Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

Mabie Todd Swan #42 – a Frankenpen?

Company Back Story

Mabie Todd was a firm whose partners’ involvement in gold nib and pencil manufacture dated back to the 1840s. Mabie Todd itself was established in 1860 in New York City as Mabie Todd & Co. then later as Mabie Todd and Bard in 1873. Production began in London in 1905.

The UK operation was so successful it ultimately bought out the US operation in 1915, thence Mabie Todd became a wholly owned British company, thriving thanks to British preferences for conservative design and reliability. Manufacture continued in the US until the late 1930s. The British Mabie Todd was very prosperous, widely known as “the pen of the British Empire.” Both their headquarters and manufacturing plant in London were destroyed in air raids during the war. Reestablished outside of London, the company initially prospered in the post war years; however, production ceased before the end of the ’50s — another casualty of the ballpoint era.

a Swan #42

I purchased this pen from a seller in the UK with an office in Springe, Germany but like the many oddities you will soon learn of, this pen shipped from Athens, Greece. Keep in mind, this is a Mabie Todd of New York. I would expect to find a Mabie Todd of London in Europe.

The Research

From the FPN forums I found out that the #42 is Swan nomenclature for their standard lever (“self”) fillers – “4” is for a full length pen and “2” is nib size. In the early 20’s, they marked the butt end of the barrel for nib size only – towards the mid 20’s, they added markings for length.

In 1926/27, they came out with a line of celluloids that indicated the color using a double digit number scheme. On the eternals (a very stiff nib that allowed writing on carbon paper), you would see “ETN” underneath. In the 30’s, they dropped the color coding on the American pens, returning to barrel length/nib size numbering. So we can reasonably guess that this pen dates to 1921-25.

Mabie Todd NY Swan #42 pen

The “screw cap” marking and directional arrow is an early feature during the transition from slip caps to screw on “safety” caps.” This happened circa 1920, the vintage fountain pen equivalent to “caution, contents hot” warning. Prior to safety cap pens, the cap was push on and held in place by friction.

They were called “Safety Caps” because the inner cap met the lip of the flared section forming a seal thus preventing leakage. Most contemporary pens have this feature and I bet you never gave it a second thought.

A Frankenpen?

Yes Frankenpen – a euphemism for any pen made from parts of other pens. Adding the cap into the equation introduces a new complication, the 1921 Mabie Todd catalog doesn’t support this pen’s configuration. In the catalog, a clipless pen with a wide cap band and a #2 nib is code 162. While a pen with a clip and no cap band is assigned code 42, could this cap be from a different pen or does this pen date prior to 1921 (highly unlikely) or is it closer to 1925. Keep in mind the codes in the printed catalog and on the actual pens don’t agree, the pens only have a 2 digit code, while the catalog has a 3 digit code. The code in the catalog was there to make it easier for the shop owner to order pens.

Alternatively, a Mabie Todd enthusiast created a list of all the British pens he found online. Which used a slightly different numbering nomenclature. Nearly all “4” series pens were accompanied by a wide band cap. He points out the list is for guidance as there are “MANY ANOMALIES IN THE PRODUCTION OF SWAN MABIE TODD PENS.”

Mabie Todd switched to a “ladder” feed in 1912. The ladder feed on my pen has more notches, and it is missing the trademark “Swan” imprint thus it is assumed to be newer feed. It also has fissure channels similar to a Waterman. I consulted with an enthusiast who favors British Mabie Todd pens and who has been restoring pens for years. She confirmed it should have ink fissures in the feed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s