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.