Which Conway Stewart?

This is an old Conway Stewart and a good ‘un, part of my own collection of very good writers. A very sculptural section there!

A pen bearing this number was available from very early in the company’s production and changed a little over the years. This is the early thirties version. Conway Stewarts got more colourful after this but I don’t think they got better. This is a splendid pen.

It once had quite deep chasing but it has gone almost entirely from the barrel and is shallow on the cap. That’s hard rubber, as I said my last post.

Beautiful knurling on the top of the cap. The only pen I have with better knurling is my Ford. But anyway, what number Conway Stewart is this? If the correct answer comes from the UK I’ll send you a good (but not expensive) modern pen. If the correct guess comes from overseas you’ll have my profound gratitude and admiration for your knowledge of British pens (it’s the cost of the shipping)

Hard Rubber

Ebonite, hard rubber, whatever you want to call it, was the first material used for fountain pens. It is light and warm to the touch making it comfortable in the hand. Though none of the larger modern companies use hard rubber much if at all, Indian manufacturers use it creatively.

It is said by some that the main reason celluloid became so popular is because hard rubber is brittle. I don’t find that to be true. Red hard rubber and the various varieties of mottled hard rubber are more brittle than black hard rubber, but I’m not sure that any of them are more brittle than celluloid itself. Where the material is thin, as in the cap lip, hard rubber, celluloid or the plastic that Aerometric Parker Duofolds were made from, all have a tendency to crack. Those pens that have a tendency to mysteriously crack in thicker, unstressed areas are often celluloid.

No, I think the real reason celluloid caught on right away was because it could be made in so many colours, and with such depth of colour. Though some highly decorative pens were made in hard rubber like the Wahl Eversharp wood grains and the various Waterman ripples, there was a limit to the colours and patterns that could be produced. They tended to lose their shine quickly, and with the shine went the little depth they had once had. Celluloid is harder and retains its shine well. Chasing in celluloid does not wear as quickly as it does in hard rubber.

All the major companies made pens in black hard rubber and all faded quite quickly. The mystery is that there is a group of 1920s British pens in black hard rubber that never fade. Was there a cheaper version of black hard rubber that only incidentally had the property of holding its colour and shine which only became clear years later?

In the US Waterman and Wahl Eversharp persisted with hard rubber long after Parker and Sheaffer moved to celluloid, but eventually even they made the switch. There was a period when no gold-nib pen maker used hard rubber. Celluloid, casein and some other, less definable plastics ruled the roost. During World War Two, Mabie Todd returned to black hard rubber. No one knows why. Did they have unused stocks of the material that reduced manufacturing costs? It was clearly the case that the colour black was very popular in 40s and 50s Britain, and perhaps that made the return to black hard rubber easier. In any case, many pens were made of that material and those that have not faded too much are handsome and comfortable pens.

A Big Swan

The predecessor of this pen was the flat-topped wartime 2060. The change to a torpedo shape is purely aesthetic – same huge nib, same innards. Indeed, if this pen had a number it would also be 2060. The number guy was off work that day. He’d been off quite a lot. Hangovers. His superiors were keeping an eye on the situation.

It really is all about appearance. Both pens feel similar in the hand. They’re big with a lot of girth, very comfortable to use.

This was a bank manager’s pen. Not only did he refuse your loan application, he sneered at your little pen while doing so. They’re all small compared with this one. Unless you were the rare person that came in with the Swan with the No 8 nib. In which case he would definitely be intimidated into granting your loan.

Bad Sellers

Many of my pens come from eBay. It’s a good source and many of its former faults have been addressed. The one remaining fault, from my point of view, is not one that they can easily resolve: the bad seller. By that I don’t mean the seller with lots of negatives. They can be avoided. What annoys me is the sneaky seller who tries to sell broken pens.

Nearly half of the pens I bought last week have to be returned. One pen had an obvious, large, L-shaped crack in a black hard rubber cap lip. Not repairable. Not mentioned in the description nor shown in the photos. Then there was a group of two Swans from the same seller. The same type of cap crack in one and a cracked nib in the other. These were not hairlines or things you could miss. Strangely, neither damage was photographed though there was a photo of the good nib in the pen with the lip crack. That’s all the evidence I need that the seller knew about the damage but somehow hoped I would accept the pens!

Why do they send out such awful pens? They must know no one will accept these scrap pens. By time they get their pens back they have lost money, having had to pay return postage. Serve them right!

What can be done about it? I don’t have any answers. I could give them a negative but the transaction disappears as soon as a return is accepted. Probably there’s a way of hunting that down but that would be even more of my scarce time wasted. I could name and shame here and elsewhere but that wouldn’t be right, too excessive. I suppose all I can do is streamline my returns routine.

There is another associated problem. eBay has brought out its own delivery and return system, called Collect Plus. No one here accepts packages for that system. The nearest shop that does is 23 miles away. A 46 mile round trip for returns is out of the question.

Why is eBay bringing out this delivery system when it has not been properly put in place? Of course I know the answer – it is more money for them and less for poor old Royal Mail. It will doubtless be cheaper so sellers are buying into it. How long can our universal mail system last in the face of such competition?

The main problem for me is the time that it wastes. I already work longer every day than I ever did as an employee. These bad sellers are time robbers.

Fyne Poynt Pencil

I love mechanical pencils of all kinds, but especially Mabie Todd Fyne Poynts. It’s sad, but mechanical pencils don’t sell well; they’re an even more niche interest than fountain pens.

I love the variety of vintage pencils. There are ones to suit every pocket and taste, from the cheap ones that resemble wooden pencils but aren’t, all the way to very opulent pencils like this one.

This pencil was made throughout the 1920s. It’s intended for a watch chain or chatelaine, neither of which are in fashion now. I like the security of the stirrup fixing. The mechanism is the Mabie Todd propel/repel type that remained unchanged as long as these pencils were made. Why change what works so well?

This gold-filled pencil has the same sparkly pattern as the immaculate pen and pencil set that I wrote about recently. Almost a century old, this pencil shows hardly any wear.

Coming back to their comparative unpopularity, I do understand it, to some extent. Repairs, where they’re needed, are harder than in fountain pens in my opinion. At their best, they lay down an unchanging grey line. Many people are attracted to fountain pens by the endless variety of inks available. There are coloured leads that can be used in old mechanical pencils if you can find the right size, but it isn’t really comparable.

If you love mechanical pencils as I do, you do so on their own unique terms. You love their variety and ingenuity, their quality and their endurance. The term ‘small objects of desire’ applies very well here.

Rambling

I think I may have used this title a few times before. I always have several pens in use at any one time. Right now I have my Swan 1060 with blue-black, my Swan SF230/61 filled with a brown ink (not sure which one!) and a cheap Jinhao filled with Noodlers Black Swan in Australian Roses. With regard to the latter: I’m not usually fond of red inks but this one gets me.

My Platinum 3776 is in the wrap along with a good Chinese pen called The Crocodile. It’s heavier than my Swans, though not too heavy. Also, there’s a slim 80s Pilot with an EF nib. All of those have one blue-black or another.

Sometimes a pen will run out in the middle of an article or letter. I grab the next pen and for a paragraph or two my writing is absolutely awful. Then it improves and soon it’s back to normal. It’s not the fault of the pen. It’s just my hand adjusting to a different pen.

Each pen lays down ink in its own way. You may think you are in control of the pen but it forces you to grip it in a certain way, angle it to suit the grind of the tip and so on. There are pens that make my writing the best it can be and others I can’t write with at all.

Though there are exceptions, most Conway Stewarts don’t suit my hand. I have one, an 85, that I will always keep because it was a gift from a dear friend. I did some work on it, changed the tip until I was more comfortable with it and I can use it now.

I spend a lot of time either at the computer desk or the workbench. I feel the need to get away from that rather formal way of working, and I do my drafts for these articles and any other written work with a notebook on my knee. The angle seems to suit me better than writing at a desk like I was still in school. For that I need hard-cover, spiral-back A5 plain notebooks. Tiger notebooks are perfect. I always have several in stock. I hope Amazon doesn’t stop supplying them as they do with so many things!

Latest Uploads to Sales Site

A Short Story:
It was a dark, chilly Highland evening.  The tiny Conway Stewart Dinkie felt alone, so alone, floating in a sea of Swans.  A Blackbird looked down sympathetically but had no chirps of comfort.  Then the Dinkie felt slight movement nearby!  Nestled beside it in the colourfully decorative Conway Stewart box was a wee pencil, a lovely match, ready to share the Dinkie’s fate.  It gleamed as brightly as the Dinkie when the box was opened, and together they felt brave and beautiful.
They wait in silence together. 

Will you give this short story a happily-ever-after?

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Which British Vintage Pen?

I was asked recently what British pen I would suggest to someone new to vintage who wanted an everyday writer. The first consideration would be nib type: flex or firm, fine, medium or broad, stub or oblique.

If the answer is firm medium the field is wide open and choice would be down to aesthetics and which pen suits your hand. There are some great Parkers, Summits and Mentmores that would fit the bill.

If you need something less common – right oblique, say, or flexible needlepoint it may take a little time to find the pen of your choice but when you do it will almost certainly be a Swan, though Parkers can surprise you, not usually for flexibility but for stubs and obliques.

Maybe your pen has to be colourful. That suggests Conway Stewarts and Burnhams. There are some nicely-patterned Swans too, and to bring in a surprise name, Platignum brought out some amazing patterns in the 1930s if you don’t mind steel nibs. You’d also want one that didn’t have loose cap rings and they’re harder to find.

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the desired pen is a semiflex medium and you would like some colour but you don’t want to spend too much on it, I would suggest a Dickinson’s Croxley in one of their various marbled patterns. Sound, under-appreciated pens with very good nibs.

If you want a firm medium stub we can look among the various Parkers. The English 51s are not infrequently stubs. They’re not to my taste but that’s not the issue here.

If the pen of your dreams is a fine flexible – with a lot of flex, that is – it will be found among the early Swans right up to the 1930s, eyedropper, lever or Leverless, plain or patterned. Later ones do exist but are much less common.

This could go on forever but these are a few suggestions that might open the door to British vintage pens. If you want a more specific answer, email me. To head my critics off at the pass, these suggestions are not exclusive. For instance, one of the most flexible pens I’ve had was a Wyvern but that was also the only flexible Wyvern I’ve ever had. Conway Stewart oblique stubs do exist, and very good they are, but they’re not common.

Sales Site Re-Opened!

After much consideration I have re-opened my sales website at last.  Given the rise of Covid my timing may not be great but the closure has caused much confusion for customers and potential customers. It also makes life easier for me to re-open as the site does much of the administration automatically.

A word of caution, though. Some locations still have uncertain delivery. All UK addresses are fine, as is Western Europe. Delivery times to the USA have been variable but the pens have always got there. The same is true of Israel. Delivery to the Antipodes has been extremely slow and tracking has ceased to work when the package left the UK. Some Eastern European and Far Eastern locations appear to continue to have difficulties in delivery.

If you want to order a pen, ensure first that international delivery to your area can be relied upon. I’m looking forward to “business as usual”!

A Mabie Todd Pen & Pencil Set

There will be quite a few photos in this article! In general, at first glance, this appears to be a Swan pen & pencil set. That’s what the box indicates and the nib is a Swan No 1.

The style and appearance would suggest that this is a late set, made sometime in the nineteen-fifties. The box, with its truncated triangle shape and imitation crocodile finish, is unusual and attractive.

Let’s have a closer look. The barrel imprint is “Blackbird Self-Filling Pen” and there is a Blackbird image on the clip of the rolled gold cap.

Fyne Poynt pencils were made to be sold by themselves as well as being paired with Blackbird or Swan sets, so it gives us no clue as to which this is.

To summarise, we have a Blackbird pen with a Swan nib in a Swan box. Though it is quite possible that this collection of disparate parts was assembled recently, we know from other pens and sets that in the company’s declining years Mabie Todd – or rather Biro Swan Ltd – cobbled together whatever happened to be in stock.

That’s what this is, I would say, but it is also a very attractive set, in this bright red that was last used in the thirties, matched beautifully with the rolled gold furniture and cap. Is it a Swan Set or a Blackbird set? Who cares! It’s just a beautiful set in its own right.