier. I have seen a variety of nibs in these pens. Some of this may be from the factory using up stock, but others, like this one, have a replacement. This nib is a W3, the later type, and must therefore be a replacement.

With its gold plating and variety of patterns, the 513, like most post-war Watermans, makes a fine collector’s pen. It also makes an excellent writer. Waterman nibs are invariably good, whether flexible or firm and the pen is a decent size and sits well in the hand.