Posted in Restoration

Mabie Todd Swan Leverless

Company Back Story

Mabie Todd is one of the longest-lived manufacturers of writing instruments. Tracing its roots via gold nib and pencil manufacture to the 1840s. The company proper was established in 1860 in New York City. Swan pens were introduced in 1887, with UK production beginning in 1905.

Mabie Todd became a wholly-owned British company in 1915, with US manufacturing continuing until the late 1930s. Mabie Todd and the Swan were successful, known internationally as “the pen of the British Empire.” Although the company initially prospered in the postwar period, production ceased before the end of the ’50s.

Leverless

The Swan Leverless model featured a unique filling system, patented in 1932. It appears the pen is a piston filler or has a blind cap at the aft end of the barrel. Nope. Rotating the end cap one-half of a turn causes a metal bar to sweep the interior of the barrel. In doing so it compresses the ink sac. Rotate the cap back into position and allows the ink sac to expand again, filling with ink. A breather hole in the barrel facilitates air ventilation into the pen’s body as the ink sac is depressed.

Mabie Todd Swan Leverless sweep bar. The screw extends through the end of the barrel and the cap attaches to it.

Interestingly, the ink sac needs to completely fill the inside of the barrel. The use of an undersized sac will negate the sweeping action and the sac will not fill with ink.

Replace the sac

The section fits into the barrel via a friction fit. What makes the sac replacement of the leverless system unique is the need to remove the nib and feed from the section. Reinstall the section and set (fulling expand) the sac within the barrel by inserting a chopstick or similar item via the hole in the section. Only then are the nib and feed installed.

My Pen

I believe this pen to be an early version as it has a flat top and a Swan ‘medallion’ set into the cap. The pen is most likely ebonite, as determined by the smell – of old tires

My Swan appears to be a model L470/60, though there are no numbers on the pen. The pen is finished in black with a gold cap clip and gold cap ring. The barrel imprints are clear and sharp. This model and trademark logo date the pen to around 1934.

The nib is a Swan 3 while the feed has “Swan M2” stamped on it, and “Swan” stamped on the section. There are no other markings on the pen.

The top of the cap has the gold swan ‘medallion’ embedded in the blind cap and the Swan symbol stamped on the clip.

I did not notice any brassing on the clip or the cap ring.

I inked up the pen and gave it a go. The nib has a lot of flexibility but it is a fine nib (not a fave). The ink unfortunately, writes very wet. Combined with a flexible nib and cheap paper – the result it is not an impressive. I cannot blame the pen.

The ink is Scribo Grigio

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 127mm
  • Uncapped length. 116mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 13mm
  • Weighs in at 17g

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Posted in Stories

The Pens of Madman

I’m a big fan of the AMC TV series Madmen. For those of you not familiar with the show the phrase “Madmen” is a slang term coined in the 1950s by advertisers working on Madison Avenue to refer to themselves. The series is a drama about one of New York’s most prestigious ad agencies during the 1960s. It follows the firm’s talented ad executive, Donald Draper. The series ran from July 2007 to May 17, 2017. The show won 79 awards during its run, including 16 Emmys, 5 Golden Globe, 3 Best TV Series, and 14 Writes/Directors/Producers/Screen Actors Guild awards.

Why am I blogging about a TV show that has been out of production for 5 years? Welp, the show is renowned for its attention to period detail, and that detail included a variety of era-specific pens. The 5-year anniversary of the series finale episode was last Tuesday (17 May). Lacking a show worthy of my attention I recently binged the series – again – but this time I tried (mostly failing) to pay attention to the pens used in the show.

Scott Buckwald (Prop master): Well, pencils are pencils. There’s no change in the pencils, and a lot of offices were using ballpoint pens. Fountain pens had largely disappeared. Certainly for formal use, the fountain pen was still there, but not as an everyday office tool.

I began by researching the desk pen sets used as props in the show. Research turned up a variety of topics/discussions on the FPN, on Hollywood prop auctions, on Reddit, and on Pinterest but no definitive information as to the brands. Some think the pen set seen on Don Draper’s desk is a Cross, while others say it is Sheaffer and yet another believes it is a “Hero Dual” set making it a Papermate. I have no idea what brand(s) were used.

The show needed period-specific pens appropriate for secretarial use in the 60s. The prop master found a pen collector in Texas; George Fox a pen enthusiast without equal, has amassed a collection in excess of 2,000 pens. Some of which you can see in action throughout the series.

Photo credit; My Supplyroom by George Fox

Period Specific Prop Pens:

The show uses period-specific ballpoint pens by Sheaffer, Papermate, Scripto, Bic Cristal, Parker Touché, and Jotter. Fox said the Scripto was difficult to work with since it was cheap, and the refills are nonstandard, making them difficult to find.

Here, Don Draper is seen using a Parker 51. I considered and eliminated the Parker 61, Parker 21, and Parker 45. Eliminating the “21” was easy, production ceased in 1959, and what successful advertising agent would be caught dead using a high-end school pen.

I’m really going out on the limb but I believe Bertram Cooper is seen using a Montblanc Meisterstück 642.

The pen Cooper is using has the tell-tail Montblanc black barrel with a single gold ring at the section and at the aft end. I feel it looks more like an MB Meisterstück Solitaire Doué, but that model was not marketed until 1986.

Joan’s favorite piece of jewelry is undoubtedly her pen necklace. The necklace can be interpreted to represent her humble roots in the secretarial pool, or her ambition, her desire to be financially independent.

There is no prop more identified with the show than Joan Harris/Holloway’s signature gold pen necklace. I could not find the name of the actual pen used in her wardrobe. Even the costume designer does not say, but I did learn that after the series finale … as the actress was packing her things, the pen necklace went home with her.

Posted in Pens, Reviews, Stories

Esterbrook M2 Aerometric Pen

Company Back Story

Esterbrook introduced their first aerometric filler in the late 1950’s calling it the M2. The pen sported a metallic cap and plastic barrel in a period favorite color. The plastic used is soft compared to other pens, or but typical of late Esterbrook manufacture. M2’s are easily recognizable by their indented cap and plastic threads.

Esterbrook marketed for a limited time, a contemporary version of the M2. The new M2 Series incorporated the design of the original model with subtle modern details. The contemporary M2 Series is made from a special resin material developed to authenticate the feel and colors of the 1950’s. Each pen features a brushed metal cap and a specially design clip. The barrel has been etched and colored with an updated Esterbrook logo. Photo Credit: Fahrney’s Pens

My Pen

This M2 is in great shape, no scratches, no teeth marks. I even like the color of blue, seems very 1950’s to me. The pen has an aerometric filler. Admittedly, this is my first pen with an aerometric filler.

M2 Aerometric Filler

The plastic of the barrel and section “feels” odd to me if that makes sense. It’s doesn’t have a hard feeling like celluloid or acrylic, nor is it soft, it simply feels like plastic. The section is made of the same plastic as are the cap threads. The plastic threads are a concern. I imagine with some less meticulously maintain pens the cap threads are stripped.

The metallic cap has horizontal etched rings. Esterbrook is engraved on the cap band, M2 models are easy to spot because of the unique top of the cap – it dips in.

The aft end of the barrel is an air hole but honestly I spent a week looking at other examples under the assumption there was a jewel from the end, but noooooo.

The pen writes nicely, here I was using an Esterbrook 2668 Firm Medium nib. In my hand, the weight and size of the pen are most agreeable. I don’t post the cap. The ink is De Atramentis Black Red.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed using the pen. It feels comfortable when in hand. The Aerometric filler works well. The feel of the plastic is not something I’m familiar with and the air hole in the end is well ugly and cheap looking.

Overall, I am happy with the pen. It makes a nice vintage everyday pen with a 1950’s nostalgic look.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 134mm
  • Uncapped length. 124mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 12mm
  • Weighs in at 18g
  • Esterbrook.Net; M2
Posted in Ink, Pens, Stories

The Airplanes go up, and down, and all around with me and my pen aboard

Atmospheric pressure is assumed to be a constant everywhere, but it isn’t. The constant flow of air around the planet brings with its fluctuations in the local air pressure. Normally not an issue for fountain pen users. Altitude also impacts air pressure and does spell troubles for fountain pen users. Why you ask, the sudden drop of pressure outside the pen can lead to a lot of ink being forced out of the pen by a trapped bubble of high-pressure air from a lower altitude.

Do not, become complacent in the belief that modern pressurized aircraft will eliminate the issue unless you are flying out of the lofty airports in these cities: Shennongjia, China; Toluca, Mexico; Arequipa, Peru; Bogota, Columbia, and Cuenca, Ecuador – all located 8,000 feet above sea level (roughly 2,500 meters), or about 75% of the pressure at sea level.

Have you ever opened a bottle of water in mid-flight seal it then looked at it once the plane lands?

Three Options

  • The single best way to avoid ink leakage on a plane is to travel with your fountain pens empty. No ink, no leak.
  • The second best way to avoid problems is to travel with the pen nib pointing up, as cabin pressure changes shouldn’t result in the pen leaking. But if the nib is pointing down or horizontally, it will most assuredly result in some ink leakage.
  • There are those who subscribe to the idea of traveling with an inked fountain pen and keeping it filled with as much ink as possible. The less air there is in the ink reservoir, the less room for an air bubble and the less likely it will leak.

Using the pen in Flight

Using a fountain pen in flight? Yes, once the plane is at cruising altitude it is safe to take the pen out and begin writing. A little care is prudent. Some caps seal extremely well, and pressure equalization within the pen won’t happen until the pen is uncapping. It is best to hold the pen, and nib up, when removing the cap. Also, have a cloth or tissue handy just in case there is a splatter from ink trapped in the feed.

Bottom Line

I do not subscribe to flying with a pen completely full of ink, as it is nearly impossible to achieve. But a little bit of planning will reap benefits and prevent embarrassment.

  • When traveling with fountain pens in a briefcase or backpack, empty them.
  • If a fountain pen is riding in a pocket, as full as possible is preferable, there will be no space to trap air in the reservoir. It is important to keep the nib pointing up to prevent issues.

If vintage fountain pens are your thing and they are accompanying you on the flight, Sheaffer Snorkels, and Parker “51”s, they are less likely to cause issues but they are still subject to leaking. Generally speaking, contemporary pens seem to travel more reliably.

In conclusion, keep fountain pens as full as possible, or completely dry when flying. Give them at least half a chance to not let you down.

Do you fly with fountain pens? What are your experiences?

Posted in Pens, Stories

Happy Nurse’s Day – Pen Sets

At the end of the 19th century, “The Lady With the Lamp” — or as she is more widely known, Florence Nightingale — founded modern nursing. Each year, in recognition of the importance nurses, play in our lives, a week is dedicated to all things nursing beginning on “Nurse’s Day” and ending on May 12th, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. I’m highlighting specialty pens used by nurses before the digital age.

“Nurse’s Pens” are a genre of fountain pens that were marketed to nurses throughout the 1940’s and 50’s, mainly by Waterman and Esterbrook. Scheaffer also had a minor role in the nurse pen market.

Why did nurses need a specialized fountain pen? Because hospital medical charts were written by hand in different colored inks designating the shift. These pens came with different colored top jewels, in black, green, and red – representing all three common nursing shifts at the time: 7am to 3pm (BLACK ink), 3-11pm (GREEN ink), 11pm-7am (RED ink).

Waterman’s made different varieties of nurse’s pens, their standard set came in “lustrous satin Pearl of white.” They offered the most diverse options, including sets with one pen and a pencil, sets with two pens for two different colors of inks, and sets with a pen case that included a thermometer inside!

Esterbrook manufactured a series of small, white Nurse’s Pens based on their J-Series. Their pens had colored cap jewels, in the familiar black, green, and red to coordinate with the nurse’s work shifts, The green jeweled pens are the least common, while black jeweled pens are the most common.

My Esterbrook Nurse’s Pen Set

I picked up an Esterbrook Nurse Pen set (a pen and pencil) which clearly involved a mix and matching of various pens. The cap of the pen matches the pencil while the barrel is noticeably more white, but that’s ok. I haven’t begun their restoration. It doesn’t appear much is needed. The pencil works, and I believe a new sac is installed. We shall see.

I imagine different pens for different work shifts seem archaic, but how can we appreciate where we are today if we don’t know where we’ve been. At one time, the pen was a necessary nursing tool and the color of ink on the paper patient chart could be vitally important with respect to patient diagnosis and care.

Let’s add some perspective, in 1946, a Register Nurse could expect to earn $170-$175 per month and pay $8.50 for a Waterman Nurse pen set (5% of her monthly salary). That same pen today would set a nurse back $130, which is way more than the cost of a decent stethoscope.

Pen Vital Statistics

  • Capped length. 121mm
  • Uncapped length. 110mm
  • Barrel diameter 11mm
  • Cap diameter 12mm
  • Weighs in at 12g
Posted in Nibs, Pens

Storing Your Pen Up/Down or Somewhere Between

A topic near and dear to my heart. Mostly I think it is because I use vintage pens and some are in need of heat setting their feeds. My problems started last summer when my vintage Esterbrook and Duofold pens both decided to leak excessively into their caps – within days of each other. I assumed it was weather-related as I live at 7,000 ft (2,100 m) and life is a little different up here, like breathing. As such, I am always playing with how best to lay my pens overnight.

Let’s start with non-fountain pens.

  • Felt tip pens like whiteboard markers, Sharpies, and highlighters are best stored with the tip down so the felt does not dry out.
  • Rollerballs and ballpoints should be stored upright so they don’t leak or get gummy at the point. BIC Cristal pens are the exception, they are indestructible. As a young person mine never had a cap and was always stored point down in my pants pocket. I never had a problem.
  • Gel pens seem to be okay stored either up or down.

As a general rule, never leave a pen tip exposed. Always put the cap on, it doesn’t matter if it is a felt tip, rollerball/ballpoint, or a fountain. Oh yeah if it is a click pen, click it. This helps keep air away from the ink, slowing how fast it dries out. Also, if in doubt, lay the pen horizontal is best. The ink will be evenly distributed in the pen, which should help it return to action more quickly.

Fountain Pens

I normally, leave my vintage pens overnight at a 45-degree upward angle, while the contemporary fountain pens lay horizontally. If an inked vintage pen is going to sit for any length of time I store it straight up. Yes, a nib pointing up will dry out faster because the ink flows back into the cartridge/converter/section, but this works best for me.

Based on what I’ve read, inked fountain pens should be stored horizontal overnight to keep the ink in contact with the feed. This prevents the ink from leaking into the cap while simultaneously keeping the nib wet enough to write when needed. There is a valid argument to be made, that an inked pen should be stored upright to prevent clogging and leakage. I believe if the pen contains quality ink and is used regularly there is no need to worry about clogging and leakage.

If you store a fountain pen with the nib facing down, gravity and capillary action may pull the ink to the nib and feed resulting in a clog or leak.

If your pen will remain inactive for a long period of time, make sure to remove the ink from the pen. It will prevent clogs and dried ink in a fountain pen from creating many problems. Of course, cleaning the nib of ink is vital before storing the fountain pens. And, if the pen is emptied, you can store it with the nib facing any direction.

Posted in Pens, Stories

It’s a new month, what’s in your pen cup?

April showers bring May flowers, no showers here. I started April by inking up a Waterman Hemisphere with Diamine Aurora Borealis ink. The pen performed great but I wasn’t impressed with the ink. And the Pilot Prera with the medium calligraphy nib is still inked up and in service.

In mid-April, I acquired an Osmiroid nib that fits vintage Esterbrook pens. Suffering from BSO (bright shiny objects) syndrome, I immediately fitted a J series and inked it up. The nib is an Italic Broad Straight nib – does this sound like an oxymoron or what?

For the new month, I pulled out my Shaeffer Taranis, sporting a medium nib. The Taranis is inked up with the De Atramentis, Document Fog Grey.

In case you missed any of these last month…

  • Safety Caps and Pens. The phrase”safety” means the pen has options ensuring safety with respect to ink loss. Waterman, Moore, Parker, and Mabie Todd (Swan) pioneered something we take for granted today.
  • The Fountain Pen Mystery Theatre Presents, Mystery Behind the Blue Diamond. Welcome to the Fountain Pen Mystery Theatre, where “it may be said with a degree of assurance that not everything that meets the eye is as it appears.” In this episode, our hero unravels the mystery behind a Parker “51,” where there are more so-called “first-year” pens than Parker ever made.
  • Pen Nibs, More than Just A Type, its Geometry. If you know anything about fountain pens you know they write in a variety of fashions. Some have firm nibs, while others have flexible nibs. This is normally attributed to the nib material and the width of the tip. There are additional factors, time to grab a pen and your high school geometry books.
  • Heat Setting an Ebonite Feed Without Burning Down the House. Heat setting an ebonite feed is a topic of much conjecture, often viewed as some deep dark secret shrouded in mystery. There is a solution so simply the only required skill is knowing how to boil water.
  • Gold Starry, More Than A Ladies Pen. I present a small mottled ebonite lever-filler with a gold loop to attach the pen to a chain and worn around the neck. As with my other 2 Gold Starry’s, there were surprises, some good, some not so good, let’s see what is awaiting me.

Two questions, are you enjoying the new background paper? I’ve used many of the new sheets in the April posts and what’s in your pen cup?