Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

The Lady Sheaffer “writes like a dream…refills like her lipstick”

The Back Story

“Extensive research” was conducted by Sheaffer to determine if there was a market for a pen designed exclusively for women.

Results showed that women generally considered pens made for them were nothing more than scaled down reproductions of men’s writing instruments while their fashion interests were centered in fabrics, costume jewelry and accessories. The results was a new line of cartridge pens named ‘The Lady Sheaffer’ developed to include all these features. The Lady Sheaffer Skripsert fountain pen debuts in April 1958, offering 19 models with patterns inspired by fine fabrics, like tweed, corduroy, paisley and tulle.

The Lady Sheaffer Skripsert VI is a periwinkle colored enamel over metal, with a gold basketweave that gives the pen a textured finish. The pattern was officially called “Paisley,” and fitted with a stainless steel Triumph wrap around nib. Unfortunately, the periwinkle enamel was prone to flaking off.

My Pen

Lady Sheaffer Skripsert VI

When I got my pen it was dirty and there was a big “stain” on the cap. I planned on cleaning it up but it got lost in the shuffle and my enthusiasm for it faded. After evaluating the direction my pen collection was headed I decide to sell off some pens and this one wasn’t making the grade, but it needed to be cleaned. I set about cleaning it and what a difference that made. The color became so vivid, I had a change of heart.

With the change of heart came a renewed interest in removing the “stain” on the pen cap. Assuming it was oil based, I washed the cap with Dawn dish soap which made the cap really shine but did not remove the stain. Next, I used the nylon circular brushes and the dental picks. This made some progress. Then I got the bright idea to let the cap soak over night in water. That morning I went over the stain again with the brush and removed the periwinkle enamel. F@&#.

It gets better, I’m not done. Since the Dawn soap did such a great job on the cap I used it on the barrel. A metal object covered in soap can be slippery when wet. It didn’t drop far but it landed nib first. F@&#, F@&#, F@&#. The damage isn’t too bad, but the nib is a Triumph circular nib and well ya need a special tool to remove it. OMG I was ready to scream. Doing the best I could with a 1.3 mm dapping punch tool, I managed to remove the majority of the damage.

As this is a cartridge only pen, I dipped the nib in some ink and gave it a go. Damn it looks good and I am impressed with how well it writes. Definitely keeping this pen. The question is can I save it from me?

Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

Conklin Crescent Filler

Company Back Story:

Roy Conklin’s patented the design for the first self-filling fountain pen in 1897, followed shortly by the distinctive crescent-filler pen. This model is renowned for being the first mass-produced self-filling pen as well as the first mass-produced pen to use a flexible rubber ink sac. Patents for the pen were granted in 1901 and 1903. Production continued until circa 1930 when the landmark design was retired in favor of a lever-filler design. Author Mark Twain was so impressed with the crescent-filler he became the official spokesperson for the Conklin brand.

Early pens dating to 1907 have unmarked crescents while pens made up to 1920 have the crescents marked “CRESCENT-FILLER/TRADE MARK” on one side only, finally pens dating from the 1920s have crescents marked on both sides.

My Pen:

I have been trying to include vintage pens in my collection that made a significant impact in the world of writing instruments. I’ve been looking for a Conklin Crescent pen and stumbled upon one that looked promising plus the seller is in NOVA (Northern VA). I knew going into this the pen wasn’t in the best of shape but I felt it was better than many I’ve seen, and it dates to the 1920’s.

Let’s start with the general appearance, the lock ring that prevents the crescent from being depressed is miscolored and broken – its supposed to wrap around nearly 90% of the barrel but it doesn’t, a piece is broken off. It is black hard rubber as is the barrel and cap but only the ring it is showing signs of sun/water damage. A clear indicator it is from a different pen thus during the process of removing it from that pen it was broken.

Notice the discoloration of the lock ring

Next obvious issue is found on the pen cap, this pen has some off brand clip, not unheard of but it was hiding the hole where the original clip was originally attached to the cap. Then there is the 2 cm long hairline crack from the lip of the cap. Funny the seller did not mention any of these issues and the “for sale” photos strategically avoided the obvious.

At this point the curiosity on how the crescent worked got the better of me, so I started taking the pen apart. The section unscrews, there is an arrow on it indicating which direction it should be turned. The section also showed signs of being mistreated by pliers or a section puller. The nib and feed came out after applying heat. The feed looks to be in pretty bad shape, the nib a Warranted 14K #4 appears to need a little straightening.

The crescent lock ring popped right off and the crescent dropped into the barrel. The crescent is interesting, it is attached to a long pressure bar and is held in place by the ink sac opposed to a “J” shaped pressure bar. How does it work you ask, the lock ring prevents the crescent from depressing, when the ring is rotated to the unlocked position the crescent can be depressed, thus compressing the ink sac. Let go of the crescent, the sac expands, drawing in ink and returns the crescent to its normal extended position. Simply rotate the lock ring to secure the crescent and start writing.

Enough with the issues. I proceeded to clean the pen, repaired the damage done to the section, and polished the “brass.” The damage to the section was extensive and required multiple passes with sandpaper. When I was going over the barrel and cap with the Sunshine cloth, a disgusting brown yuck came off but they cleaned up nicely. I removed the cap clip and polished it. Applied a light touch of mineral oil to the barrel and cap. Now it’s time to put it all back together – Tah-Dah!

I’m pretty happy with how well the section cleaned up. It went through 3 sand paper sessions and could really use a fourth session.

I inked it up and thought I’d give it a try and this is what happens when you forget to return the lock ring into position. The smallest amount of pressure on the crescent and the ink flows.

I purchased this Crescent filler from the same seller I purchased the Gold Starry 256. This seller has made it to my “do not buy from” list and wouldn’t you know it, they are the only seller on the list.

Posted in Restoration, Stories

Restoration Tools of the Trade

For the most part, tools needed for vintage pen restoration are found in your home already or at the local Walmart or Dollar Store. There are specialized tools, many pens require them but I try to avoid those pens. I have a couple specialized tools/supplies which I will mention later.

Organization, I got a couple pencil storage boxes from Jerry’s Artarama, one drawer is dedicated to restoration tools and supplies. I removed the existing tray dividers and arranged them to suit my needs. The trays came with the foam backing.

I bought a set of 3 dental picks from American Science & Surplus. They are very handy for scraping sacs out of barrels, cleaning grime out of etched cap bands, opening air holes in the cap, etc. I already had a modeling tool, it reminds me of a wax carving tool, which does a great job getting the really stubborn ink sacs out of barrels.

I also bought a 6 pack of nylon bristle circular brushes also from American Science & Surplus. They come in handy cleaning out barrels, feeds, ink filler levers, cap barrel threads. The forceps I acquired 40 years ago when I built plastic model ships. This is super handy for removing/installing J-bars as is a flashlight. Needle nose pliers are too fat. You know how the dentist offers gifts after a cleaning – yup a free soft bristle toothbrush. Does a great job getting grime around the cap band, cap threads.

When it is time to disassembling the pen I put all the parts into a clear plastic box that latches (got it at Michael’s for 99 cents). Parts get lost easily and accidents happen (remember the flat tire scene from A Christmas Story?). All the parts, including the cap and barrel go into this box for safe keeping.

Not in the drawer is an “xacto” knife, but really any sharp pocket knife will do and an infant aspiration. These I use when the section has been separated from the barrel. I use a hair drier to apply gentle heat which softens the shellac and expands the barrel, some people also use section pullers (spark plug boot pullers). I do not! I’ve seen sections that are scratched and damaged by this tool. The knife has one job, scraping the remains of old ink sacs off the sac peg on the section. This can be complicated when the bits of old sac retain some elasticity and stretch rather than come off. Afterwards, I typically use sand paper to smooth the sac peg and remove any residual debris and correct for any damage done by the knife.

The aspirator is used when the nib and feed are refusing to pull out of the section. I don’t force it, simply use gentle heat and a kitchen bottle opening “gripper” to pull the nib and feed out of the section. Others may use a knock-out block to force the nib and feed. If I can’t remove them by hand then they stay. The aspirator forces water through the feed, removing dried ink and any minute sac pieces.

I use the Sunshine cloth to remove dried ink, grime and stains from the nibs, barrel and cap. The toothbrush and dental picks are great for the stubborn, hard to reach grime. Others make use of an Ultrasonic cleaner to remove the grime. I don’t have one. The Sunshine cloth is also used to remove grime and tarnish from the cap band and fill lever. I will use sandpaper – working from a medium grade (1,000 grit) through ever finer grades (to 7,000 grit) – to remove teeth marks and some scratches. When completed, the entire process “polishes” the pen.

Lastly, it is time to install the new ink sac. My ink sac applicator is the pair of tweezers, with rounded tips. Installation is simple enough, the tweezers are inserted into the new sac and spread so the sac stretches. The sac peg on the section is inserting between the arms of the tweezers and pushed forward, the sac slips over the peg and we are done.

I gave up on a ruler and found a manual Vernier Caliper (batteries not needed) so I could get decent measurements, especially if I needed the inside diameter of barrels. And last but not least, well I use it the least, is the nib block. Also used with this is a set of dapping punch tools.

Parker Specific items

Items of interest I did not mention include a small vise, for those moments when you need to get a grip (no it is not Parker specific). And a specialized vise for removing filling units from Parker Vacumatics. Then of course there is the Parker Repair Manual from “back in the day.”

The repair manual provides useful info and info that should never be followed. For instance using an alcohol lamp to apply heat to a stubborn section.

Posted in Restoration, Stories

Basic Restoration Workflow

My restoration process is essentially the same for every pen; access the pen, disassemble, clean, install a new ink sac and reassemble, yet no two pens are the same.

Gotta begin by examining the pen, determine what it is made of, look for damage, tooth marks, and other potential problems!

As the pen is being disassembled I put all the parts into a clear plastic box that latches, accidents happen and losing parts is avoidable. Plus the box is only 99 cents at Michael’s.

The process starts with the nib and feed. I learned the hard way, that water is bad when the pen is made of hard rubber (ebonite) and you have to be super careful when using heat on resin. Remove the nib and feed, then use a Sunshine cloth to restore an amazing luster.

On to the section, use a dental pick and xacto knife to remove the remains of the old sac. Review the overall condition of the section, if it scratched, dull, discolored? Normally I lightly go over the section with sandpaper. Starting with the 1,000 grit and working to the 7,000 grit at which time the section should be scratch free and shining like new.

Grab the flashlight and shine it down the inside of the barrel – scary isn’t it? The dried up sac may have attached itself to the barrel and the pressure bar, and will need to be scraped out. Dependent on the filler system and mechanism, I often remove the filler lever and the pressure bar. With all the parts out of the barrel it is much easier to scrape any remaining ink sac off the barrel wall. The Sunshine cloth on used on the lever, snap clip and J-bar to remove tarnish, rust, stains and ink.

Unless the barrel is chased, remove scratches and tooth marks with sandpaper. Otherwise a good going over with the Sunshine cloth will remove grime and restore the shine to the barrel. The lever and J-bar get reinstalled at this point.

The pen cap receives the same treatment as the barrel and the Sunshine cloth is used to restore the clip and cap band.

Time to fit a new sac. How do you know which sac to use? The websites below provide a variety of sacs and charts to determine the appropriate sac for your pen. The length of the sac is based on the inside length of the barrel less the portion of the section securing the barrel. Apply shellac to secure the sac to the section, after a day, coat the sac with talc and reassemble the pen.

I do not apply wax to the pens, I apply a light coat of mineral oil to BHR. I probably should add wax to the BHR pens as a protectant whereas celluloid needs to breath and should never be waxed.


Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

Arnold: the Original Disposable Fountain Pen

Company Backstory

Remmie Arnold started his company in 1935, operating out of Petersburg, Virginia after his tenure with the Edison Pen Company. Arnold became one of the largest producers of fountain pens in the world, concentrating on very inexpensive pens sold primarily in low end stores.

Good can be cheap, but Cheap is never good.

How cheap were Arnold pens you may ask? Retailers could buy a gross for $22.50 or 15 cents per pen, reselling them at a 40% profit. Wow, I paid $4 for a pen that originally sold for 21 cents, hmmm…. been had again. Obviously, with such a low price point, these pens were not built to last. The Arnold Pen Company survived through 2005 having switched from fountain pen production to become a ballpoint pen manufacturer.

My Pens

I bought 3 Arnold pens to experiment with, 2 came from a seller in Richmond. Both of those were supposed to be NOS, right out of the box. Yup the pens were never used, which doesn’t mean they aged well – actually they are both butt ugly.

Even ugly pens need love – right, so I set about pulling the green pen apart. The section pulled free of the barrel and lookie there, the original ink sac is still intact and pliable. That is cool, I need to ink it up and see how well it writes. Well maybe later.

Looking at the feed, it has 2 ink channels or fissures as Waterman liked to call them. It is super cheap, the manufacturing process used a 2 sided mold to create the feed. The sides didn’t fit well and the residue plastic was not trimmed off.

Good stuff cheap

I decided to ink up the pen, it took ink without any problems. The lever is super small so it is difficult to maneuver. I have to admit for a 21 cent pen it writes really well and I’m impressed the ink sac holds ink. The sac is probably upwards of 60 years old.

I got out my old Sunshine cloth and went to work on the cap band and clip. I failed to make any progress, so I switched to a new Sunshine cloth and that made a difference on the cap band, the clip improved but not by much. The filling lever is beyond hope. The nickel finish is gone and there are signs on the barrel of discoloration by the threads. The pen has clearly been exposed to the sun in the hot, humid Virginia summers. I am toying with the option of using my DIY nickel electroplating process to restore the missing nickel plating. But that folks is the topic of a future blog post.

Posted in Restoration

My Gold Starry #256 – Are you kidding me?

The Pen

I have been Jonesing for a pen like this – mottled hard rubber, eyedropper filler and retractable. Bonus time, the pen is vintage French and the seller is in NOVA (Northern VA). The offer clearly stated the pen is missing it’s cap, figured I could live with that and hope I may stumble upon a vintage cap. The barrel has an 11mm diameter and measures 103mm in length without a cap and the nib is retracted.

The pen arrived, and I am super excited. The nib extends and retracts, the barrel colors are BEAutiful so I went about examining the nib. I pull out the nib, and immediately notice the feed and nib are held together by some crappy homemade “section.” Hmmmm!

Look at this crap, now I am super annoyed! Breathe, take a deep breath…

Once my blood pressure came down I decided to take the feed and nib out of the faux section. After more grumbling I set about smoothing the section and making it look good. As I have no idea if it will even prevent ink leakage, I thought it might as well look good. Yes I realize the availability of Gold Starry 1920-something pen parts is well non-existent but really this is horrible.

Now that I talked myself off the ledge, again, I went about taking the pen apart – I really wanted to see the inner workings. I began by separating the backend of the pen from the barrel, it unscrews. With a slight pull, out came the retracting mechanism.

The nib is retracted or extended depending on which direction the end-cap is turned. The shaft holding the section has pins which bisect the corkscrew in the channels and extend into groves cut into the inside of the barrel. The turning motion will cause the corkscrew fixture to spin thus the channels will run the pins down the length of the mechanism or return them to the beginning this extracting or retracting the nib.

At this point, I realized that the end-cap which is turned to extend or retract the nib is broken. I was able to pull the entire mechanism out of the pen. The end was clearly broken off. A quick review of the end-cap and one can see the shaft bisecting the end-cap. Thus when the nib is extended, the end-cap is twisted tightly to ensure a snug fit – we don’t want ink leaking out.

I consulted with some Fountain Pen Geeks and they recommend leaving it as is or see if the shaft is long enough to go through the cap again. All agree that glueing the shaft to the cap is a very bad idea.

How is it filled with ink? Well, the nib is retracted into the barrel, then ink is squirted in over the nib filling the barrel. Once the barrel is full the nib is extended. The section “receiver” forms an ink-tight fit around the tapered end of the barrel from when extended. Ink flows into the “receiver” through 2 holes then to the feed and the nib.

The nib is by Georg Peter Rupp, a nib manufacturer from 1920’s to 1970 in Heidelberg, Germany. It is safe to assume this nib is not the original. Can’t guess if it is pre or post war. But the gold color is odd, the nib material should be silver and if you look closely between the “P” and “O” it looks like silver or is that a reflection?

Well look at that, a nice pretty stainless steel nib, not the fake gold platted nib. Funny what a rub down with a Sunshine Cloth will show you.

I was annoyed earlier, now I am mad.

Posted in Pens, Restoration, Stories

Gold Starry pens “le stylo qui marche”

Company Backstory

Gold Starry can trace its origins back to 1909 with the marketing of Conway Stewart fountain pens in France, under the Gold Star brand name. This resulted in a trademark violation, thus in 1912 the name was changed to Gold Starry, staying true to the English origin of the pen. The first pens sold by Gold Starry were black hard rubber or mottled safeties. These pens were eyedropper filler safety fountain pens, identified by two digits (models 36 & 39), indicating the price in francs.

At the beginning of the 1920s, fountain pen production began in a pavilion on the outskirts of Paris. Gold Starry became a wholly-owned French pen manufacturer, thus ending the import of English pens. The company adopted the slogan “le stylo qui marche” (the pen that works).

During the war, the company suffered through the occupation, having an English brand name only made matters worse. After the war, quality issues plagued production and market share fell with the introduction of the ballpoint pens. Gold Starry responded by introducing cartridge fountain pens and participating in 1959 consortium for the production of the “Visor Pen.”

Gold Starry managed to survive these crisis periods by supplementing their production lines, entering the world of luxury office accessories (with calendars, rulers, letter openers) and a successful line of luxury ballpoint pens, all produced using gold-plated metal. World events intervened yet again, this time the company felt the effects of rising gold prices, thus their products being prohibitively expensive. This crisis proved too much and Gold Starry was shuttered in 1980.

Model 256, retractable eyedropper

In 1925, Gold Starry introduced the 256 and the 257 Loaded safety models. On the barrel of each is engraved their trademark star, dotted rings on the clipless cap and barrel. This pen and the 257 model are unique in that on the barrel is imprinted “Manufacture Francaise,” while later models spelling is “Fabrication Francaise”

The Eyedropper Filler System

Has been around since the earliest years of fountain pens, and is pretty simple. There are 2 methods used to fill an eyedropper pen: the section is removed from the barrel and an eyedropper is used to squirt ink into the barrel, afterward the section is reinserted in the barrel. It is very important that the section is securely inserted in the barrel.

To fill a retractable safety pen, the nib is retracted, again ink is squirted into the barrel using an eyedropper. In both cases, the barrel must always be in the upright position, otherwise the ink will pour out the open barrel – duh.

Posted in Restoration, Stories

Rehab vs Refurb vs Restore or Repair – oh my what a dilemma!

I am not the first to bring up this topic, nor the last. Some may say the difference is a matter of splitting hairs while others say it is all in the intent. It is far more than splitting hairs and the intent leads to consequences which can be drastically different results. Let’s start with some basic definitions.

  • Refurbish – to rebuild with all new material; to return to original (or better) working order and appearance.
  • Rehabilitate – to return to its original condition
  • Restore – to return to its original or usable and functioning condition
  • Repair – to restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken

These terms are often used interchangeably, their dissimilarity being minor yet that distinction is significant and worth noting in the world of vintage pens. I’ve been giving the distinction a lot of thought.

Do I refurbish, restore or rehab pens? How about repairing? I’m so confused!

My primary focus is on cleaning the pen and getting it back to working order. I’ve run across sellers who offer pens that have been “fully restored,” which usually involves reblackening hard rubber, replacing clips, adding new nibs, etc. My intent is to return pens to their original appearance, or so it “looks good for its age,” while restoring the pen to working order using the materials that came with the pen. Nothing is replaced unless it is broken.

I’ve been saying “I refurbish pens” which by definition is incorrect. I am “restoring” pens. The only new material I use is a modern ink sac, because all original ink sacs have long since rotted away. I even use shellac allegedly from original Parker old stock.

To me, restoration is the resurrection of an old, long forgotten pen and returning it to as close to its original condition as possible. If parts are needed, I attempt to use original parts and identify substitute parts as applicable. I don’t polish pens, I wipe each pen with a little dab of mineral oil which removes old ink, grime and makes the pen look closer to their original condition. I don’t use chemicals or ink stains to recolor a pen but have been known to use sand paper to remove teeth marks, surface imperfections (scratches) and to remove the discoloration found on some BHR pens as appropriate.

The consensus among others who work with vintage pens seems to be that the definition of restoration is to return the pen to new condition, do no more than is necessary to make the pen in working condition, clean, gently polished and remove whenever possible such faults as scratches and bite marks. And don’t re-blacken the pen.

My view is primarily the same, as old pens age, there exists a balance between restoring usage and honorably showing its age. Restoring a pen to its “as new condition” is not my objective. I suppose my method falls between those who see every scratch as bearing historical significance and the restorers who overdo it. I’ve found that celluloid pens restore especially well, and those black hard rubber or mottled pens that have not faded or worn too much can naturally look fantastic with a little mineral oil. That’s quite a contrast to the poor creatures (pens) that have suffered the buffing machine far too long! I have some sympathy for the view that a pen should be left as it is, so far as possible, but I also accept that no one likes an ugly pen.

I was recently showing off my 1928 Duofold Jr. and I mentioned it is my daily use pen, the person I was showing it to was appalled that I was using the pen, handling it as if it was…. a pen. He thought it belonged under glass in a museum or somewhere “safe.” I collect and restore pens so I can use and enjoy them.

Posted in Pens, Restoration

Mabie Todd Swan #42 – The Restoration

Capped, the pen measures 5-7/16” (138mm) in length, it is dirty and in need of a good cleaning. The old ink sac has been removed already – yeah. An examination of the nib shows signs that the right tine has been mistreated by a fool with a grinder, plus the tip material on the same tine is missing. Maybe that is why he used a grinder? Who knows, anyway. I contacted nib service provides and no one offer “retipping” service so I guess the pen is for looks unless I can find a new nib.

Nib before & After plus the Ladder Feed. Note the missing piece of the nib

As far as restoring goes, this was easy. The seller had gone through trouble of separating the section from the barrel, and removing the old ink sac. I just had to remove decades of grime and polish the pen. No I don’t use real polish, just the jeweler’s cloth. As usual, I started with the nib and feed. The nib polished up nicely with the Sunshine cloth. A variety of spiral brushes were needed to clean the dried ink and grime out of the feed and the ink fissures.

The lever and surrounding area were disgusting, honestly there was yuk caked up in the lever, all over the pivot bar, gumming up the lever action. I used the Sunshine cloth, toothbrush, spiral brushes, three different dental tools and still it isn’t as clean as I’d prefer. But as you can see it looks better now.

Next I polished the barrel and moved on to the cap. Using a dental pick I cleaned out the accumulated grime in the cap band etching followed by a toothbrush and Sunshine cloth. Finally, a quick rubdown with a hint of mineral oil. Very little residual ink came off and the pen looks marvelous.

I decided to skip the new ink sac, not because I can’t but because I can’t use the pen until I have the nib repaired or replaced. After another Duck-Duck-Go search, I found a couple nib retipping services. I emailed them both, one replied the next day the other has yet to reply and I assume they will not. I’ve schedule a repair for later in July. A review of the service and how the nib is writing will be a future posting. In the mean time I am also keeping an eye out for nibs, but finding 1920’s Mabie Todd nibs is as hard to find as is fountain pen nib retipping services.

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.