Posted in Pens, Reviews

Not For The Lactose Intolerant – Conway Stewart No. 15

Conway Stewart was a major manufacturer of fountain pens in England for a hundred years, from 1905-2005. During the pre-WWII years, they sold far more pens than any other brand in England; possibly more than all the other companies’ combined.

Model 15

The production of Model 15 spanned a decade beginning in 1952. As with many vintage Conway Stewarts, this model is a fairly small pen (which is preferable, as I have small hands) and often made of Casein. Model 15 featured two versions, distinguished by the existence of a single band, or no cap band. The trim is available in chrome or gold plate and a choice of two clips (long vs short).

In his book “Fountain Pens for the Million: The History of Conway Stewart: 1905-2005,” Stephen Hull writes “during the 1950s the material [casein] was generally used in cheaper models (such as the 15/16/17 and 759) and was typically available in black and three mottled, or marbled, patterns”.

Casein aka Galalith (from Latin caseus, “cheese”) is a milk-derived plastic, susceptible to moisture. A synthetic plastic derived from 80% of the phosphoproteins in cow’s milk, and formaldehyde. More information is available in my post: Casein; “the most beautiful of plastics.”

Identifying casein can be done by appearance and smell. The pen is black, thus identification by appearance is out, let’s rely on smell: rather than camphor, casein smells like antler, ivory, or vaguely like scorched hair. As I am not familiar with the smell of camphor, I don’t feel it would end well if I tried to sniff a deer or elk antler, I don’t have ivory and I am not going to catch my hair on fire, instead, I opted to compare the smell of my Parker Vacumatic (celluloid) with the model 15. SUCCESS! Now I can identify celluloid, casein, camphor, burnt hair, and antlers by smell without bodily injury.

My Pen

I picked up this model 15 from an estate sale. At the time I was interested in it because it was a black pen. When I realized the pen was cherry, and the price was right – a done deal. Only recently did I realize it is manufactured from casein.

The chrome clip is attached to the cap with a chrome ring and a blind jewel. The lever looks more like nickel than chrome. The pen has matching conical ends.

For a pen that is upwards of 70 years old, this pen is in amazing shape, plus it was considered by Conway Stewart to be a cheap pen. The name imprint is crisp, there is no brassing, no scratches or teeth marks, and the nib is smooth.

The space between the tines is a bit too wide. This will make the nib wet resulting in a less than satisfying result on cheaper paper.

The nib is a a medium flex, 14k Conway Stewart 1A. Some model 15s, the imprinted logo on the barrel as well as the inscription on the nib simply said Conway.

The pen came with a new ink sac, whomever installed the sac failed to coat it with talc. Now let’s ink it up and see how she performs.

The ink began flowing immediately, I initially was journaling in a moleskin field journal but the paper is horrible and the ink feathered into blobs. This is a pattern I have been plagued by when using 14k nibs on moleskin. I pulled out a 100 gsm bullet journal experience a completely different result.

The nib could use a little smoothing but otherwise glided across the page with little resistance.

Vital Statistics

  • Capped Length: 126mm
  • Uncapped Length: 113mm
  • Barrel Diameter: 11mm
  • Cap Diameter: 13mm
  • Weighs in at, 14g

Reference Material

COPYRIGHT © 2021-2022 DANNY WATTS and CHRONICLES OF A FOUTAIN PEN.
Posted in Material, Pens, Stories

Casein “the most beautiful of plastics.”

Casein aka Galalith (from Latin caseus, “cheese”) is a milk-derived plastic, susceptible to moisture. A synthetic plastic derived from 80% of the phosphoproteins in cow’s milk, and formaldehyde. It is rarely seen in American pen production; however, it is more commonly found in UK pens.

Identifying casein can be done by appearance and smell; rather than camphor, casein smells like antler, horn, or ivory, or vaguely like scorched hair. It appears more dull than celluloid and the curing process creates wavy striations. Alternatively, try the feel and color test. Is the pen a Conway Stewart model, highly colored and has an irregular colorful pattern? If the answer is yes to all these, it could well be casein. Hold the pen in your hand, does it feel warm to the touch? Yes – chances are it is casein.

Casein has been described as “the most beautiful of plastics.” It takes a wide variety of colors including delicate pastel shades, pearls, and mottles, and can imitate tortoiseshell and horn.

Do’s and Don’ts

Never, ever, never soak a casein fountain pen in water to remove ink stains or dried ink. Casein will expand by about 10% and become very soft losing its shape in as little as 2 hours = damaged beyond repair.

In his memoir, Walter A. Sheaffer recounts how Sheaffer once produced a line of colored casein pens which proved quite popular until the Midwestern summer caused the casein to swell and the sections fell out. The heat was identified as the cause. But I’m willing to bet the high humidity was most likely the cause.

Casein does not seem to be the ideal material to make fountain pens but it does produce BEAutiful pens. How about these three?

Photo credit: MVBurke.com
Photo credit: Peytonstreet pen

Conway Stewart is the manufacturer most often associated with casein pens. They only recently (by 2010) shuttered their casein pen production. Their remaining casein pen blanks were sold off to independent pen manufacturers.

Photo credit: Peytonstreet pen

Make you own

There are people who make their own pens. Some do this for fun, while for others it is a vocation. Both invest in equipment and supplies. I have found casein “blanks” as well as casein look-a-like blanks for pen manufacturing.

Some of the Conway Stewart casein blanks are absolutely stunning. The point is if you make pens, you can use this material (I would really enjoy owning a casein pen – just saying).

Casein is a “compressed form of the primary protein from milk,” what should the DIY pen guys consider when working with this material? I found a very informative thread on the International Association of Penturners (IAP) website, which I will summarize.

  • Working with casein is not always the easiest, it is not very strong.
  • At all times keep the material cool, use a spray bottle of cool water with each step.
  • Do not drill or turn at high speed – use a slow speed.
  • Use sharp carbide tools.
  • Slow-speed sanding or the casein will burn (turn brown) and smell like burnt milk!
  • The most important word of advice… be patient…take your time.

If you have small kids and enjoy home science projects, welp, I have a project for you. Make your own casein.

Owning a casein pen comes with responsibilities. As an owner, it is imperative you gain an appreciation for the qualities that make this pen unique. I do not own one but one day I will find a Conway Stewart casein pen that wins me over.

If you own one please chime in, I’d love to learn of your experiences.

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COPYRIGHT © 2021-2022 DANNY WATTS and CHRONICLES OF A FOUTAIN PEN.